Cape Epic 2020
Cape Epic is well known in the mountain bike community as easily one of the toughest MTB races out there, so touch that it has gained the nickname of the off-road TDF in recent years. Taking place on South Africa’s Western Cape it is one of a few UCI “Hors Category” races which means it is beyond classification, sounds brutal right? It is built up of 8 stages and a total of 700km doesn’t sound that horrific some might say. Well when you think about the fact that nearly every stage has 2000+m of climbing then yeah, you get the picture. Not a race for the lighthearted!
The nature of the race sees the world’s best male and female XC riders head south to SA for this punishing season opener, interestingly this race is also open to amateur riders who can pitch for a place via a lottery. One such rider was Swedish Elite XC rider Ingrid Kjellström and her teammate Hanna Näslund, two highly respected XC riders from the Swedish MTB circuit. As we all know the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a large number of events in the MTB calendar cancelled and sadly Cape Epic was among those that have been cancelled and look unlikely to be rescheduled for 2020. One Track Mind caught up with Ingrid to chat about preparation for the race and also how she manages to stay motivated with the remaining race season still in question as to whether it will go ahead.
Interview with Ingrid Kjellström
Hi Ingrid, firstly talk to us about Cape Epic and what brought you to want to head to SA and enter the race? How does it compare to the races you have entered before?
I did another stage race in 2018, Bike Transalp, which is about the same as Cape Epic but in the alps and like the “little sister” of Cape Epic. In terms of participants, the roughness of the terrain and all the media around the race. During that race, I really fell in love with the concept of racing for many days and realized that I’m performing better the longer the race is. So, then the dream of taking part in Cape Epic started to grow in my head and I couldn’t let go of it. I’ve also been super happy all along the way to share my experiences and dreams together with my friend Hanna Näslund, we have always worked very well together as a team for two years now and become stronger together and have so much fun.
It’s quite a physical undertaking and early on in the racing season, how do you prepare mentally and physically for the 8 days of racing that were ahead of you?
I had a coach that is one of the best in Sweden in XCM-racing and he made me a schedule for the winter. I was following the plan very strictly and I was putting my training in the first hand for half a year before the race. Luckily, as the race never happened, it’s never a waste to train and I’m still happy that I did the training and learnt a lot along the way (mainly how to prioritize to be able to perform well for many hours of training every week).
In terms of physically planning, I’m a control freak and love information. I’ve spent so much time reading and talking to people (with knowledge) about Cape Epic during the winter.
We heard you managed to get bumped up from the open category to Elite, how did that come about?
That’s because me and Hanna had good results from Bike Transalp and from Offroad Finnmark (300 km in northern Norway during one day).
You entered as a privateer team but you have support from Shimano Nordic, Allebike and Maurten. How did they help you prepare for the race? Did you get any mechanical assistance from Shimano or did you have your own mechanical support in place?
They helped us with the best materials and energy (Maurten) for the race. In South Africa, we had hired a local mechanic that had good experience in Cape Epic (as it’s so harsh for the bikes).
XC courses are not like they used to be just a few years ago, they seem to have evolved and become far more challenging and technical. Some features look more at home on an Enduro stage rather than an XC race. How have you adapted to be able to ride some of the new features appearing in XC courses, did you have any apprehension about technical elements of the stages given the length of the overall race?
I did my first XCO-race two days to go, as I mainly race XCM and have a background in road racing. I have always been struggling with the technical parts of XCO and XCM-courses and try to train it more and more (especially now as I have extra time due to no racing). For Cape Epic, I know there was one technical session during every stage, for maybe 3 km of about 80. So that’s not very much, but the terrain in South Africa is so different compared to the Swedish with many loose rocks so I think that I would have found many of the down-hills demanding.
As most people reading this will already know, the 2020 edition of Cape Epic was cancelled. Tell us how you felt when you heard it was cancelled, had you already landed in SA when the news dropped?
I had spent one week in South Africa when I got the news. Actually, I didn’t get that surprised as some of the best teams had decided to not take part just the day before. The feelings about taking part in such an event as Cape Epic (as it gathers so many people from all over the world) didn’t feel great at that point when the COVID-19 started to grow that much. But I was hoping until the last minute that the event somehow could take part and I got hugely disappointed when I read the email about the cancellation – 1,5 days before the start of the race. Me and Hanna were at a restaurant and ordered a bottle of wine (a bit of a contrast to just eating pasta and drinking water as we did as carbo-loading the days before the race was planned to start).
With no race taking place what did you do whilst you were in SA? Did you get to ride any of the stages despite the race not going ahead?
I had a great week in Stellenbosch, a paradise for bikers just outside Cape Town. I rode the prologue of the 2020 years race and tried some of the earlier year’s stages. Besides that, I enjoyed South Africa and tried to load up for the race.
Along with many sporting events and races being cancelled because of Covid-19, so too were many flights. Were you able to get back to Sweden, did you have to make any changes to your plans?
Me and Hanna’s plan, when we heard that the race was cancelled, was first to stay in South Africa and ride our bikes for the same amount of days as Cape Epic. But when we read the news, we started to understand that we had to make it back home as fast as possible, as many countries started to close. So we did manage our way back home quite fast – but we also had to spend many hours at airports and travelling.
Putting in all the work and training to prepare for any race is no easy task, let alone preparing for a race of the scale that is Cape epic. How have you managed to stay motivated in light of everything currently? Are you still training?
I have been training more than before Cape Epic lately, but I haven’t been training more wisely. Riding many hours together with good friends back home has been kind of my way to handle all the disappointment of the cancellation. Right now my biggest motivation is that I know that I never feel so well as after a long day in the saddle.
The UCI recently announced a new calendar for the MTB world cups, has there been any news from Swedish Cycling about when the race calendar is likely to start in Sweden?
Races could start in mid-July if it’s then allowed to gather bigger groups again. Honestly, I don’t think that’s gonna happen as the hospitals in Sweden are so occupied, sadly.
Do you have anything else you would like to add or any shoutouts/thanks?
I don’t care so much about the fact that I didn’t get to race Cape Epic and to get my name on the result-list. I’m mainly sad that I didn’t get to share the experiences of the race with my good friend Hanna Näslund, as I know that she put in so much effort to take part in the race. I hope that we can get any other event to share memories from in the future.
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