Erin Greene and Kath Kelly are taking on one of the toughest multi-stage endurance MTB races in the world – The Absa Cape Epic which started yesterday in South Africa.
The “untamed” African MTB race is held from 17th – 24th March, 2013 and covers around 800km in 8 days around spectacular coastlines, mountains and deep ravines of Cape Town, South Africa. Climbing Everest twice is no mean feat particularly when it’s over strenuous rocky climbs, wild technical downhills, river crossings and forested singletrack.
Erin and Kath, based in Dunedin and Roxburgh, New Zealand, respectively managed the gruelling preparation around their day jobs. Erin sells bikes in one of the city centre shops by summer and is a ski patroller at Coronet Peak in the winter, piling on the bike miles around the peaks of Dunedin in between.
Kath describes herself as a jack-of-all-trades – most often masquerading as an AI technician. She travels the length and breadth of NZ impregnating 40,000 dairy cows in a season, before moving onto the deer in the autumn. The bike goes everywhere her baster does and waking up in a new town daily ensures she gets to experience the awesome variety of trails the North and South Islands have to offer.
The commitment is huge not just financially – although the girls estimate it’s going to cost $10,000 each by the time accommodation, flights, food and other travel expenses have been accounted for. And that’s not counting the months of training …
“You end up working less and travelling more to go and do other races,” offers Kath.
These girls have form as a team. They won the women’s division of the Alpine Epic in New Zealand in 2010 and put a few of the lads on notice in the process.
The two rider team format in such a full on endurance event creates an intense dynamic. Erin describes racing together: “it works, because Kath is so much stronger on the flat and just has the power to be able to push and grind. I just can’t do it, it just does my head in, but having someone right there that’s working hard – you have to stay with them otherwise you get dropped.”
To which Kath quickly butts in “And the same on the hills – she’ll come and grab my bike!”
The good thing about the Cape Epic is that there is a pretty even spread of both conditions and they’ll need those strengths with stages up to 140km pulling in an arduous seven hours of mountain biking in a single day out of eight.
The Alpine Epic was one thing, but the Cape Epic is in another league, Erin entered in 2010 and is the first to admit she had a bad race filling in for an Aussie rider. A virus going into the race left Erin suffering dehydration and requiring hospitalisation after passing out in the early stages.
“I didn’t get to finish the whole race, but I joined at the end and did the last few stages. Because I was unranked, I was starting at the back in group F and there are 50 or 100 riders in each group, so I was starting way at the back of all these riders. These people are 2km along the road before you’ve even managed to start moving, its crazy you just end up passing all these people, but at least now we’re going to be starting in a better bunch.”
It is clear Erin understands the event and she emphasises the importance of the prologue, which should see them well placed: “it’s about racing smart … knowing where to position yourself and when to really dig in and go hard.”
When asked about their expectations, they are typically modest. Kath murmurs a top ten finish and Erin reckonstop five, but a glint in their eyes hints at the prize and a desire to win it. Kath nails it saying:
“You’re up against the world’s best – and I’ve never been up against the world’s best apart from Erin,” she laughs. “The way I look at it, I try and block that out, race your own race, race to the best of your ability. You can only try your hardest and that is what I will be putting in and I’m sure that’s what Erin will be doing.”
“One thing I learnt from watching the Tour de France is that you don’t go out there and smash yourself on the first day, you want to race consistently the whole way through so that’s my plan in my head,” Kath laughs.