Cape Epic 2011: Sager Out of Africa

How does it feel to suffer the Cape Epic? Let Team Jamis' Jason Sager count the ways.



I’d been deep in the pain cave for the last 30 kilometers and staring at my partner, Ben Sonntag’s posterior for even longer.

A team of two riders head out onto the course in the early morning light during the Prologue of the 2011 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held at the Chrysalis Academy in Tokai Forest outside Cape Town, South Africa on the 27 March 2011.

My posture was hunched. The arms, stiff. Time crawled. I could tell my face was crusted dark and black from the dust — I dared not lick my lips for hours. We were touching the early moments of our fourth hour of racing and as much as I’d wished the course metrics were wrong, I knew we still had in front of us seven of the longest, windiest, if not bumpiest kilometers ever routed on earth. Not a meter or pedal stroke passed without me being aware of the pain they caused. Time was essentially on pause; rocks and scenery repeating themselves.

Having been buzzed by more GS motos than I could count and learned to ignore the hovering drone of the race media’s helicopters, a sudden sound did appear out of the dust clouds — cheering children. Hundreds of them. Yelling, screaming, clapping and standing on the roadside holding out their hands in the wishful attempt of getting a sweaty and dusty high-five at 30kph.

I couldn’t help but oblige.

The first 50k, Ben and I had made — or dangled just off — the front group of the Cape Epic, absolutely because of my lack of legs, and mostly thankful to Ben’s careful pacing and nursing of his sub-par partner. From there, things went hazy and the rest of the 90 kilometer stage was a mix of pain management and crash avoidance.

Deep and Dark

In these races, like any personal challenge, you venture into deep and dark places within yourself. Its a survival technique that, when emerged from, makes you a better person — and this journey is intrinsically a part of cycling and likely why we come back for more so often.
The Cape Epic is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in 15 years of journey-man bike racing. It’s bigger, faster, and scarier than anything on the planet when it comes to mountain bike competition.

Early morning shadows and light for the first riders during the Prologue of the 2011 Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Sven Martin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

You’ll find yourself drifting into a who’s-who of World Cup mountain bike racers while on the course, and later that day, bump into the same guys and gals you saw last fall at the Vermont 50. These are the people that get it.

When I think back to that place I was just before we saw those kids just 5k from the finish, I was in a bad spot. But, to feel the noise, the energy, the excitement in those children, the fans, people who have an event like the Cape Epic brought to THEIR experience…I’ve
rarely been so energized.

For at least, well, 500 meters, I felt no pain, no fatigue, and probably didn’t have a mask of dust and pain on my face.

To have kept my head down, been PRO about our race and not shared a few hundred high fives with those school kids would have been to have missed the entire point of the Cape Epic, and bike racing in general.

Hour by Hour

Results come and go as quickly as good sensations in your legs, and we’ll forget our great races as quickly as we have a bad one, but how can you not leave a stage having high five’d a bunch of kids at full speed, on your mountain bike, 9,000 miles from home and not sit there and grin?

We’re two stages into the 2011 Absa Cape Epic. Ben could easily be contesting podium finishes everyday, but his partner, me, can not.
We’ll see how each stage goes, take it hour by hour, kilometer by kilometer. Maybe we’ll find ourselves at the front again, and maybe even stick it to the finish.

That would be nice, certainly something to remember. Either way, I’ll probably think more about the kid that screamed “YEAAAAAAAAAAH” after receiving a high five from us than any podium ceremony.

Jason Sager is Team Jamis’ manager and resident old guy.