There are no words. There is no reason, no rhyme, nor sense to be made of the maelstrom that is my head as I right this. I finished the Absa Cape Epic three hours before I sat down to write this. I’m still struggling to take it in. My mind has no sense of direction, no amount of drifting, dragging and dredging can pull it into line to make a straight line of the accomplishment. There’s an acronym that works: WTF.
I finished the Absa Cape Epic. WTF. Officially, it was 781km and 16 800 metres of climbing, but things are never perfect. I finished the frigging Absa Cape Epic. Christ. There are only four races rated “HC” (Hors Categorie – beyond categorisation – ie, stupidly tough) and I finished the only one that is not a Grand Tour: the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, the Tour of Spain and the Absa Cape Epic. That’s not a good list to be on if you’re riding the thing. It’s especially not a good list to be in if it’s an Epic described by the professionals as the toughest in years.
And so I shall defer, if you will permit me the big-headedness, to the professionals. Kevin Evans shook my hand in the Oakley tent, after the race, to say “respect”. Karl Platt, the former winner of the race, and a man who has become a good friend, was, as fate would have it, the fella who presented myself and Team Absa teammate Jack Stroucken, my wonderful, patient and wise partner, with our medals, said the same thing. Such emotion. Such toe-dancing, sphincter-clenching joy I have never experienced. And, brace yourselves, this is better than the 2005 Champions League final.
I was never sure I could do it. My training was okay. Solid enough, but I worried that I had stuck too rigidly enough to my training plan, drawn up by Kim Gershow-Rose of fittrack.co.za. Her work was perfect, as it turned out. You can always train harder for the Absa Cape Epic. You can never train enough. Ernst Viljoen, the manager of Team Absa, said he saw something in me during the training camp in February, which suggested to him I could finish it. It was a willingness to keep on keeping on. “You did what we asked you to do,” said Ernst yesterday, when I asked him yesterday. “You looked like someone who could push themselves harder.”
I didn’t think I was. I was a man in fear. I had no price to finish. Yesterday, the final stage, I was more nervous than ever before. I wanted nothing to go wrong. Jack and I decided to take it easy. And then I got my numbers all wrong. I thought the stage was 65km with 1650 metres of climbing. It only had 1350m of climbing. For the last 10km I was looking for another hill. Jack told me I was wrong, but I was reluctant to believe him. With 4.5km to go, he told me that it had been a pleasure to ride with me, and spoke of the accomplishment. I rode slightly ahead of him as he spoke. I was crying, beside myself with every sort of emotion, none of which would settle long enough to be identified. Relief? Yes. Pride? Too much. Joy? Yes. Belief? More than anything I’ve ever done.
I have a list of people to thank, a list that is too long for the few words left for me in this column. The hundreds of messages on twitter, the BBMs, the love and hugs – all pushed me an extra metre. To Nikki for introducing me to Hans and Willie of KTM, who gave me such a superb bike to ride on, I am so in your debt. That, more than anything, set me on my way. But, I will send thanks to all of you this week. Right now I’m a wreck.
This is a race I’ve been promising to cover since it began. Since Kevin Vermaak, the race founder, walked into The Star’s Sauer Street offices and showed me a Powerpoint presentation on a mountain bike race he was hoping to make into the biggest mountain bike race in the world. On Saturday night Lance Armstrong tweeted that he’d been watching the race and must ride it one day. Yeah, Lance. Bring you’re A-game. I finished the Absa Cape Epic. Holy f…
*Kevin McCallum rode the Absa Cape Epic as a part of Team Absa, the sponsor’s celebrity-media team. He was raising money for The Star Seaside Fund.