Racing will test your limits. Racing across the tip of South Africa for 8 days will test your soul. Deep breath. OK … One more day. Glance up. Sunny skies … Thank God. 2 days ago we were standing in freezing rain with 119k between us and the finish line.
Deep breath. One more day, after this.
Glance down. Heart rate is increasing but we’re standing still. Waiting. Eyes close. Waiting for release at the start line of Stage 6 in Oak Valley on the Western Cape for the toughest day of this year’s race. All of us there, over 1,000 racers from Belgium to Africa to Italy to the US – were individually telling ourselves in one way or another
“I am Titanium”
What is the Cape Epic? A unique definition of suffering. A unique version of teamwork and friendship. The Cape Epic is an eight day mountain bike race across the Western Cape of South Africa. Competing in teams of two, it attracts the best professional riders from around the world as well as amateurs who obtain coveted slots through a lottery.
In September of 2011 while riding near Frederick, Maryland, Rob Russell and Charles Buki were kibitzing about the off chance a slot for the Cape Epic would ever materialize, neither thinking it could ever happen. Soon after, Rob received a call from a friend in Europe who had to give up his team’s slot. Rob called Buki and without influence of beer or bragging a deal was struck.
Together Buki and Rob reached out to 6x World Champion mountain biker Chris Eatough to fast track a training plan. Then began the work of re-organizing family schedules and work demands, pricing new bikes, putting together the massive logistical requirements, booking flights, and in general trying to wrap one’s head around the idea of flying to the other side of the world to race mountain bikes in Aftrican summer heat for 781 kilometers in eight days and UP 15,400 meters (or 50,524 feet of climbing).
During the Fall and Winter, R&B were able to re-arrange family lives, get long weekend rides to marry with endless basement workouts, and slowly get prepared for racing in Africa.
A proper week of training meant up to 18 hours in the saddle be it outdoors or in.
Luckily Gripped teammates were always available for moral support, to lend advice, to ride with in ways synced to specific workouts, and to always offer encouragement. Having Dogfish Alehouse as a sponsor certainly helps for team dinners.
The team also came through with solid support from Cannondale, Kenda and PowerBar. Both racers would tackle the Epic on Cannondale Flash 29r’s with some custom carbon wheels built up by the uber-fast-guy on the team, Kevin Carter.
A consummate coach and friend, former top 20 Cape Epic finisher Chris Eatough joined on one of the last big training rides and after seeing him flawlessly ride down a series of steep boulder drops Buki followed and wasn’t so lucky. He pitched over the bars and landed hard on his left hand consequently breaking the thumb.
The doctor wanted to schedule surgery but he didn’t understand what was at stake. Buki had a race to do and so began the mental toughening. Buki thought back to one of the first of twenty two 100-mile mountain bike races he’s completed, thought about getting through that nearly impossible ordeal and a phrase that helped him finish came to mind.
“I am Titanium”
The thumb would have to wait. Put it at the tail end of a long list of things being put on hold. For Rob it was his tight-knit family, his patient wife and two adoring daughters as well as a new job. And for Buki the wife, the garden, the business,
the comforting routine of walks with Chief followed by his love of dips the fish pond – all on hold.
Cycling can be a selfish sport requiring massive amounts of time, effort and commitment. The support from loved ones cannot go discounted or unmentioned.
Everyone on the team pulled together to give Rob and Buki a proper send off.
A big effort was put in to get both riders in the new team kit before anyone else on the team had theirs, as well as all the sponsor product they needed. The team is like extended family, perhaps akin to the unpredictable, crazy uncle each family has. The team encourages these adventures & helps share the stoke from them.
Every competitive athlete must leave what is most dear to them to achieve their goals. Some for an hour a day, some for 20 hours a week. Some travel to the local ball park or pool, some travel to Africa. Leaving can be just as hard as competing but no amount of experience or training prepares you for that moment when you say, “Goodbye”. It can tear at the very fiber of what put you on the bike in the first place.
The most you can do is say, “Thank you” and try like Hell to not let them all down.