Jennie Stenerhag

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ABSA Cape Epic, 8 days of hard racing and probably the toughest I have ever done!


This is the hardest thing I have ever done in a sport! And looking back on my road career I have never done a really hard stage race, nothing can compare to this! Just the fact that the prologue took more than 1 hour and it is called a prologue, at a road race it would have been an extremely long time trail for us girls! And racing times of 5-7 hours per day in temperatures around 35-38 degrees and on top of that we sleep in tents! A thing like the Epic is really character building!


Is this human?


It was very tough out there, a lot of people got injured and sick and I heard a number of 400 patients per day at the medic clinics tent, that is 1/3 of all the riders. I wonder if it was not a little too hard and difficult this year…?


I worked at the Epic during the first edition n 2004 and I started the race in 2005 and it is incredible to see how this race has grown!! It was nice to be part of the 10 year celebration! The organization is amazing, the logistics must be a night mare, to move the race village for closer to 2000 people is not done overnight!


Me and Craig rode as a mixed team for Big Tree Foundation and with Asrin as a co-sponsor, this is how it all went:


Day 1, prologue at Meerendal, 22km, 635 meters of climbing


We were a bit nervous and when I saw the stairs we had to ride down in front of a big audience I got even more nervous! It felt big to stand on the start ramp together with Craig to start our adventure that we signed up for in May last year! Now it was time!!

The nervousness let go as we started and managed the stairs. We got in to a rhythm quickly and my legs felt good, the 4km “stairway to heaven”climb was a killer to start off with tho! We rode very well as a team today and the technical parts were lots of fun! We got an indication of a good race when we were leading when we crossed the finish line. We ended in 3rd after Re:cm with Erik and Ariane Kleinhans and Brithouse – Biogen with Theresa Ralph and Damian Perrin.


Our goal for the week was to get on the podium at least one day so in a way I guess we reached our goal then and there:-)


We travelled to Citrusdal and got comfortable in the tents!


Day 2, Citrusdal – Citrusdal,  95km, 2317 meters of climbing


The first long stage of the Epic and it was very chaotic at the start since everyone felt fresh and wanted to be at the front. They took us of a wide tar road and then on to a narrow gravel road that started with thick sand so everyone got off an ran and it was easy to lose your partner, welcome to the Epic! After a long climb it had all settled in a bit, we were in 5th position and had Exxaro of Yolande and Johan in sight when we started the long rocky descent that everyone had been warning about beforehand.


I felt a bit uneasy on the bike, I had just lowered my handlebar before the race and I think that effected my bike control because I felt I had no control of the bike and eventually I fell hard! And that with a camera behind me and in my face when I got up, so at least I made TV! I hurt my elbow, hip and knee and of course the bike, I actually thought the race was over! We tried to fix the shifter on the bike without success so we carried on as it was to the first water point, there were mechanics there who could fix it!


We had lost lots of time and we started chasing, I still think we raced well to pass enough teams to finish in 4th position on the day.


Damien and Theresa had had some problems with a wheel, we passed them and thought they were out of the race but their mechanic drove out to them on route to give them a new wheel so they were still in the race.


The route on day 2 is something people will be talking about for a long time, the sand and non rideable terrain, not even the pro’s could ride and we were walking a lot, a bit too much!


Day 3, Citrusdal – Tulbagh, 145km, 2278 meters of climbing


We started with a 18km long climb and 900 meters ascent, I pushed very hard and got a lot of help from Craig to stay in the bunch with Yolande and Johan, we were with them at the top but lost them on the downhill, my arm was hurting so much on the corrugation that I was screaming out load! We caught up with them again on the flats. Soon a big bunch caught us and there were another mixed team there. I might have pushed a bit too hard in the beginning cause we lost both the teams after the water point and we were in 5th position for the remaining 100 km to the finish in Tulbagh. The last rocky downhill single track was hectic!! My arm was really not that happy!


This days 7 hours of racing is the longest I have ever raced!!!



Day 4, Tulbagh – Tulbagh, 94km, 1813 meters of climbing


The start felt good today, we had decided to just do our own race and not start too hard, and we did! It went well until we saw Yolande and Johan at the water point and started racing, we made small mistakes and I started to feel very tired. My arm was better today but then the hip started to give problems instead. The last 3rd of the race was so painful that I just wanted to stop and we lost lots of time when I could not push. We were in 5th place from start to finish but with 2km to go we saw another mixed team behind us, we got our act together and went flat out to the finish and managed to keep the 5th spot.


Our racing time was “only” 5 hours and for the first time we did have some time to relax afterwards, even though it was hard to find a shady cool place to recover in.


We got our massage every day from Rob and Nell, we had booked that before the race, the same with our mechanic Hendrik that took our bike as soon as we crossed the finish line and we picked it up from the bike park the next morning, these things are worth so much at a race like this!!


Day 5, Tulbagh – Wellington, 120km, 2050 meters of climbing


Craig was not feeling well in the morning, he struggled to eat, felt nauseas and was very warm. I felt better than the other days, maybe because it was flat and a bit on tar in the beginning to warm up the legs. At the first water point after 39km we were in 5th  position as usual but only 2 min behind the first mixed team, closer than we had been for the whole race. Craig stopped to fill the bottles and I carried on together with Yolande and Johan, Craig caught us on a long rocky climb where we had to walk here and there. There were lots of people piling up and we had 4 other mixed teams in front and behind and in sight. I felt ready to take on the race. I lost Craig but saw him about 10 people behind me but when I reached the top and turned around I could not see him, I let everyone pass but no Craig. Eventually I saw him walking over the top and I instantly knew that it was over! He had hit the wall big time. He struggled to talk and had nothing in his legs. Bunch after bunch passed us and we had some very long 20km to the next water point… I helped him there and took him straight to the doctor who checked him and just confirmed what we already knew, he had a fever and was extremely dehydrated and was not allowed to carry on.


After making sure that he was well taken care on I carried on to finish the stage, it was not at all the same thing to ride without him! Of course the pressure was not there any more so in a way I could just ride and enjoy the scenery and the route, we got in to a nicer area of Welvenpas now!


After I had done the doping test I got called for and we had found Craig who got a lift back with the doctor, we left the race village to go home to Stellenbosch, it was soooo nice to come home and unpack and sleep in our own bed! It was also good for Craig to sleep at home since he was sick.



Day 6, Wellington – Wellington, 74km, 1728 meters of climbing


Craig stayed in bed while my faithful supporters (mum and dad) took me to the start in Wellington and drove around the route the cheer me on even if I was not racing! I had a good day on the bike, I knew most of the route from the Grape Escape a few weeks before and from all the guiding I have done at Welvenpas. I would have loved to race on this route! Since I was a solo rider I was only allowed to start in C, it was great since it never got busy on the single tracks back there!


Day 7, Wellington – Stellenbosch, 98km, 2626 meters of climbing


This morning was a repeat of yesterday, C started 10 minutes behind A+B today and I set off in my own pace. My legs felt surprisingly good and I started passing people. After a while I started passing riders from A and B and I was really enjoying myself out there. Once again the route was very similar to the Grape Escape and always easier when you know what is coming around the corner! At the second water point after 70 km I found Jane Nussli, she had started the Epic wearing the ladies leaders jerseys together with Esther Suss but Esther got sick so Jane was also a solo rider. We teamed up for the rest of the race and it was great fun to have company again, we rode nicely together and we got a bit of a laugh when we reached the finish line. We were about 100 meters in front of the winning ladies and when they announced that the winning ladies were coming in everyone thought it was us since we were 2 girls coming in together, even the cameras pointed at us;)


It was nice to finish in Stellenbosch, I had a lot of friends along the route and it was great to have that support!


Day 8, Stellenbosch – Lourensford, 55km, 1373 meters of climbing


The last morning had finally arrived!! I was absolutely ready to finish this adventure! Many thought it was going to be an easy and fast ride since it was so short, but it turned out to be a very tough climb to tackle! I took it nice and slow and enjoyed the scenery as we crest the neck of the Helderberg mountains, the first 200 meters of descending was on a super steep hand made single track, all one could do was to sit behind the saddle, lock the back break and glide down, you either had to go or not, no hesitation in the middle, it was just too steep! Fun!!


It was an amazing feeling to cross the finish line of the Cape Epic at Lourensford, suddenly all the feelings of tiredness and not wanting to do this was all gone and exchanged with overwhelming feelings of pride, joy, relief, exhaustion and of course sadness of coming there alone, I wished we had had this moment together!!


So will I do this again?? Who knows… When it felt as hardest the answer would have been no! But now afterwards there is a maybe in me, now I know what to expect and  think it would be different. So we will see what the future brings.


All I know now is that I will not touch my bike for a week! I will take a well-deserved holiday with my parents:-)


A big thank you to Big Tree foundation for this Epic, it was a huge honor to ride in your colours! Thank you to Asrin who came in to save us last minute so that we could do this with the proper support around us! Thank you Rob and Nel for the massage and to Hendrik for making sure that our bikes were working perfectly! Thank you Focus for our bikes, they are awesome!! Thank you Continental for great tyres that took me through 8 tough days without punctures! Thank you mom and dad for all the support, driving and washing!!


Got the medal!

A well deserved picnic

Antal kommentarer: 3

2013-03-28 12:45:02 - Nina van Niekerk,

:) Hi Jennie, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your whole Epic journey ... I think you & Craig should try again next year!

2013-03-28 12:48:31 - Nina van Niekerk,

:) I really enjoyed reading your whole EPIC adventure. Well done!!

2013-03-29 12:30:03 - Karin&Jürg,

Hi Jennie and Craig! Congratulations for your tough riding! We were following you during the whole week and felt so sad for Craig. But we are sure that one day, you will finishing it together (-: Jürg was smiling a lot when he was reading about your stairs and descents adventures(-:. Lots of hugs from Switzerland! Karin&Jürg
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