Jennie Stenerhag

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ABSA Cape Epic 2015 - one of the toughest things I have done! 


It has now been a few days since we finished the Cape Epic and I am starting to feel human again, I have been ”broken” for a week! After returning from the race I did not leave my house for 48 hours,I was walking around as if I were a  zombie! A race like the Epic over 8 days, 739km, 16000 meters of climbing and 38,5h of racing time, does take a hell of a lot out of you!!

The 2015 Epic has been labelled  one of the toughest Epics in history due to the meters of climbing per kilometer, and it will probably be called the windy and/or dusty one, the wind was sometimes pushing us off the route and I dont even want to think about how much sand and dust we still have in our lungs…


Scott believed in us and gave us podium shoes before the race;)


The Epic was one of the biggest  goals for Robyn and I together with our team support of Team Ascendis Health. The pressure was on us from all around and especially media and people talking about us as podium contenders, also since Robyn was the highest ranked South African rider amongst all the international women. We were ranked as team number 6 in the strongest ever ladies field at the Cape Epic, so we did our best defuse all  expectations on us . Our game plan was just to stay consistent,stay safe and just ride our own race! We would be happy if we came 5th or better and if we could get on the podium on a few of the days. This was going to be Robyns first Cape Epic and my 4th start.

On the start list was names like Gunn Rita Dahle, the most decorated female mountainbiker of all times, this would be her first Epic and teamed up with Kathrin Stierneman who is the current elimination world champion. There was also Esther Suss who has won the Epic a few times and the World Marathon Championships a few years back, she teamed up with Alice Pirard who won the Cape Pioneer in 2014. We also had Sally Bigham, also a previous winner of the Epic and she teamed up with Christina Kollman after her original partner had to withdraw due to a knee injury. Last but not least was Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad who won the Epic together last year and Annika is also the current world marathon champion. So it really was a star studded field!!

 The Cape Epic is so much bigger than other events in so many ways, the race village is bigger, the media coverage is more, the amount of people following the race is more and the preasure is on! I worked as a volunteer at the first Epic in 2004 and it is amazing to see how it has grown since then, the organisers need  a huge well done for putting all this together! There are so many TV and Media crew around and as soon as we finish there are cameras around, during the race there are always helicopters in the air capturing the action which is being broadcasted in 50 countries around the world! Unfortunately the girls still do not get the same attantion as the men, even though it is getting better since we last year got the equal prize money and this year will have a special TV program dedicated to the ladies race. It's great that our sponsors get the chance to be seen more in media and even more sponsors can see that it is worth the money to invest in ladies cycling! Sasol has been fantastic and been the front figure in this at Epic.

The Cape Epic is called the Tour De France of mountainbiking and a lot of riders have this as the highest goal of the year and it has become a prestigeous race where everyone wants to do well!

To try and peak for a race like this is one of the most difficult tasks for a mountainbiker, one does not only need to peak for one day but to be able to keep it for 8 days. One needs to be very well rested before and not over use all the energy at the start of the week, at the same time as not taking it too easy to still stay in the race. But the one most important thing to succeed at the Epic, in my opinion, is to choose the right partner! It is not about 2 strong riders riding together to make a strong team, it is more important that you work well as a team, on and off the bike!

I managed to do the above 2 things very well! I felt in the best form in a very long time when we started the Epic, but more important that I knew from the start that I had the right partner next to me when we started the prologue! We have done 4 stage races together leading up to the Epic so we know that we work well togheter. It turned out that our strategy, planning and strength would take us far during the week, even though we had a few ups and downs!

It had been such a long lead up to the event so when the day of the prologue finally came all we wanted to get the race started, I must say we were very nervous! It was a hard route on Table Mountain, not technical but lots of up and down and the heat made it even worse. We got awesome support from all the spectatours along the route, they were all fantastic!! We went as hard as we could and were very surprised to find out that we came 2nd after crossing the finish line!!  

During the first stage which started and finished at Oak Valley we were laying second from start to finish, it felt good to see that the prologue was not a once off and that we really belonged on the second step of the podium.

The second stage was eventfull for us. We started off in second but saw Esther and Alice close behind in the beginning, so when we at water point number 1 saw Christina and Sally I must admitt that we were a bit surprised! They caught up to us and sat on our wheels until WP2 where they attacked and left us behind! We were in 3rd and followed our game plan to stay calm and just ride our own race, but at WP3 when Robyn heard that we were 1 minute behind she suddenly found her legs and took off, we caught them with 6km to go and at 4km to go we passed and managed to put 1 minute in to them at the finish. Later we got to hear that Annika and Ariane had taken a wrong turn and cut out 5km of the route which they got a 1h penalty for doing. This meant that we won the stage and moved up to the lead in the GC and we received the leaders jerseys that evening. 


It was an honour, and maybe something which will only happen once in my life time, to start a stage in the Cape Epic in the leaders jersey!!  Unfortunately it was a day we as a team would rather forget… Robyn did not feel well from the start and we were soon together with a few of the other teams which we had not seen in the previous stages and one by one they left us behind and we were laying in 6th place. Robyn wanted to stop already at WP1 but there were no way I would carry on without her no matter how long it would take to finish. I told her that if we would just finish this day we could make the decision about the rest of the race in the evening! We lost the jersey but even if we had had one of our worst days ever on the bike as a team we still managed to keep our second place on GC, this motivated us and from there on we just took day by day to finish this race we started!



A stick was stuck in my back wheel...


The recovery is extremely important in this kind of competition and our masseus Nicole was absolutely superb, she was like a second mother to us during the week and did everything for us !! Without her we would probably not have managed this. 

Nicole was quickly there with my recovery shake as soon as we crossed the line and then back to guest house for a massage! 


During the fourth stage, we once again experienced how important it is to stay calm and ride our own race, my team partner from last year Theresa Ralph and her partner Jeannie Dreyer rode away from us in the beginning but we just let them go and at the last water point we caught up with them and left them shortly after to once again finish in second place! It was probably the best second place during the week and we could feel that yesterday was just a slip, and we were back on track! 


This far in to the race we started to think about the overall result and our closest competition was Esther and Alice so we decided to just watch them on the fifth stage. We sat on their wheels and once again Theresa and Jeannie rode away from us. We got a gap on Alice and Esther on a longer uphill but they caught back to us when we had to stop and tighten my brake which was loose. At WP2 we all left  together  Theresa and Jeannie and also Esther and Alice and were in 2nd again. We had the long tar climb of Bainskloof pass to tackle before some single tracks downhill at Welvenpass to the new venue in Wellington. It was a hard climb and as we left WP3 at the top the Sasol team of Yolande and Jana entered the water point, it was close and it became a chase to the finish. At 2 places they caught us when we stopped for crashes in front of us and with 5km to go we could see them when we turned around. I pushed hard cause I really wanted to keep being 2nd on the day, and we managed! 

After 5 days in a row with racing times between 5 and 6,5 hours stage six felt like a rest day! It was ”only” 4 hours and 15 minutes!! It was a fun day on the single tracks of Welvenpas but unfortunately it was my turn to have a bad day! It was raining in the morning and we did not warm up and on the start line we heard that Esther had been tummy sick during the night and would not start, so I think it was a combination of loosing the racing devil and having cold legs for me, I suffered on every little incline from start to finish! Luckily my partner took good care of me on the day! Unfortunately Robyn fell close to the finish and hurt her shoulder and she also had tendonitis in her wrist from a few days back so she was very sore in the evening. I started to get a sore throat so we both felt broken and could just not wait for the last day to arrive!! 

The seventh and final stage was brutal! With a route profile that looked like a shark fin and then a long hill just before the finish felt cruel! Luckily, we had about 50 minutes up on  3rd place so all we had to do was make it safely to the finish without any technical problems. We were both tired and I could not believe it when I saw the hill before the hill at the end, I almost wanted to just sit down and stop! But the feeling of reward when we came down the last downhill to Meerendal with all the family and friends cheering along the route was amazing!! I could not stop smiling the last kilometers! And what a reception we received after the finish with roses from the sponsors and both Robyn and I had our parents and brothers there, and Craig who had worked for Topeak had the creditation to come in to the rider lounge so he was there quickly to congratulate us! I could not believe that we actually finished second and the Cape Epic. 




Our tactic to keep it constant during the week and just ride our race worked well with 6 second places, 1 win (by default) and 1 bad day being a result of that! We were lucky not to have any major falls or mechanical problems!  Many of the top ladies teams had to stop for various reasons but it is all part of the race called the Cape Epic…

I just received a message from Robyn saying that she has a hairline fracture in the AC joint in her shoulder which now sits in a sling and she has a brace on the wrist, I wish her a speedy recovery so that we can be up racing soon again! A huge thank you goes to Robyn for being the best partner I can ever hope for! We dont really talk on the bike cause we dont need to and we laugh in the evenings even if we have had a bad day! We are both  organised with our stuff and we have pretty much the same routines in the morning and evenings, a perfect combination for a good team!!

Thank you goes out to our team, Ascendis Health, to all the management in the background, the sponsor and co-sponsors, and to Nicole, Magnus and Barry who worked hard all week to help us with everything! Thanks to Scott for our bikes!! It was the first time I did the Epic on a fully and I will never go back to a hardtail, that is for sure;).  Thank you to Nike Vision for the glasses, GripGrap for my gloves, Squirt for the lube and Stages for the power meeter, it was the first time I did a stage race with a power meeter (interesting). And last but certainly not the least a big thank you to CBC  who always stands behind me when I need something!

I'm incredibly relieved and happy that the Cape Epic 2015 is over! People ask if I had fun, no not really, Epic is not fun but it is a feeling of achievment that nothing can compare with so it is a good feeling afterwards, but fun would be the wrong word;). Now it is only a year until the next one and I must think about how to be able to take a step up, because it has to be the plan since I finished 3rd last year and 2nd this year ... ;) I will be back ;)


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