The adventures of Team Haifa in the Cape Epic race



After months of preparation, Frank and Jan, who won a sponsorship from Haifa, participated in the Cape epic 2012, the toughest mountain bike race in the world. Here you can read a log detailing their adventures


1 April
Stage 7: A super performance from Team Haifa


58 hours, 20 minutes and 6 seconds. That is the time that Frank and Jan have spent on their bikes in the course of the last eight days during Cape Epic 2012. Today, the duo made it to the finishing line – what a performance!


Watch a video summarizing the race. Team Haifa appears after 1:11 minutes:



Walking, carrriyng their bikes, Frank and Jan finally made it to the finish. It took them approximately 5 hours to complete the last 64 kilometres and climb the 1,350 metres altitude of today’s course. In the light of the extreme weather conditions during this Cape Epic, simply making it to the finishing line (within the allocated time limit) was already a major achievement. Mountain bike experts are already saying that this was the toughest Cape Epic yet.



Frank and Jan are overjoyed to have completed the race. There were not many words exchanged at the finish. “We want to just enjoy the moment first of all”, was their simple message. In the general classification the duo came in at 401st, and in the masters classification (riders over the age of 40 years old) they made it to 124th place.


They did it!

All the Haifa staff members are incredibly proud of their team and thank Frank and Jan for their momentous performance.



31 March
Stage 6: The cold gets to Frank

Friday’s bad weather has also affected Saturday’s action. The heavy rain has meant that part of the stage is impassable. This means that the stage has been shortened by 6 kilometres and by 200 metres altitude.


For Frank, this good news from the riders briefing is a gift from the gods. The cucumber grower from Chaam endured a poor night’s sleep due to the extreme cold. The cold simply does not suit him. Waking up chilled to the bone he put on his arm and leg warmers at the start, as well as his windbreaker.


Famous mountain
The stage begins with a mass start. This means everyone starts at once. The first water point is at the foot of the famous Groenland mountain. Frank struggles with the climb in the beginning. The cold is still affecting him adversely. Fortunately the sun breaks through during the climb. From a height of 550 metres, the riders gradually reach the summit of 1,100 metres, followed by a rapid descent.


A long line of riders stretches through the mountains


Jan: “You also notice that we have gained a wealth of experience after a week of Cape Epic. Our descents are improving.”
Just a kilometre before the second water point, Frank and Jan hear some loud encouragement aimed at their direction. “Haifa, Haifa” echoes along the course. It is Mike Koch from Haifa South Africa, armed with his camera, roaring the duo on. At the water point they have a brief moment to shake hands and Mike leaves the duo with some words of encouragement.


Leaving Mike behind, Frank and Jan ride the final 20 kilometres to Oak Valley. This is one of the most beautiful mountain bike courses in the world, which, according to Jan, ‘can be seriously exhausting’. Fortunately, the stage takes them over the part where it is mostly downhill. This was another stage that sees Team Haifa escape without incident. It looks like the duo will be able to finish the course together tomorrow and get their names in the charts because they managed to stay in the allocated time for all the stages.


They are going to make it
Frank is very much looking forward to a warm bath, a good hotel and tasty food. A week of camping and struggling with the harsh conditions during the Cape Epic will be more than enough for him. Tomorrow sees the last stage to Lourensford Wine Estate: the Champs-Elysees for mountain bikers. Another 64 kilometres to go, with 1,350 metres altitude. They are going to make it.


30 March
Stage 5: The rain after the storm

The Cape Epic this year is one of extremes. Temperatures of almost 45 degrees at the start of the week, yesterday there was storm and today there was rain, rain and even more rain.


It started last night. Some of the tents required emergency maintenance because they were leaking. Today at the start the riders were already soaked before they had even heard the starting shot. The heavens opened: six heavy rain showers followed each other. Various riders became hypothermic. But naturally the only solution was to keep on riding. This is the reason that the Cape Epic is known as the toughest multiple day mountain biking race in the world.


Two garbage bags
Frank and Jan placed two garbage bags over their clothes to beat the cold. But it was only a matter of time before even for them everything started to feel cold. Their hands were too cold to brake and to change gears. Jan: “Our tyres were sinking in the sludge both going up the mountains as well as descending. Despite this, we were still on schedule for the first 50 kilometres.”

At water point 3, the riders were informed that they had been granted an extra 30 minutes to complete the stage. Frank:  “At that point we were still well within the time, but it was good to know that we had a little extra.”


Quickly forgotten
After 9 hours and 24 minutes the duo came in at 112th place in the Master classification and 361st in the general classification. A good result, but this day is best forgotten. Tomorrow the ride is 91 kilometres long, with the famous Groenlandberg appearing after approximately 40 kilometres. Fortunately, the weather forecast is better….


29 March
Stage 4: Leap forward in general classification

Despite the fact that simply finishing the course is more important than the general classification, Team Haifa have done well today. Frank and Jan have leapt from place 441 to place 381. In the Master classification, the duo are even 122nd.


Stage 4 begins and ends in Caledon. The stage is 105 kilometres, with 2600 metres altitude. Just after the start at 7.20am, Frank conceded that his legs were aching. The two riders decided to calmly remain riding in ‘their’ group. During the course of the morning things started to go better for Frank. One cause could be that Vanessa Haywood was also riding in this group. The sporty photo model from Cape Town ensured – no doubt unintentionally - that the overwhelmingly male field had something to take their minds off their sore legs.


High winds
Caledon is located in the south of South Africa, flanked by the Indian Ocean. This means high winds. “It feels like wind force 8 or more”, says Jan. “We have been almost blown over by the wind on multiple occasions.” Wind also means low speeds. This is compounded by the fact that there is much loose sand that the riders have had to trudge through today. Jan: “The speed often dropped to less than 10 kilometres per hour, even on descents. Mentally you are always aware that the kilometres are passing very slowly and you know that there is a maximum of ten hours to complete this stage.”


Fortunately, the legs of both men are holding up well. “We reach the tops of most of the mountains still on our bikes”, says Frank. “I dismounted once, but that did not have any further consequences.” Also, the men have learnt a lot. And a few times they decided to dismount where some daredevils tried to keep cycling and subsequently crashed. Jan: “We are not riding to compete for the top spots. Finishing safely is the main objective.”


7:15am. The race is due to start in five minutes


Good classification
And this also occurred today. Team Haifa made it to the finish in 8 hours 46 minutes and 25 seconds. They are now up to 122nd in the Master classification and 381st in the general classification. Tomorrow is stage number 5 to Oak Valley Wine Estart, which will once again be a long stage (119 kilometres) with 2350 metres altitude. Frank: “We are looking forward to it, but the weather does not look good. Rain has been forecast and that will make things extra difficult.”



28 March
Stage 3: ‘Slowly starting to fade’

Jan has had a tough day. After 90 kilometre he started to fade. A break, energy gels and the right moral kept him in the race.


The relocation from Robertson to Caledon is a major task, packing suitcases and moving the entire town. The start of this long stage (147 km, 2900 metres altitude) goes smoothly. A long line departs from Caledon. The first 16 kilometres is asphalt. The peloton is divided in different echelons.  Jan: “After a few days you start to get to know your place. We continue to ride well in our group, riding with riders we have gotten to know in the previous days.”


Wide farm lanes
There are wide farm lanes up to 38 kilometres. Then the first mountain appears. The field is spread out so everyone can cycle to the summit. Just like yesterday, Frank performs incredibly well. Yesterday’s treat kindly provided by Haifa South Africa’s Mike Koch– a large steak with chips – has done him good.


Jan had a tough day

Jan has less success with this stage. After 90 kilometres, he is slowly starting to fade. Jan: “I needed to briefly stop to sit in the shadow and asked Frank if he would also stop.” At that point both riders are already out of their solid food (bread and sports bars). The decision was subsequently made to hit the gels. “They work quickly”, says Jan. “But still taste awful.”


Stuffed with food
A short break and renewed energy do wonders for Jan’s body. After 105 kilometres he feels fit again. Frank: “As long as you can stuff yourself with food and drink, you will be OK. When you no longer can, is when you get concerned.”

The last 10 kilometres were extremely tough. Team Haifa rides at its own pace. A quad with a cameraman on the back races past, the riders are left in a cloud of dust. But in the descent of a hill the riders see the quad again, which is now upside-down. A joint effort sees the machine back on its wheels again, with nothing broken or damaged, not even the camera.


Another hard day 
Team Haifa is back well within the 11 hour limit. Another stage has been completed. Stage number 4 is tomorrow: 105 km with 2600 metres altitude. It’s going to be another hard day, just like all the others….


March 27
Stage 2: 6 kilometres of asphalt feels like a blessing

Even the easier stages of Cape Epic are not easy. Frank and Jan were therefore delighted to find that the second stage began with 6 kilometres of asphalt.


However, the two riders were under pressure even before the stage commenced. This time Frank’s front tyre was soft. A thorn was the cause. Fortunately the fault was quickly rectified, enabling Team Haifa to be at the starting line on time.


maintaining the bikes


Hard concrete
The fact that the stage started with six kilometre of hard concrete road was a plus point. The weather was also favourable: light drizzle at the start kept the riders cool and the temperature did not exceed 27 degrees the whole day.

After 20 kilometres Jan made his first unfortunate manoeuvre on the course. Whilst overtaking, his back wheel hit a rock. The tyre slowly went flat, and pumping it up only served to help for a brief period before it was time for a new inner tube. This, however, was insufficient. At the next water point the decision was taken to fit a completely new tyre.

The rest of the stage was continual up and down: climbing, descending, climbing, descending. “The climbing has gone well today”, says Jan. “We have not had to walk at any point.” Frank has not had anything negative to say about his ankle, which is unquestionably a good sign.


Hearty dinner
Team Haifa ended today in 495th place. Haifa South Africa’s Mike Koch was ready at the finishing line to offer both riders a hearty dinner: what a luxury to have Haifa as sponsor. Tomorrow is stage number 3. This is the longest stage of the Cape Epic, a whopping 147 kilometres from Robertson to Caledon.


March 26
Stage 1: Flat tyre just before the start

During the Cape Epic everyone sleeps in the red tents supplied by the organisation (see prologue photo). The riders are woken up to the sound of Scottish bagpipes. It is 5am. The priority is to have a hearty breakfast in order for the body to withstand the tour stage from hell which will encompass over 115 kilometres of rough terrain.


After breakfast it is time to collect the bikes and off to the start of the race. Jan does not enjoy a good start: the front tyre of his bike is flat. And that’s not all: “In the dark I unscrewed the valve completely instead of making it loose. The valve flew through the air and landed in the grass. Searching for it in the dark is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, I was able to quickly find a cycle repairer who could fit a new front tyre for 80 euros.”


tough climbs


Descents required caution
Frank’s ankle has survived the night. At 7.20am Team Haifa are ready at the start line. It is cloudy but the prediction is that the sun will come out later and that on some climbs it will reach 45 degrees. The first 15 kilometres are relatively simple. Then there will be two tough climbs. “The descents required caution”, says Frank. “On the second descent I could literally smell the brake blocks. The discs were totally black.”

At the various water points, fluids can be replenished and there are also sandwiches and sports bars available. Jan: “In the morning it’s fine, but later in the day all you want are gels.”

At 55 kilometres there are another two climbs. Both Frank and Jan are struggling with cramp and opt for a lower gear than desired. Fortunately, the final kilometres are almost flat and the last 3 kilometres are even on asphalt.  After 8 hours 20 minutes and 37 seconds Team Haifa is home, well within the maximum 10 hours.


Pleased with Red Lantern
In the general classification, Team Haifa have dropped a bit to 455, in the master classification Team Haifa are in 145th place. Jan: “That doesn’t matter. We would even be pleased with the Red Lantern. I just want us to complete the course.”

On Tuesday the second stage will take place from Robertson. The riders will make another loop of 119 kilometres (and 1650 climbing meters) before returning to Robertson. The maximum duration for the stage is 9.5 hours.


Prologue: We are underway!
A 27 kilometre long prologue over a 900 metre climb: this was the start of the Cape Epic 2012 for the 601 teams. Team Haifa (consisting of cucumber grower Frank Knevels and his mountain bike partner Frank Oomen) came in at 410th place. Best Dutch team was Milka-Superior with Chris Jongewaarde and Jeroen Boelen coming in at 17th place. Olympic champion Bart Brentjes and his partner Jan Weevers finished in 27th place. Like Team Haifa, Brentjens competes in the Masters group, the mountain bikers older than 40 years.


Treating Frank's minor ankle injury


The day started early. At 5:45am Team Haifa was collected at the hotel by supervisor Mike Koch from Haifa South Africa. The starting shot sounded at precisely 07:18:55am. Despite a minor ankle injury from Frank Knevels, sustained two weeks before the start of the Cape Epic, Team Haifa has performed well on the tour. The weather has unquestionably contributed to that: it was sunny with a temperature of 28 degrees celsius.


Tomorrow, during the first stage with a start and finish in Robertson, the forecast is predicting clouds with a temperature of 27 degrees. This stage is 115 kilometres long and the riders will climb 2350 metres. They have a maximum of 10 hours in which to complete this stage