A SOUTH AFRICAN MOUNTAIN BIKE STORY: CHAPTER 3
One fast-paced, high-intensity prologue time trial and one full brutal classic stage. That’s in the bank now and Team Signal Racing’s Oli Munnik and Rogan Smart are relaxed and smiling after two days of racing the 2023 Absa Cape Epic. While they were recovering and preparing for the 116km Stage 2, we fired some questions their way. Here’s what they said.
ROGAN, YOUR FIRST CAPE EPIC – AFTER TWO STAGES, IS IT AS TOUGH AS YOU ANTICIPATED?
Yeah, this is my first time experiencing the magnitude of this event, and it’s definitely living up to its hype so far! Today’s stage (Stage 1) was a proper introduction to how tough the next week is going to be, but I’m happy with how we rode together. Oli knows every corner of this race, and he’s been great at guiding me through it so far!
OLI, HOW HAS ROGAN BEEN AT THE START OF HIS FIRST CAPE EPIC?
We have spent the past week together doing lots of media work and getting our new Spectres fine-tuned. There’s a lot of preparation that needs to happen for the Epic and one must be careful not to overdo it and get yourself stressed out. It was great to have him with me to do things together and share the pre-race load.
WHAT WAS YOUR TACTIC FOR THE PROLOGUE STAGE?
ROGAN: The plan was to ride as hard as we could, but at the same time keep it rubber-side down and just navigate overtaking riders without taking too many risks.
OLI: Our strategy was consistency. I wanted to get Rogan’s nervous energy through the pedals safely and not make any mistakes, because it was dusty and loose in many places. We had some traffic as all teams did. He did have a small incident, but he recovered well, showing good composure to get going again. We had a thorough effort without going too deep. The prologue is early, but you do need to lay down a solid time to gain confidence going into the big Stage 1.
AND WHAT WAS YOUR PLAN FOR STAGE 1?
ROGAN: To be honest – just try follow Oli! He’s in really good shape and super experienced, so his pacing and race logic are pretty spectacular to witness. We wanted to stay with the front few teams of our batch for as long as possible, without going unnecessarily deep to follow other team’s surges.
OLI: To go up the first climb, Rotary Drive, and see how the legs were doing and see where we were in the pack. We went up Rotary Drive with the front guys. I made it into the singletrack first and we were both very consistent, riding with three other teams. (Ian) Boswell and (Mitchell) Docker, our main rivals in the Amateur category, are both former World Tour pros simply rode away from us with their World-Tour watts up the middle climb. On the open sections their class came through and they put time into us. At about 60 kays, Rogan and I tapped off a bit and rode consistently without going too deep. It was calmer than riding with three other teams at that point. It was very breezy, but we put it out of our minds and focused on what we needed to do.
DID STAGE 1 GO TO PLAN?
ROGAN: Yeah, I would say so – we stayed with a few teams for the first 60km odd, then we both kind of backed off slightly to ride our own consistent tempo to the finish.
OLI: I would say so. We finished very confidently. There were no crazy climbs, but the aggregation of all the climbs and the ruggedness of the terrain leads to fatigue. We came out happy and confident for Stage 2. We are in the top 50 now – exactly where we want to be. Our partnership is solid. Rogan is a calm guy and we are riding well together. We are riding with Stages 5, 6 and 7 in mind because that’s where the real race will begin.
ANY SURPRISE CHALLENGES YET?
ROGAN: So far so good! We haven’t had any major issues, but I would be surprised if something doesn’t pop up over the course of the next six days. But we plan to keep it admin-free, if possible, of course!
OLI: Nothing really. The wind is a big deal, but this is the Epic and you must take the weather in your stride.
HOW HAS THE NEW SIGNAL SPECTRE BIKE BEEN?
ROGAN: The bike has been great! The suspension platform has been incredible at soaking up the rough stuff and super stable at speed, which definitely inspires confidence. Today (Stage 1) it was a life saver on many occasions!
OLI: I have been very happy with the Spectre so far. On Stage 1 the bike carried momentum incredibly well over the undulating terrain. It also carries speed nicely through dips and up inclines. In the middle setting of the Fox suspension at the rear (Trail), it really soaks up the rough when you’re climbing and gives fantastic traction. We have 120mm travel forks, which raises the front end, but we both have slammed stems to keep it down on the very steep climbs. When fully open (Descend), you feel like you’re sitting in the suspension – the bike is planted when we need a lot of confidence on the descents.
YOU’RE LYING SECOND, JUST UNDER SIX MINUTES OFF THE LEADERS IN THE AMATEUR CATEGORY. ARE YOU CONFIDENT YOU CAN CHALLENGE FOR THAT TITLE STILL?
ROGAN: Yeah, that’s pretty awesome! Today (Stage 1) we got to witness what some previous World Tour race pedigree can do up a climb! But this is a very long race, and so much can happen over the next 500-odd kilometers so you never know! We will keep riding consistently and just see how things play out, I guess.
OLI: The race will really unfold on the last three days. Docker and Boswell are amazing. It will be interesting to see how they manage the day-to-day getting beaten up on the bike. I think that is something that is quite unique to the Cape Epic. The battering your body takes day in and day out. The time trial stage should suit them. But there are lots of corners in this race and if we can make up one second on every corner by being smooth, we can make up for some of the wattage we are lacking relative to the World Tour okes. Never surrender!
For the previous chapters of A South African Mountain Bike Story: The Signal Spectre, click on the links below:
Imagery by Si Pocock