A SOUTH AFRICAN MOUNTAIN BIKE STORY: CHAPTER 5
The final chapter of this South African Mountain Bike Story delivers a positive conclusion. In what has been described by many as the most extreme conditions in the race’s history, the 2023 Absa Cape Epic saw Oli and Rogan never surrender in their quest to get their Signal Spectre bikes to the finish line on Day 8 – and onto the podium.
TEAM SIGNAL RACING
The Racers: Oli Munnik contesting his 13th Cape Epic and bringing experience, route knowledge and gravity-racer skills; and Rogan Smart, tackling his first Cape Epic and bringing youthful enthusiasm and big watts for the flats.
The Challenge: Complete the 2023 Absa Cape Epic as fast as possible and contest the title in the Working Class Heroes (Amateur) Category.
The Objective: Put the brand-new South African-designed Signal Spectre full-carbon full-suspension bike through the toughest mountain bike stage race of all to see how it performs.
The Result: Mission accomplished! Team Signal Racing finished 36th overall and second the White Jersey division. And the Spectre? It passed with distinction! Not one mechanical, super stable through the techy descents and a highly efficient pedaller on the climbs and flats.
In unprecedented conditions, rivers of water gushing down the trails and jeep track greeted Absa Cape Epic competitors on Stage 5 from Oak Valley to Lourensford, which made climbing the day’s two big ascents even more challenging. Overnight and morning rain falling on an already high water table gave seasoned Cape Epic riders something completely different to negotiate.
Groenlandberg was the second climb of the day. It’s a long, steady climb on a fairly good road surface that delivers leg and lung burn if you’re racing up it fast. For Team Signal, the climb of Groenlandberg wasn’t decisive, but the descent was. Rough, raw and quite steep, the descent is where they gapped their main rivals, The Digger and the Doughboy (Australian Mitch Docker and American Ian Boswell) and they continued to build and maintain their lead, winning their first stage.
Although they made up time on the Amateur Category leaders, it was a big ask to try and take the lead without some form of luck. The fact that Stage 6 resembled the apocalypse didn’t play in their favour either. Ridiculous rain, wind and mud made for another crazy-weather day in what has been widely acknowledged as the most extreme conditions on any Cape Epic stage.
Oli and Rogan lost some time on their rivals, but held onto the second place, relieved that there was only one stage remaining.
If you’re going to win a Cape Epic stage, the finale is the one. Large crowds, incredible vibe and no more days to recover for mean you can empty yourself. That’s what Team Signal Racing did. In the process, they managed to ride clear of their rivals and win their second stage. They also secured second in their division in the process and finished a highly respectable 36th overall in one of the most competitive Cape Epic fields ever assembled.
Here’s what they had to say afterwards about those two stage wins and the race overall:
Stage 5 – your first stage win: What allowed you to get away from your rivals?
Rogan and I summited the water-logged Tier Kop and Groenlandberg peaks setting a consistent pace up these gruelling climbs in a group of five teams. On descending, we pushed hard and put time into Mitch and Ian as well as Hayden and Oli (who were 1st and in 3rd in the Working Class Heroes respectively). With a 90-second gap established at the bottom of the Groenlandberg descent, our aim was to straddle that perilous tightrope that is trying to go as hard as you can without striking too many matches before reaching the finish line. With 60km to Lourensford, the stage was still wide open. Thankfully, my knowledge of the route allowed us to push hard where it counted and amazingly, we managed to grow our lead to over six mins by the end.
Looking back, I would put it down to not being overwhelmed by the route conditions, efficiency over wet, tacky terrain as well as local knowledge knowing when to go hard and when to back off. Fittingly for a Queen Stage, the route did not feature much open road, which was Mitch and Ian’s competitive advantage. I’d say these four factors put us in the driving seat on Stage 5. A bonus point could be that we were better able to ride with no brakes as the sandy soil destroyed all of our brake pads!
After the stage, did you feel like a category GC win was possible?
One can never give up at the Cape Epic and from the outset, Rogan and I believed that we still had a fighting chance to claw back time. We would have to use our mountain biking experience as Mitch and Ian simply had too much power – we were never going to out-climb them watt for watt. On Saturday’s insane Stage 6, we were incredibly impressed with Mitch and Ian’s performance, if there was any chance of the tables turning it would have been then, but the duo unleashed their white knuckles and rode a brilliant stage, shutting the door on any hopes of a GC win for Signal Racing.
Rogan and I gave it everything on those last three Stages!
How key was the Signal Spectre in the Stage 5 win?
The Spectre really came through for us on Stages 1, 5 and 6 … these three stages I would consider being the most demanding on our bodies and equipment. It’s in the rough, gritty terrain where an efficient, hard-working dual suspension really shows its worth as it allows a rider’s body to recover during the stage itself as well as over the course of eight days. It goes without saying that a fresher body and mind can concentrate better and negotiate the terrain more effectively, making you faster! The Spectre got a 10 out of 10 in this department.
On Stage 5 specifically, there is no doubt that the Spectre absorbed the gnarly terrain as we climbed and descended Tier Kop and Groenlandberg giving us our initial lead (in category). Its versatility then shone through as we negotiated the rolling, sinewy terrain maintaining our momentum.
Given my 13 year history with this crazy race, I can honestly say that the Cape Epic revealed the Spectre’s superb versatility, durability and efficiency in what was an absolutely insane edition of the world’s toughest MTB Stage Race.
Your Stage 7 win, was it planned?
It wasn’t really planned, but the way our small group went into the last singletrack presented a chance for us to sneak away, so we took full advantage of the situation. The Czech Masters team was gifted stage win by Platt and Miser, who were the Masters GC leaders, so they were happy to let us past in the singletrack. That, paired with a few watts, was enough for us to sneak away from our category rivals at the back of the group.
How did it feel completing your first Cape Epic?
It’s a pretty surreal feeling rolling into Val de Vie. I’ve never even been there to spectate the Epic finish, so it was incredible to see how many people were there and the whole atmosphere was amazing. There’s obviously a huge relief that nothing went wrong, and a nice sense of accomplishment when you cross that line in one piece alongside your partner, after everything you’ve experienced together throughout the week. I’m definitely hooked!
How important was the Signal Spectre in your successful Cape Epic?
The equipment choice for a race like the Cape Epic is paramount to your success. Having a reliable and competitive bike makes all the difference over eight days of riding on the limit. The Spectre punched way above its reputation against established global brands; and handled that route like a dream. I’m very stoked with how I felt on the bike after a few days, and I’m genuinely impressed with how well it handled throughout the week!
With a tight delivery goal we’re driving off the front of the pack to put in the finishing touches. Our goal is to launch the now tried and tested Spectre to the market in October 2023. To follow the journey and secure yours, simply send us an email by clicking the button, or leave your details in the form via this link.
Did you miss the previous chapters?
Chapter 1: INTRODUCING TEAM SIGNAL RACING
Chapter 3: CAPE EPIC 2023: EARLY IMPRESSIONS
Chapter 4: CAPE EPIC 2023: RACING ON THE LIMIT
A Salute to the Team on a Magnificent Job.