Ian Boswell’s Cape Epic Ride By The Numbers

Based on the stories, sounds like Absa Cape Epic absolutely lived up to its name once again- eight days with over 600 kilometers of riding and over 15,000 meters of climbing!  It is the most televised mountain bike race in the world, labeled as the off-road Tour de France and classed as hors categorie by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).  The race is completed as a two-person team and Wahoo’s Ian Boswell paired up with Mitch Docker in the amateur category- for the win in 30:43:52!

In the professional division, Kim le Court and Vera Looser (Efficient Infiniti Insure) attained the top spot in the women’s category with a total time of 33:11:37 while Matthew Beers and Christopher Blevins (Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne) earned the overall podium place in 26:17:04. 

Those finishing times are fierce considering the crazy conditions- it makes you wonder how much effort could be attributed to any intensity other than Functional Training Power (FTP)?!?  You may be surprised by the variation attributed to Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) and Anaerobic Capacity (AC) intensities throughout the race.  Let’s check out each stage with a parallel dialogue from Ian Boswell’s diary and power data.

Prologue: Meerendal Wine Estate 27km/750m

The race kicks off with an initial ascent followed by technical descents and finishes with the Stairway to Heaven climb.

Ian:  “In typical prologue fashion, Mitch and I started hard – 390 watts for the first 10 minutes up the climb. At the top, I lost Mitch’s wheel on a straight but very steep and rough descent. Once regrouped, Mitch used his classics power to pull us through the flat, windy roads. Soon we were climbing again on a single track, forced into some needed rest behind a group of riders before passing into a clear run with swapping pulls into to the finish.”

By the Numbers:  Ian had an intense 98 minutes to start this adventure.  He only spent 25 minutes (25%) at FTP intensity with 57 minutes (58%) at MAP and 16 (17%) at AT!  His 5-second and 1-minute peak power outputs were 746W and 464W respectively.

Stage 1: Hermanus 98km/2550m

The stage includes three iconic climbs and when the terrain is not uphill, the downhill is rough and tumble.

Ian: “This was the hardest stage of Cape Epic for me as my technical skills were still in development and I was familiarizing myself with my bike, the tires, and the soil. I was constantly off the back, sprinting out of every turn. With over 60km of the course to go, Mitch and I were off the front. Here we were able to ride a steadier pace, but all the early accelerations were starting to catch up to me. With around 10km remaining, my legs began to twinge with a cramping sensation – something I had never experienced. Thankfully it was a long, paved downhill to the finish.”

By the Numbers:  The data tells the story of Ian’s challenging day after a hard effort in the prologue.  His 5-second and 1-minute peak power was significantly greater at 750W and 506W.  To add, Ian’s 5-minute peak was 397W.  He spent over two hours at MAP intensity, 44% of the 275-minute ride!

Stage 2: Hermanus 116km/1850m

The course begins and ends with tamer, flat terrain with two vicious single-track ascents with immediate descents in the middle.

Ian:  “Stage 2 was the flattest stage when you look at the km/m ratio, so it was a good day to follow the wheels. Because of the flatter start, it also meant that a big group stayed together for much longer, which again benefited Mitch and my road racing background. By the halfway mark we had summited the first climb and distanced our rivals in the amateur category on the second climb before the technical descent. With 30km to go, I went to work pulling to the finish on more level and windy roads.”

By the Numbers:  The less steep course was still fatiguing as Ian and Mitch’s finishing time was just under 5 hours!  The intensity was lower at 55% of the time at an FTP intensity, the lowest of the three initial days.  Ian’s 5-minute peak power was reduced to 368W, and his 20-minute peak was 310W.

Stage 3: Hermanus to Oak Valley Wine Estate 100km/2300m

The transfer to Oak Valley includes some of the toughest terrain, traversing a massive mixture of raw, rough-cut trail, new singletrack, dusty district roads, and rocky dirt.

Ian:  “By now, my MTB skills had slightly improved, and this really paid off in terms of energy preservation. Mitch and I rode much more conservatively and stayed on the wheels of the leading group. We never pushed too hard on this stage and in many ways, it felt like a transition stage in a grand tour: just get through it and stay safe.  Regardless, we still had the strength to rejoin the lead group of A (amateurs, masters, and mixed pairs) riders by the time we reached the finish.”

By the Numbers:  Although Ian’s comments included the words conservative and transition, he completed the stage with significantly less time at an FTP intensity, 47%, and greater MAP intensity, 41%.  Interestingly his 5-minute peak power was identical to stage 2, but his 20-minute peak was significantly less at 285W.

Stage 4: Oak Valley Wine Estate Time Trial 47km/875m

The longest time trial in Absa Cape Epic history with nasty, sharp climbs.

Ian: “We knew we had to ride hard on the faster sections to maintain our lead for the single track where I knew I would slow Mitch down. I spent much of the course anywhere from 15-45 seconds behind, sprinting to close the gap every time we left a single track and returned to an open road. Despite being a shorter stage, the TT was still a hard one for me as I really struggled on the single track.”

By the Numbers:  Ian and Mitch finished the time trial in just over two hours with Ian riding at a whopping 19% (23 minutes) in AT intensity likely due to those gap-closing sprints. 

Stage 5: The Queen Stage, Oak Valley Wine Estate to Lourensford Wine Estate 102km/2450m

One long climb as a prelude to a towering mountain at over 1100m above sea level all before the 40k mark.

Ian: “I was very nervous about this stage and the conditions due to rain the night before. From the start, we planned on just making it safely through the day and following the wheels of our competitors. I couldn’t even do that on the first descent of the day, as we rode on double track with flowing water. On the climbs, I was able to make up some time, but again on the next descent, I was off the back. Covered in mud and soaked to the bone, we continued to ride steady toward the sunny finish line. In all, we lost some 6 minutes to the lead amateur team, yet still felt accomplished in having finished the stage safely and without any issues.”

By the Numbers:  The longest stage of the race with respect to total time (5 hours, 11 minutes) was also the greatest percent time at an FTP intensity (63%).  Impressively Ian was still riding strong with a 20-minute peak power of 300W.

Stage 6:  Lourensford Wine Estate 78km/2300m

For the first time in Cape Epic history, a full stage on a single property with a continuous roller coaster of hills.

Ian: “The rain following stage 5 returned overnight and once again I was nervous about the day. Thankfully, we started with a long dirt climb where Mitch and I knew we could get a head start before the sloppy singletrack descents. Every second we gained here would give me more room for error on the descents. We prioritized survival mode over maintaining team communication. We rode as fast as we could going up and as safely as possible going down. We finished this day well in front of anyone in our category, but we simply wanted to get out of the cold, wet weather and back to our camper.”

By the Numbers:  The slightly shorter (no less brutal conditions) course allowed Ian to ride at a higher overall intensity with 58% in FTP and 35% in MAP.  His 5-minute peak power was about the same as the Queen stage, but his 20-minute peak power was greater at 326W.

Stage 7:  Lourensford Wine Estate to Val de Vie Estate 80km/2400m

The journey to the finish includes four major climbs (including a hike-a-bike) for a perfect mix of pain and pleasure.

Ian: “The final day was frustratingly perfect. The sun returned, the trails dried out and we had a big enough lead in our category that we just needed to ride safely and enjoy the trails. I felt well enough to get a slight lead on the first and second climb over the leading A group so that I could take the descents at my own speed. The race was done, we had made it through eight days of intense MTB riding without any mechanicals, crashes, or arguments, and that felt like a massive win. Will I return to Cape Epic? Maybe, but first I need to unpack my well-broken-in bike, assess the wear, and give myself a few days of easy riding.”

By the Numbers:  Ian and Mitch finished strong with a stage time of under four hours.  Ian’s power numbers validate his positive rating with 51% at an FTP intensity and 20-minute peak power of 309W.

In summary, Ian spent almost exactly 50% of the total 30 hours and 43 minutes at an FTP intensity- which means the other half was a mix of higher MAP and AC intensities.  That is flipping impressive.  Hopefully they were able to enjoy the views despite the continual focus required to dominate at that level.  Congratulations Ian and Mitch!!!

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