To Simply Step the Path
– Christopher Blevins
At the finish line of the last stage of Cape Epic, my teammate Matt Beers and I had champagne-soaked jerseys, and we were met with microphones and questions about how it all felt. “Indescribable” was an appropriate word I found to sum it up then, but now that I’m back stateside and reflecting, here’s my attempt to describe the emotions we felt throughout that 8-day Odyssey in South Africa.
We started things off with a win in the prologue, and Matt and I both felt a huge relief in knowing that we were indeed on track after the months of training for this moment created our high expectations for it. We were wearing yellow jerseys for stage one and planning on keeping them for the next 7 days. But as the surprisingly profound Mike Tyson quote goes, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”, and I caught a haymaker 2:30 hours into stage 1 when I was faced with the worst leg cramps of my life, paired with a stomach bug I was fighting off. The day ended with me holding onto Matt’s jersey, unable to push too hard without cramping during the last hour. All the while, the helicopter circled us to film things as we unraveled. The day was nearly a mirror image of stage one in 2022, it was just that Matt was the one fighting stomach issues then as we bled time in the yellow jerseys. Because of last year’s race, Matt knew exactly how I was feeling and exactly what to say. At the top of the last climb above the finish line, we rolled along a ridge overlooking the ocean, and Matt simply said “still a beautiful day for a bike ride, isn’t it?” And it still was.
After the terrible stage 1, we were 8 minutes down. I was physically wrecked and somewhat disoriented by how quickly things went south. But throughout the afternoon I made a shift that planted the seed for the biggest lesson I took away from Cape Epic – the lesson on the sheer importance of simply stepping the path the best you can. Even though everything had changed on the results sheet, I knew that nothing could really change with the orientation I had for the race. Each day of the Cape Epic asks you to give everything you have, so the focus had to remain that simple and direct. All you can do is simply all you can do.
So I stayed the course and did everything I could to recover for stage 2. While I may have spent a little extra time on the massage table for the hamstring cramps, I basically went through the usual routine with the team in the afternoon. But it’s the inner commitment that was most important for me. Because I could’ve gone through the outer motions while I skipped out on myself internally. I know when things get really hard, it’s tempting to shield yourself from the challenge and stop yourself short of handing over your full heart. I had been there before, but part of my personal reason for doing this insane race was to put myself in a position to experience vulnerability and grow from it. So that night, before we woke up at 4:45 am for stage 2, I resolved to embrace this week and give my full attention and care to each moment. Even if the days all turned as bad as stage 1, I had to try my best to love this crazy thing I was doing.
It turns out my body was ready for the challenge. I kicked the stomach bug and the cramps, and we went on to win the next 4 of the next 5 stages. Every single day, we would race like the stage would be over in an hour and a half, basically daring each other to blow up before we were to the halfway point. But somehow, we all just kept digging, and we ended up racing the 4-hour stages at nearly the same pace as an hour long cross country race.
The dynamic of competition is pretty amazing at this level. Having another team willing to walk through the fire is all the confidence you need to do it yourself. There’s no doubt we all brought the best out of each other, which builds a deep sense of respect and camaraderie. It’s a good thing when we get fiery with competitiveness, we should just remember that it can be a source of inspiration and a shared pursuit of our potential as well. We had plenty of that throughout 26 hours of attacking each other.
We had definitely faced an Odyssey by the time we got to the last stage, and somehow it had all shaken out to give us a golden opportunity. We were sitting in 2nd, with only 92 seconds separating us from the win. That stage was one of those moments you dream about as an athlete. All you can really ask for is to have a chance, and we were just really grateful to get one as good as this. Everyone knew it would be a 30-minute race to the top of the first climb, with the Speed Company team and us trying to distance Scott SRAM from the jump. We had one of those days where things just clicked, and we rode our plan to a tee. Matt and I hammered all the way into Val Di Vie, and after 1:32 seconds passed, we had won the Cape Epic.
Winning a race like Cape Epic takes a huge team effort, and everyone in the Specialized crew went above and beyond. My mechanic Leo replaced every single bearing on the bike multiple times and had it in perfect condition every day. The kitchen staff barely slept but had us eating well all week. The soigneurs and staff jumped at everything that helped us recover. And Matt and I found a flow, trusted, and leaned on each other.
After the medal ceremony, we shared the podium with the kids from Songo, which is a program based in the Kayamandi township, giving kids a community, support for their education, and mixing it all with the bike. I had a little extra motivation during the Epic, as I donated all my prize money to the organization. Our visit to the Songo clubhouse before the Epic, where I rode the BMX track with kids like I did growing up, really made the trip whole. I’m so glad I learned more about South Africa from the people I met who share the love for bikes.
April 3rd 2023