Pre Cape Epic
Kenneth Karaya and Lachlan Morton met each other for the first time in Cape Town only a few days before they were set to race in the “world biggest mountain bike race.” Often called the Tour de France of mountain biking, the Cape Epic is an eight day partner stage race which takes place in the Western Cape of South Africa.
While there were plenty of smiles and laughs immediately shared between Lachlan and Kenneth, that didn’t hide some of their nervousness ahead of the race. The chemistry, mutual respect, and teamwork was evident but when tackling a challenge like the Cape Epic, complete confidence in each other and in each other’s ability is a must. Still, the mountain biking duo quickly got down to business and after a few dinners together, and a ride together, the bond was already forming.
For Kenneth, this was a race of many firsts. It was his first time in South Africa, first time riding with Lachy, first time riding a full suspension mountain bike, and first time riding in a week long stage race amongst other things. He also had just gotten called up to the race a few weeks prior and was unsure about his preparation. Lachlan, on the other hand also had to adapt his plans ahead of the race. Ever since the race got canceled in 2020 due to the start of the pandemic, Lachlan and Alex had their minds set on racing the following edition of the Cape Epic together. They had trained on the mountain bike together and had even done a few mountain bike races together. However, after a crash at the Pike Peak Apex forced Alex Howes to withdraw from the race with a broken finger, Lachlan had to quickly change his plans. While nothing can prepare you for a week of taking on South Africa’s most challenging terrains, the two of them had to make the most of their one recon ride together and the prologue to figure each other out. Maybe they would even have a little fun and foster a friendship along the way.
And they certainly did.
It was Karaya’s debut in the EF pink jersey, and he made us proud in Cape Town. The prologue took the racers through the University of Cape Town campus and on tracks through Table Mountain National Park.
You were sorely mistaken if you thought this prologue would be nice and breezy. This is Cape Epic after all. The first major challenge of the day was the Quarry Climb and then the riders ascended to Dead Man’s Tree, which was the highest point of the stage. It was all smiles (through gritted teeth) for the duo as they made their way along the dusty route. Even with a small spill for Kenneth in the closing stages of the stage.
“It feels good to get things going. I was a bit nervous this morning, but now that we have started I’m excited,” said Karaya.
Stage 1: Ceres – Ceres
Cape Epic was officially off and not since 2013 had Stage 1 gone below the 100-kilometer mark. It was just shy at 98 kilometers, but there was plenty of hard work ahead on the Eselfontein trails. 1850 meters of climbing were ahead, and did we mention all the rocks? It was a route that required serious concentration and Lachlan and Kenneth tackled them beautifully.
Kenneth had his first ever muscle cramp and played his first game of Uno – which he won.
Stage 2: Ceres – Saronsberg
Day 2 offered the team 96 kilometers and 2100 meters of climbs in the Witzenberg Valley, known as “one of mountain biking’s most challenging playgrounds.”
“Everyday is a learning experience. Mostly, I’m learning all the mountain biking skills from Lachy. By just sitting behind him and watching his lines you learn a lot,” said Kenneth at the conclusion of stage 2.
For Karaya, Cape Epic was a totally new experience on uncharted terrain. Literally. It was day two and he was navigating how to ride on sheets of sandstone. Lachlan was able to offer some guidance to Kenneth around the slopes — and it paid off. Lachlan guided Kenneth around the single track and tricky technical terrain and mentored Kenneth on proper hydration and nutrition strategies throughout the race, something Kenneth wasn’t familiar with.
“In one day, Kenneth has improved more on the mountain bike than I have all year,” said Lachlan after the race.
Stage 3: Saronsberg – Saronsberg
The stage 3 menu offered two mountain ranges for the riders to tackle and explore. Nestled in between the Groot Winterhoek and the Witzenberg Ranges the Tulbagh Valley, Morton and Karaya took on 2100 meters of climbs throughout the route’s 91 kilometers. Just when you thought the day couldn’t get tougher, Morton broke his chain and had no chain-link with him. So with 10-kilometers to go before the next aid station, Lachlan had no choice but to walk.
“Good day for a hike,” said Morton when he passes us on the trails.
That’s the Lachlan Morton mentality if we’ve ever seen it. Unfortunately for the team though, in the confusion of the moment, Kenneth kept on going. Unsure of whether Lachlan was ahead or behind, he rode alone for close to 20-kilometers breaking the Cape Epic golden rule which states that you must stay within 2-minutes of your teammate at all times and resulted in a costly 1-hour time penalty at the end of the day. For Kenneth the broken chain was a good opportunity for him to enjoy a 10-minute lie down under a tree as he waited for Lachlan to catch back up. But the two teammates took it pretty well and were even able to laugh about it over dinner.
Stage 4: Saronsberg – Slanghoek
At first glance, with 73 kilometers and 1650 meters of climbs on the menu, stage four appeared to be an easier day. On paper, that is, because the stage was no walk through the park. The surface offered up was rough and brutally uneven. Plus there was a steep but short climb into the Slanghoek Mountains. The team powered through though and was ready to face their biggest day yet at stage 5. But first, Morton had to work on those rugby skills.
Stage 5: CPUT Wellington – CPUT Wellington
84 kilometers and 2900 meters of climbs. Not to mention on completely exhausted legs. Stage 5 was more than a physical test for Karaya and Morton. It was a mental one too. So naturally, Morton was living for it.
“It was probably my favorite day yet,” said Morton.
Even with the threat of rain looming over them all day, Kenneth and Lachlan had a blast cruising around the single track that surrounds Wellington in the Western Cape.
Stage 6: CPUT Wellington – CPUT Wellington
81 kilometers and 1850 meters of climbs. Steep but short climbs kicked off the day before the riders took on the Wild Boar Rollercoaster and the Python singletrack ascent. If the names sound intimidating, it’s probably because they were. The Wild Boar Trails brought on some challenging and rocky sections. Thankfully, the riders only had one more day of racing and were able to really give it their all.
Stage 7: CPUT Wellington – Val de Vie
The Grand Finale of Cape Epic. One final test — because you have to earn your medals here. Don’t think you are getting off easy on the final stage.
Plenty of steep slopes through the Hawequa Mountains, the Freedom Struggle Climb, and the Bone Rattler were offered up before the race’s final Land Rover Technical Terrain. Then onto the spectacular grounds of Val de Vie where the two would cross the line with beaming smiles.
After eight days of racing, Lachy and Kenneth proudly held up their medals. They raced together, played rugby together, ate together, laughed together, and pushed each other in what was truly an unforgettable week in South Africa.
“[Lachlan Morton] is a great person. The race was tough but I really had a lot of fun. This one will stick to me for the rest of my life,” said Karaya after the race.
Our sentiments, exactly. Thank you both for letting us follow along. We’re hoping there’s a next time.