They are talented, they are fit, they are mentally strong and they are highly motivated. The dormakaba pairing of Amy McDougall and Samantha Sanders are fully focused on winning the prestigious Ladies African Jersey, awarded to the highest-placed all-African female team, at the upcoming Cape Epic mountain bike stage race.
McDougall and team dormakaba won the jersey last year and Amy would love to retain the title with teammate Sanders.
The gruelling race, which is not for the faint-hearted or the weak, takes place from 17 to 24 March in the Western Cape. It starts on the iconic slopes of Table Mountain’s National Park, from where the route will take the riders through the craggy shoreline of the Southern Coast, traversing the famous Winelands and beyond into the high mountains of the Western Cape. Eight days, 624 kilometres and 16 650 meters of climbing: The bare statistics tell the story.
Team dormakaba’s aspirations, however, do not stop at winning the coveted African Jersey. “Even though our focus is on the Jersey, we would also like to finish as high as possible in the general classification. If we race according to our strategy, I firmly believe we can finish on the podium,” says McDougall.
Her teammate agrees, but admits it is going to be a challenge. “The Cape Epic is certainly tough. The ultimate result would be a top three, standing on the podium flying the dormakaba colours. But to win the Ladies African Jersey would be incredible amidst some strong competition,” says Sanders.
Dr Mike Posthumus, performance director for team dormakaba, says working with Amy for just over a year has taught him what she responds to.
“I know how to get the most out of her. As with any of the athletes I work with, this process of learning what works, tends to change your approach slightly every year. John Wakefield, who coaches Samantha, uses a very similar approach. They have an excellent relationship and John is a world-class coach. We are very lucky to have John look after her,” says Posthumus.
For team dormakaba, Dr Mike’s involvement reflects a change in approach to the Cape Epic this year. The team has been focused on putting the right support structure in place and create an environment that enables the ladies to reach their full potential.
“With better support and preparation, we have high hopes of our ladies performing at their best on this truly international stage,” adds Posthumus.
Samantha agrees. “To do well at the Epic, you need to have proper support around you that can assist you with every aspect of your race, including nutrition, recovery and bike maintenance,” says Sanders.
To this end, team dormakaba has partnered with The Performance Kitchen to take care of all their nutritional needs during the race. Focused on optimising the performance of its cyclists, this relationship sees all their meal assessment, planning and preparation taken care of so they can remain focused on the cycling side of things.
Posthumus says this relationship will help the ladies recover better after each stage.
“We will ensure that our ladies get their recovery nutrition immediately as they cross the line. We would want this to be consumed on the finish line. Thereafter our ladies will be fed by Adrian Penzhorn from The Performance Kitchen. Adrian individualises the food prepared for each athlete by matching to the demands of the day and by looking at the demands of the upcoming day. Thereafter, our ladies will receive a long massage and then get as much rest as possible between the stages.”
McDougall says the ladies’ field is quite deep this year. She believes nobody should be underestimated.
“Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill of Galeleo Risk are going very well. They will be our toughest competition in the African Jersey, and I look forward to racing our ‘frienemies’ for this race within the race. In the overall classification, there are probably at least eight strong teams. As we see every year, the Cape Epic is a race of attrition, so I think it is anyone’s game, making it even more exciting,” says McDougall.
Dr Mike feels the team will be favourites to win the African Jersey given their exceptional skill on the technical descents.
“I have never met two ladies who are so determined, focused and mentally strong, not to mention their ability on the bike. Sam and Amy are also brilliant technical riders and there are not many men’s teams who will be able to follow their wheels down the technical descents. They are different riders, but this creates and even better team because they will be pushing each other in their respective strengths, thereby ensuring a formidable team.”
Just how intense is the Cape Epic when compared to other races?
“It is difficult to explain, even to a seasoned cyclist who has not raced the Epic just how tough it is. It’s not just the huge amount of energy exerted each day, but also the accumulated pounding your body sustains over the eight days of racing this rough and tough terrain. On average, our ladies will be burning around 5000 KCal (calories) daily on the bike alone. This is a huge demand on the body. To put this into perspective, if you had to replace this amount of energy by eating bananas, you would have to eat around sixty! But over and above the physical challenges, there is also a very large emotional and psychological stress from having to put your body through the pain and suffering day in and day out,” says Posthumus.
Whatever happens, this is going to be great race with expectations high that team dormakaba will once again excel in one of the world’s toughest mountain bike stage races.
Watch this space!