Megan Dimozantos and John Randal are "two ordinary Kiwis" taking on an extraordinary adventure in a couple of weeks when they attempt the Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa.
Dimozantos, a 30-year-old store manager from Palmerston North, and friend Randal, a 38-year-old lecturer from Wellington, will take on the event that is dubbed the "Untamed African MTB Race".
It is held over eight days, from March 25 to April 1. The route changes every year and leads aspiring amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world through approximately 800km of the unspoiled nature of the Western Cape and up approximately 15000m of some of the most magnificent passes in South Africa.
There are 1200 riders in the race (600 teams of two). The men's and women's categories are UCI-sanctioned, so the best riders in the world are competing.
The pair go in with different goals, with Dimozantos saying: "I'll be riding with everything on the line each day, and I expect that at the end I'll have left everything out on the track."
Says Randal: "For the most part I'll be riding in a supporting role of Megan, trying to get the most out of her." The pair talk about the countdown to their African adventure.
What has inspired you to take on Cape Epic?
MD: To enter, you are either good enough to get invited, or you enter a "lottery" to buy an entry. I put in a lottery entry a couple of years ago, not thinking I would even get to enter.
When I found out I had been allocated a spot, I don't think I really knew what I was in for, so I put my money where my mouth is and paid the entry fee (without even having a teammate lined up). I didn't have all my cards in place to race in 2011 like I was meant to, but the organisers were nice enough to let me carry my entry over to 2012.
John was the only person I could think of who was crazy enough to do something like this, and patient enough to put up with me as a teammate. The reason I applied was it really is the pinnacle event of mountain biking. It's the ultimate in "hard man" (or woman) racing.
I love pushing my body as far as it will go, then pushing it just a bit further beyond that. Cape Epic really is going to test my boundaries, and I like that ... I also like that what I do inspires other people.
I'm just a normal gal with a regular job who loves riding bikes. Cape Epic is an extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Why not do it?
JR: Megan asked me to be her teammate. Before this, I'd never contemplated racing in such a huge event.
It is tagged as the Untamed African MTB Race - what do you know of the course?
MD: People who have done the course assure me that each day will likely be harder than any single day race I have ever done, so it's a real wake-up call when I do a 100km race or training ride and then ponder the fact that I will be doing that eight days in a row.
To be honest, I'm terrified of it, but so ready to confront whatever it throws at me.
JR: We ride stages of varying lengths. The first is a team time trial - 27km - which will be used for seeding in Stage 2. The longest stage is 147km (day four) and only days seven and eight are less than 100km.
How has your training been for this event?
MD: I spend between 13 and 16 hours a week on the bike and another two hours a week on plyometric strengthening and core work. That is on top of my fulltime job.
I do two long base rides a week on my days off at high intensity. During the week I do high-intensity rides which include a multitude of intervals from sprint reps to hill reps. I have also raced almost every weekend for the last two months. I feel really good and really fit.
JR: Not too bad. It is difficult to juggle sporting goals with being a father and an employee.
I've had some good-quality riding over the last few months, on the back of a solid base of almost six years of endurance-type riding and many more years as a "weekend warrior" before that.
What is your background in MTB?
MR: I actually started out as an adventure racer about eight years ago. Eventually, my enthusiasm on the run and kayak legs waned and I just enjoyed the mountain biking so much that it was all I ended up doing.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I started entering these huge long races, and did my first 24-hour solo mountain bike race about six years ago. That's when all this crazy endurance carry-on began for me ... and I've never looked back.
JR: I've done plenty of cycling. I started commuting on a bike in the late 90s, did my first mountain bike race in 98 and got serious in 07.
How does it work with the event running over eight days?
MR: The event is really well-catered for. Basically, we just have to ride our bikes each day and we arrive at the next race village.
The organisers will have transported our gear to the next venue, set up a nice big tent for us to sleep in and cooked us a feed.
JR: The organisers also provide massage services, laundry, bike cleaning and mechanics. I think there may even be local entertainment each night too.
We wake early, eat, then race, then rest and eat until bedtime.
What are you looking forward to most?
MD: Riding my bike every day, all day. What's that saying? "It's not the goal, but the journey"... I think it will be a great experience all round.
These sorts of races are usually very emotional. You can have some horrible lows and some absolutely ecstatic highs. Those highs are the best part of any race, and the lows are what make the highs so awesome.
JR: This is my first time doing something like this, so I'm very excited to observe such a massive event from within.
What's after the Cape Epic?
MD: I will stay in South Africa for a couple of weeks and then head up to Italy to compete in the WEMBO 24 Hour World Mountain Bike Championships on May 19 and 20. I'm hoping to come off Cape Epic really strong for the 24-hour champs.
I'm really looking forward to a good double-whammy of racing.
When I get back, I'm going to take the winter off training - still ride my bike, but just for fun, and catch up on a bunch of other stuff I have been missing, like rock climbing and hiking and playing squash.
JR: I don't know. But there are many adventures out there to be had. Perhaps the Great Divide Race in North America (Canada to Mexico), or maybe a round of the world cycle tour. Whatever, it will involve some amazing riding.
When: March 25 to April 1
Where: Western Cape, South Africa
Details: The race is held over eight days and includes a time-trial prologue. The route changes every year, covering 800km of the unspoiled nature of the Western Cape and approximately 15,000m of climbing over some of the most magnificent passes in South Africa.
Megan and John's sponsors to take on Cape Epic:
Mitre 10 MEGA, Yeti Cycles NZ, Adidas Eyewear, Camelbak Hydration Systems, Roadworks Cycle Repairs, Blox Apparel.