In this week’s #FastFriday, our cycling Coach Devlin Eyden reflects on two of his athletes’ -Andrew Robinson and his cycling partner, Terence O’Neill’s – journey to one of, if not the most difficult mountain bike stage races in the world, the ABSA Cape Epic. A gruelling 8 days, covering some of the most hostile terrain the Western Cape has to offer.

The build-up starts some 9 months prior to the race, with Cape Pioneer being their main focus and biggest challenge to date.

Andrew takes us through his experience:

The Cape Pioneer Trek was myself and my riding partner Terence’s first stage race longer than 4 days. Yes, we had done plenty Sani2c’s, numerous Berg & Bushes plus a handful of Wines2Whales together but this last year we were looking for a new challenge. We had also been riding the amazing Imana Wild Ride as a change of scenery for the last 3 years (an event I would encourage everyone to do) which is a totally different experience to the large stage races. But still we thought we should be trying one of the big 7 day plus events. As it happened, one of my work colleagues had done Cape Pioneer Trek the year before and convinced us that it was a really tough but doable multi stage race and a lot of fun too. 

So after a lot of thinking we entered and then after seeing the route (which looked terrifying) we decided we needed a coach. Enter Coach Parry and Devlin Eyden. He structured a tough but really beneficial and achievable program for the two of us over 4 and a half months. We chatted to a few mates who all said how tough the Pioneer was and with Stage 6 being 100km’s, over 2,700m of climbing and a mountaintop finish on Swartberg Pass, we were properly motivated. Early winter morning weekday wattbike sessions and long weekend LSD rides became the norm and all of a sudden the race was upon us. 

The advice from the coach was to take it easy for the first 3 days and the step it up if we felt ok for the last 3 days after the time trial on Day 4. Well the race went perfectly to plan as we rode well within ourselves for the first 3 days and got stronger and stronger over the week. By the Stage 6, the queen stage, we were feeling great and ended up being the 2nd fastest vets team up the Swartberg Pass at the end. The finish after Stage 7 was so sweet and a real sense of achievement for the two of us. 

Well we thought that was it, but after much discussion that week of Pioneer about the Epic and how we should be entering if we can do a Pioneer, the Epic bug caught and we thought if we were ever going to do an Epic, this was the chance. The base we had was really good so to roll that forward to March seemed logical. Well not to everyone, but after much convincing, negotiations, bribery and begging, the wife agreed with a “you can do it but we never speak of it again once you’ve finished”. So after a beer or three with my riding partner, we agreed to go for it. So we managed to secure an entry and phoned Devlin in a panic.

From the Coach’s Perspective

As their coach, it has been important to note, that while Andrew and Terrence would train together and working towards riding the Epic as partners, they are still unique athletes in their own right. This required a bit of fine tuning and building a good relationship with both of them.

Andrew, while slightly stronger, needed a bit more tugging on the reigns when it came to holding back and doing the long easy rides as prescribed rather than trying to overdo it. This was evident when he got sick just after the December period, most likely from over doing it a bit. We made the necessary adjustments and got over this with minimal loss in training.

Terence, on the other hand, had health issues of his own, which with close monitoring and advice from his dietitian, he has managed well and his training data shows. I felt that Terence needed a bit more focus on quality recovery between sessions as well as adjusted training loads.

I must hand it to both of them; they trusted the process and have stuck to the prescribed sessions, to the letter.

Putting it all into Practice

Andrew and Terence entered Barberton Ultra Marathon at the end of January, which as a coach, I recommend as great race to see where an athlete’s for is going into the final big training block before Cape Epic. Barberton Ultra has a large amount of elevation gain (2500m), is 110km in distance and with the heat experienced, acts as a good Epic stage simulation ride.

The lads had a tough, yet good ride, learning valuable lessons when it comes to pacing over that distance as well as nutritional strategies, (something we have discussed in length).

The main training block which they have just completed has largely been focused on building power. And through Torque type interval training as well as hill repeat sessions, has seen their power values increase brilliantly. During this block, they also entered a short 3 day event to remind their legs what it feels like to ride back to back days intense, technical trails.

I have received great feedback from Andrew and Terence as how they are feeling ahead of the race and that the legs are starting to come good, with a little over a week to go to the start of this monumental undertaking.

The final stages

The last week has been the start of their taper, with intensity still being a focus, but a largely reduced volume or training. The taper can often make one feel a bit sluggish and heavy as the body is used to, and craving that stimulus it has been exposed to for several months.

The thing to keep in mind is, this is normal and come the 18th of March, both Andrew and Terence will feel fresh and know they will get stronger as the week progresses.

Good luck gents, I can’t wait to check in with you after each stage. Remember, hold back, hold back and when in doubt, hold back some more. You will reap the benefits later in the week.


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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