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Dirty Business

2019-03-24

Dirty faces; mud-caked legs; crusty, dusty kit - the Absa Cape Epic is unrelenting on its participants. Just imagine what the bikes go through...

Just after the Coca-Cola-and-Powerade refreshment station (the first thing the riders see after the finish) and just before the most cheerful people at the race, the Woolworths greeters, is a non-stop stream of eager young men relieving tired riders of their dusty steeds. This is Team Squirt Cycling Products, and their mission is to clean every bike before the rider even realises he has let it go. 

Squirt Cycling Products is yet another South African success story, with its Squirt Chain Lube well-known around the world and its ground-breaking (but earth-friendly) Squirt Bike Cleaner helping a host of top names keep their bikes ship-shape away from the Absa Cape Epic. “The Squirt Bike Cleaner is key to us getting this to work,” says Tashin Collins, who is tasked with feeding the 780-odd bikes into the wash bays each day. “It is controlled chaos – we know exactly who is doing what, even if it looks mad,” he chuckles, as another ten bikes are wheeled past.

The partnership with the Absa Cape Epic was a no-brainer for Squirt Cycling Product’s Marketing Manager, Alexa Cunningham. “We already sponsor and supply half of the Men’s category, and three-quarters of the Women’s, as well as loads of the non-UCI athletes. Stepping in to make the bike wash work with our Squirt Bike Cleaner was logical; it is local, it works like a dream and it is biodegradable, so we are keeping an eye on the environment too.” 

The numbers are staggering: 168l of Squirt Chain Lube, 7 500l of Squirt Bike Cleaner , 250l of the firm’s new Squirt Tyre Sealant with BeadBlock and more than 12 000 sachets of its Squirt Barrier Balm have been distributed in some way at the 2019 Absa Cape Epic.

Once they have been washed and racked in the Plascon bike park, many riders have contracted mechanics to keep their machines up and running. By far the busiest is the Absa Pride service centre, run by Marco Swart. “This is our fourth year at the event, and we are keeping tabs on 208 bikes this time, quite a lot more than last year. We collect from the bike park, wash them again, contact the rider for any specific requests, and then run through an extensive check-list to make sure the bike is not going to be what lets the rider down.” 

26 mechanics and six runners/washers make this all happen, along with a substantial investment in both time and money. “You have to have something of everything, you never know what might break.” Brake pads are the hottest ‘sellers,’ followed by cable kits (dust and river crossings are not kind) and, bizarrely, grips. “I don’t know why, maybe it is psychological, but riders love new grips. It is not like they wear out in two days, but so many guys still want them changed more than once during the event.” 

On matters bizarre, this edition of the Untamed African MTB Race has two stand-out running stories for Marco. “We had a guy smash the carbon stay on his machine on Stage 2. He hit a rock, or something. Getting a new swingarm proved tricky, so we cut a whole lot of spokes into ten-centimetre lengths, to splint the break, and then used Sikaflex – the bonding agent they use for windscreens and canopies – to hold it all together. And, obviously, a couple of layers of duct tape.” Heath Robinson finished the 2019 race, bodge in tact. 

“But that isn’t the best – we had this oke come in every morning, with his one busted shoe. He makes us duct-tape his foot into it, lekker tight, and then comes in right after the stage to have all the tape cut off again.” 

For a team working from 18-hour days, theses success stories make their own Absa Cape Epic endurance test all worthwhile.

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