Too young and not pro enough

Inside Ian Boswell and Mitch Docker's experience leading the amateur category at the Cape Epic.

Photo: Wayne Reiche/ Cape Epic

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I have to be honest, it’s been a little troubling to see Ian Boswell and Mitch Docker in the leader jerseys of the amateur category at this year’s Absa Cape Epic.

I mean, both of those guys have ridden the Giro and the Vuelta, and Boswell rode in the 2018 Tour. Yes, the Cape Epic is a mountain bike race, and no, neither of them have any mountain bike racing experience.

But still, the amateur category is where I would be riding if I was at the Cape Epic because, well, I am a legitimate amateur.

Read also: 2023 Cape Epic race reports

So, I called Boswell after stage 3 of the eight-day race to A) give him a little grief and B) find out what was really going on in South Africa.

His first question was if people had been talking about the fact that he and Docker were racing as amateurs. I lobbed it back at him — ‘has anyone given you crap for it?’

Boswell said that, on the ground, the vibe has been nothing but friendly. Even though he and Docker have won four of the five stages, they are by no means the best mountain bikers in the field. They are perhaps, the best dirt road climbers.

“A lot of the course is advantageous to us, the dirt roads favor us,” he said. “I guess we’re riding at our level there. But anytime we go downhill or on singletrack, I’m 45 seconds behind the group and have to close the gap on the next climb.” 

Boswell and Docker raced against one another during their pro careers on the road but didn’t get to know each other until they both covered last year’s Tour de France for The Cycling Podcast. The idea to race the Cape Epic was Docker’s — “to do something together that was fun,” Boswell said.

“It wasn’t our intention to come here and win the amateur category. It was more like, we’re not pro mountain bikers, so we shouldn’t be in the pro category. When I look at someone like Chris Blevins or Matt Beers, I’m like, ‘that’s definitely not me.'”

Read also: Retired roadies Ian Boswell and Mitch Docker to team up for Cape Epic

Furthermore, neither of them have current UCI licenses, which they would have needed for at least six months ahead of the race to race in the pro category.

And, they’re too young to ride as masters — “we’re getting smoked by them every day,” Boswell said.

So, we agreed, they’re in the right place.

My next question was — are you really racing it?

Here Docker chimed in.

“We’re in the race, yeah, everyone’s racing here,” he said. “But it’s not like a race per se where everyone’s riding as hard as they can all the time. You’re not attacking, sprinting at the end. They’re trying to drop us on the descents and we’re trying to drop them on the climbs. So yeah, we’re racing but it’s not racing like we’re used to.”

Both riders agreed that what they’re used to are race tactics, and that’s what missing from their experience at the Cape Epic.

“There’s huge disconnect between mountain bikers and road bikers tactically,” Boswell said. “This is hugely challenging physically. But because there’s some roads, the dynamics of road racing give you an advantage. We’re riding as fast as we’re able to within our technical and physical ability. We are being competitive in the group, but it’s mostly because of the course. If I went to Cape Epic Switzerland, which is more technical, I’d probably get really beat up.”

It’s not to say that the riders aren’t getting beat up in South Africa. When we talked, Boswell said he’d just tried to cut his fingernails but that his fingers were too weak to squeeze the nail clippers. While his legs were tired, his forearms, he said, were incredibly fatigued.

Both he and Docker said that five days would be more reasonable than eight.

“They are really hard stages,” Boswell said. “It’s comparable to a Paris Nice with the length and fatigue. It’s by no means an easy task to finish the race whether your’e a pro or the last to start. It’s a real challenge.”

Nevertheless, the two former pros are trying to soak in every moment of not being pro. Their post-race ritual, Boswell said, is “eat the race meal, have a beer, go to the shower, do podcast stuff, check emails, have a beer, and go to dinner.”

They’ve been able to explore a bit of the local surroundings, walking to town and eating things like biltong jerky and springbok carpaccio (more tender than beef, Boswell said). Since both riders have a podcast — Docker’s Life in the Peloton and Boswell’s Breakfast with Boz — they’ve tried to initiate conversations with riders while hanging around the camp. Boswell said it’s been humbling to be recognized for his time on the road — at a mountain bike race.

Another thing Docker and Boswell have been doing as they clean up in the amateur category? Following the pro race, of course.

“It’s pretty cool to be in a race and see how much faster those guys are going,” Boswell said. “When we go through a turn they’ve gone through and seen their lines and how they excited the turn it’s like, ‘wow, they’re going so much faster than us.’ It’s mind boggling.” 

 

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