The 2020 Cape Epic start list has 20 Australian teams on it - and this women's team want to inspire more women to take part.
Getting to know Imogen Smith
Imogen lives just outside Brisbane but started mountain biking in Sydney in the early noughties. She has raced on the road, but favours long-distance mountain bike races despite an early focus on XCO (and 24 hour solo funnily enough).
Years racing? 19
Disciplines? MTB - XCO and XCM, stage racing, plus some cyclocross when it's local
Strengths? Backing up
Favourite terrain? Hills, especially technical climbs
Race result you’re most proud of? 20th at XCM World Champs in 2016
Bike spec rundown?
I ride the current Norco Revolver FS with a Fox Factory 32 SC fork, Shimano XTR M9100 12sp group set, wide EIE Carbon rims wrapped in Maxxis tyres, plus I use Mt Zoom finishing parts and a KS dropper post.
Favourite training snack? Megabake Witcheater bar when I'm training. A pink doughnut if I'm broken
Favourite bike gadget? Back Country Research strap - keeps my pockets free of spares.
Why the Cape Epic 2020?
I have wanted to do the Cape Epic for ever. Then, in about 2016 the race brought in new rules to support fair racing for elite women and I decided I wanted to race it in a women's team. This is a bit different for me because since 2013 I've always raced mixed with my husband and team-mate Mike Blewitt and in any case, the stars have never aligned with work commitments until this year, when I was lucky enough to secure an entry. That done, I set off in search of a partner. I am really glad that I can race with another Aussie and a fabulous specimen at that in Briony. She is an incredibly generous and positive competitor and I am really looking forward to our partnership.
What is your goal for the race?
In terms of numbers and results, it's hard to say. Finishing in the top 10 of the women's UCI teams would be pretty cool. If we cracked the top 5 on any stage that would be a dream. But really? My goal is just to make it to the finish with both of us healthy and strong, to stay positive, and to soak up everything the greatest MTB race in the world can throw at us. And maybe see a giraffe.
Do you have a day job? What’s it like?
I do! I work full-time as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology. I am very busy day-to-day and in my 'spare' time I work on publications and side projects aimed at furthering my career. Many days are full of meetings and I also manage a couple of staff. There's a fair bit of pressure in academia and it really makes me value my time on the bike, where I can focus and clear my head. Even if it's hard efforts, the bike is a welcome escape.
Tell us about your training for Cape Epic? What’s a normal week day look like for you?
Last week I did nearly 21 hours' training and (for those data junkies out there) racked up a weekly T-Score of over 1000. That's a big week for me and most weeks are more like 14 hours and maybe 500-700 T-Score. Usually though, I get up sometime between 3:45am and 5am, train for 1 to 3.5 hours, race home, chug a recovery drink, take a rapid shower, and jump in the car half-dressed and with wet hair for the drive to work. (That's why I look so terrible in my profile pic - I never have time to do my hair!) I am pretty tired by evening and tend to go to bed early, as you'd imagine.
What keeps you going when racing and training gets tough?
All riders out there who like to race will know that pleasure and pain get really mixed up in your head, and the longer you do it, the more entwined they become. No matter how much I am suffering there's always a cheery little voice in my head shouting 'this is AWESOME!'. I am also pretty strongly aware of how lucky I am just to be able to ride hard and race my bike (let alone travel to new places to do it). I mean it's a ridiculous privilege. I'm not stuck behind my desk at work. I'm outside in nature, doing something that money can't buy. I often think, 'I'm fit, I'm capable. I'm so alive in this moment'. That's a special thing. It's not something I'll have forever and I treasure it.
Share with us a trick to make stage racing more comfortable?
I have so many! Here's two: Good chamois cream (I use Ride Mechanic Downunder, it's an amazing Aussie brand and I never get saddle sores). PLUS eating more than you think you need, then eating some more. My special talent is being able to put away food like nobody's business. Seriously though I could give tips all day.
You two have raced against each other before, but not together. How’s that going to pan out!?
Haha I think we will be fine, mostly because Briony is a genuinely amazing person and is able to have fun and race hard, and we are both experienced enough to know that we have to put the partnership first, before everything else that happens in racing. We will have to work through the details as we go though, as I'm not even sure we will have a chance to train together in Australia before we leave for Cape Town - suddenly we're running out of weeks and the work commitments won't let up! [Ed's note: Briony lives in Sydney and Imo in Brisbane].
You’ve recently set up your own coaching practice – how does that affect the way you approach a big race?
Funnily enough my passion for coaching and my reasons for doing the Cape Epic are related. So often I meet women who have big goals but doubt their ability to achieve them, and I'm throwing myself into a situation a lot like that in South Africa. In my coaching I want to work with mountain bikers to support them to meet their goals, and doing the Cape Epic is part of demonstrating what's possible. Briony and I are just a couple of ordinary people who have chipped away at our riding over time and happen to like getting up early. If we can do this, anyone can!