We chat to Crecilda van der Merwe about her experience being the Environmental Control Officer (ECO) on the Absa Cape Epic 2013. NCC has a long history with the event, working with the event organisers to create a mountain biking event that takes people to remote areas of South Africa while having a low impact on those wild places.
1. For those who don’t know, what is the Absa Cape Epic?
The Absa Cape Epic takes place every year and is held over 8 days, leading aspiring amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world through approximately 800 kilometres of the unspoilt nature of the Western Cape and up approximately 15 000 metres of climbing over some of the most magnificent passes in South Africa. Approximately 600 teams of 2 people race this event each year.
The Absa Cape Epic is the largest full-service mountain bike stage race in the world. The event provides race nutrition, water, and isotonic carbohydrate drinks at the feed zones to revive tired riders during the race. At night, all riders and race crew sleep in the tented race villages that are set up prior to arrival and taken down immediately after the start each morning by the race crew.
2. What history does NCC have with the Cape Epic?
The Epic team want to ensure that they do it right, not just for the riders but also for the environment. Since 2007 we at NCC have been guiding the organisers on environmental best practice, legislative requirements, permits and permissions required for the areas which the event traverses.
3. What services does NCC provide the Cape Epic and were you faced with any challenges this year?
During our involvement we have developed an event specific EMP for them, which captures the legislation, permits and permissions needed for the event. As this is an overarching document, at each year’s event we re-educate all the event stakeholders to ensure compliance with this legal document.
We also audit the event on their compliance with the EMP. To do this we provide the event with an experienced and fit group of Environmental Managers. The team of four consists of a trained and experienced fire boss (Fire ECO), two route sweepers (Sweep ECO’s) and an Event ECO. The Fire ECO makes sure that the event is safe from a fire point of view and goes around each day checking water points, race villages and spectator points. The two route Sweep ECO’s are brave guys or girls that sweep the entire route, be it by foot, bicycle or 4x4 to ensure that no race litter is left behind. And lastly the Event ECO checks each race village set up, sensitive areas on the route and audits the event on the set up and break down. The Event ECO also takes all the information from the Sweep ECO’s and the Fire ECO and collates it into a comprehensive post event report. The report is there to highlight issues and to give recommendations and solutions for improvement.
4. Tell us a bit about the NCC team that worked on the event and are there any specific skills needed to work on an event of this magnitude?
The event has a special kind of magic (literally blood, sweat and tears…), but this seems to get some team members hooked, like our Fire ECO Michael Scott who has been working on the event since 2009, and assures us he is ready for more!
The two route sweep ECO’s this year were a last minute crew, but none-the-less they were brave soldiers: Robin Colyn and Kyle October. It takes a special kind of person to be told they are going on the Epic and to stay motivated and cheery until the end, which these two ‘okes’ were. The Epic is hard work, you get up at 5am, and start at 7am in the morning and traverse between 100 and 150 kilometres each day at a pace of 20 kilometres an hour i.e. behind the last riders, and so reaching the race village at 7 in the evening is a daily occurrence. Then add in a stop every few meters to pick up another piece of litter or a sign, and a quick hike or cycle along the single track sections to top it all off.
Out on route, Michael Scott makes sure that all the water points are managed effectively and that any risks are mitigated, especially ones involving fire. Michael is the team’s rock, he is the 'can do, will do, panic button'!
I was the Event ECO and was based mostly in the race village. My role included checking to ensure that the waste water from the event was adequately dealt with, that generators did not have any leaks and that any possible risks were dealt with. Most importantly when the event leaves the race village I checked that the village is left as it was found from a waste, waste water and infrastructure breakdown perspective. I also project managed the team to ensure that each day’s events and problems are noted, that the team was briefed and prepared for each new day and that the team work well together to plan for any unforeseen circumstances.
5. Did you experience any hair-raising moments along the way?
We had a few, and although they were all minor, out there in the middle of nowhere they can quickly turn into a problem.
On the first stage of the event our team arrived at the water points with the hope to get some water, unfortunately the point was already packed up… although they had water, it was close to boiling after the day’s high temperatures. Fortunately they were not far from the finish line. But it made for a valuable lesson on the importance of water, how much you have, is it enough for what still needs to be done and always top up because you never know when you’ll be able to get more.
We had a few instances of not being able to get hold of our sweep team members. This despite all having cell phones and radios. Fortunately our team had their maps and their wits about them, so they came out ok. This emphasised the importance of having a map, keeping an eye on the area you are entering and where possible trying to make contact with the main team and to report on progress.
On stage 2 of the event Robin Colyn, whilst out on his own with only his bike and a very heavy backpack filled with route signage found some fresh brown hyena spoor and scats following the vehicle tracks. Although they are not known to attack people, being out there on your own, makes you think twice…
6. What was the highlight of working on such a large event?
The highlight of working on such a large event is coming back to the race village after a long hard day and having our tents already set up, a warm cooked meal and a clean hot shower.
Also seeing the improvements that were made by the organisers with regards to the recommendations given to them during the 2012 debrief. Improvements included: The race’s waste and bins were labelled for recycling/ general waste and in each town, the municipality and recycling service providers were involved in ensuring the event’s waste was disposed of in the correct way.