On Sunday, 1 300 riders and their bikes converged on Hermanus for the first two stages of The Absa Cape Epic, an eight-day mountain bike stage race in which competitors put bike and body on the line. It is a bone-jarring, muscle-tearing and mentally tough race as riders take up the challenge of steep ascents and technical downhills with long hours in the saddle taking their toll.
To survive requires months of prior training and a strong back-up team to mend both bike and bodies on a daily basis. Hermanus chiropractor, trail runner and mountain biker, Dr Chad Gordon is excited to be part of the Pro Investec/Songo Specialized team. The team comprises last year’s winner Jaroslav Kulhavy (out to defend the title) teamed with rookie Sam Gaze (winner of this year’s 109 km Cape Town Cycle Tour), with their back-up team of seasoned professional and five-times previous winner Christoph Sauser (Swiss), Matt Beers (SA) and a second back-up team of Simon Andreassen (Denmark) and Alan Hatherly (SA).
Also in his care is the formidable women’s team of multiple Cape Epic winner and five-times world mountain bike champion, Annika Languid (Danish), teamed with world-rated Anna van der Breggen (Dutch), Olympian gold medallist and a two-times Giro d’Italia women’s road race winner.
In his role as the team doctor and soigneur (French cycling term for one who provides care), he and his team are on hand every day to ensure their riders are in top condition. He compares it to preparing a Formula One car for a Grand Prix. It comes into the race highly tuned, so much so that the slightest imbalance or breakdown could spell disaster, and so it is with the highly-trained human body – everything must be in balance and functioning optimally.
As an athlete himself, Chad understands the critical balance between mind and body required for peak performance. As a chiropractor he has the skills required to keep both mind and body working in harmony. When I spoke to him a few days before the start of the race he was clearly enthusiastic about the task ahead and thrilled to be representing Hermanus as part of the team behind the top six riders.
Chiropractic work focuses on maintaining spinal health which is directly related to the optimum functioning of the muscular and nervous systems, essential to athletes performing at the top of their game.
As the team chiropractor and “body mechanic”, it is his responsibility to keep these athletes working to their maximum potential for the full eight days. As riders come in at the end of every stage a mechanic will grab the bike to prepare it for the next stage. Chad will take care of each rider. Liquid nutrition and hydration are the first priority, then an overall assessment of their body, particularly if there has been a fall, of the spine and joints.
Then those aching muscles will get attention. A special cream containing a natural anti-inflammatory (Traumeel) is used to get rid of lactic acid and speed up muscle recovery. Top riders need fresh, whole, raw and high-energy food, so special meals are delivered to each stage. “In the elite section of the field where seconds count, we cannot run the risk of them being exposed to any form of food contamination, so we keep all nutrition in-house, so to speak,” said Chad.
Over eight days there isn’t much that doesn’t get pounded so it’s up to the support team, comprising the team manager, team doctor and three massage therapists, three bike mechanics, a photographer and a social media manager, plus a runner, to keep it running like clockwork.
As a rider Chad’s passion had led to a natural involvement in the cycling industry. With some of the top professionals coming to him for treatment, it wasn’t long before he found himself in demand by the top racing teams. He was initially with a Swiss Pro team before going to team BMC. When BMC dropped out, Specialized jumped at the opportunity to get him on board.
The Absa Cape Epic is the most televised mountain bike race in the world and the only eight-day stage race classed as “hors catégorie” by the Union Cycliste Internationale, making it a highlight on the professional racer’s calendar, while attracting aspiring amateur riders wanting to test themselves against the best.
When not indulging in his passion for sport, Chad runs a family-oriented practice in Hermanus where the emphasis is on providing an integrated approach to health and well-being. While using the latest chiropractic principles to treat patients, he also believes in educating patients about the importance of a healthy lifestyle that includes optimal food choices and exercise, along with maintaining a healthy spine.