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From Media Rider to UCI Racer: Ila Stow's Transformational Journey with The Absa Cape Epic



Competitive cycling is more than just a sport; it's a lifestyle filled with adrenaline, challenges, and unforgettable moments. In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Ila Stow, a passionate cyclist whose journey into competitive racing has been nothing short of inspiring. From her time as a media rider for the live transmission of the Absa Cape Epic to tackling the iconic event in the women's UCI racing category, Ila shares her experiences, insights, and aspirations, offering a glimpse into the thrilling world of competitive cycling.


Journey into Competitive Cycling:

Dirtyheart: Can you share with us your journey into competitive cycling and what initially inspired you to participate in events like the Cape Epic races?

Ila: Even though I come from a cycling family, my stepdad, Chris Nixon, has represented South Africa in BMX, XCO, and DH, and my mom, Gina Nixon, has also always been involved in mountain bike racing, representing SA for DH (definitely the fastest granny out there at the moment :)). I only started mountain biking when I was 24 years old, once I got married to my husband, Darryn Stow. He has always cycled, but I wanted to join in and be able to ride with him. I didn't realise I was competitive until I got married, and then I just wanted to keep up with Darryn. I didn't really set out to do all these races, but the opportunities just arose as I was riding more, and I am never the one to turn down any opportunity or adventure. But once you have done a few of the races, it really can be quite addictive. We are so spoiled with our races in South Africa; we really have some of the best trail networks and event organisers. And the mountain biking community is just the best; I have made the most amazing and inspiring friends.



Experience at the Cape Epic:

Dirtyheart: Having experienced the Cape Epic both on traditional bikes and as an e bike media rider, how do these experiences differ for you, both in terms of the physical challenges and the overall race atmosphere?

Ila: I really feel privileged being able to be a part of the Bulls Media Team for the last 3 years. They are so passionate about what they do, and it adds another level to watching the event. For me, it's like a 4D experience, watching how everything plays out from the front row seat. It's also special knowing you are there for the ladies, adding media coverage to grow the ladies' field and ensuring they are looked after where possible. Physically it's very different, with the weight of the backpack and bike, it's more of a full-body workout. Technically it can be a bit of a challenge as your weight is not always as balanced, but the bike's suspension, tires, and geometry can make up for it. It's always been a great atmosphere, and I have always enjoyed the cheers along the sideline. But it can be a bit lonely as you don't talk to the riders to remain neutral during the racing. Having a partner for long stages races does help mentally.



Memorable Moments and Approach to this Years Race:

Dirtyheart: What have been some of the most memorable moments for you during your previous Cape Epic races, and how have they shaped your approach to this year's event?

Ila: I have quite a few memorable moments, the one that always stands out is Hayley Batten giving Sophia Gomez a pep talk after going up a long steep climb, and Sophia was not in a good mental or physical place. Hayley was so encouraging and made me want to be a part of her team. Candice Lill has that same composure; when their partners are not feeling their best, they are there to support them in any way possible. It's not only professional but shows so much character. They really get the most out of their partner. The top athletes are so calm; they know unexpected things will arise, and they don't get flustered, and they work as a team. This is something I would like to use in my approach this year. Another memorable moment is following Sina Frei and Laura Stigger on the technical trails; it's just beautiful to watch how they navigate the trails and how they are just one with their bikes.



Expectations and Goals in the UCI Women's Category:

Dirtyheart: As you transition into racing in the UCI women's category, what are your expectations and goals for yourself, both in terms of performance and personal growth?

Ila: I am so proud to be a part of the women's category. The field is getting so much bigger and deeper. I feel the UCI package for riders and allowing semi-professional riders to be included in the category has made a significant difference. It is important to grow the women's field even if it means not all the ladies are at the top level as it bridges the gap for new ladies entering into the sport and trying to progress to the top level. That is why I feel the semi-professional (working class) riders are as important as the pros to grow the ladies' field. This year the ladies' field is the deepest and strongest it's ever been, which is so exciting to see. Realistically, a top 10 for us would be a great result. From a personal perspective, it's been good to challenge myself again. With a 5-year-old and a full-time job, I have put realistic goals in place and been flexible and tried to enjoy the process of training for the last 12 weeks.



Mental Preparation and Strategies:

Dirtyheart: The Cape Epic is known for its demanding terrain and unpredictable conditions. How do you mentally prepare for such a challenging race, and what strategies do you employ to stay focused and motivated throughout?

Ila: I think remaining calm and flexible, without expectations, is the most important coming into an event like the Cape Epic. There is so much out of your control. But the things you can control you should try and execute well so you are as prepared as possible. Do the necessary training and time in the saddle. Be comfortable on trails and have skills sessions (often we forget the small things which make a big difference to confidence), know which nutrition works for you. I also find taking each day as it comes, breaking up the event into small manageable portions.



Advice for Aspiring Cyclists:

Dirtyheart: With your diverse experience in Cape Epic races, what advice would you give to aspiring cyclists looking to tackle this iconic event, especially those considering making the leap into competitive racing?

Ila: Take your time and be consistent. It took me a couple of years to feel completely comfortable on my bike and enjoy riding. Start with smaller events and work your way up to bigger, more demanding events. You should enjoy the process and journey so don't rush it. From a training and preparations aspect, I have found that I try to do 80% of things well, and the other 20% I am not going to worry about / feel guilty about. You need to find your balance point and have realistic goals for you. Everyone has different commitments, so don't compare yourself; it's your own journey. The advantage of stage racing is that it is in a partnership- having a more experienced partner, especially one that is slightly stronger (but still nice and encouraging) really allows you to grow as an athlete quite quickly. I have been very lucky to have Katie Lennard who has been very supportive and encouraging and has been like a mentor to me the last year and a bit. I think ladies that have been competing should realize the knowledge they have is powerful and something we should share and pass on as much as possible. From my perspective, I do want ladies to know, with support they are able to have a family, a career and ride bikes.




Ila Stow's journey through the Absa Cape Epic embodies the spirit of determination, passion, and camaraderie. As she gears up for another thrilling adventure at the Cape Epic, her insights offer valuable lessons for both seasoned riders and aspiring cyclists alike. Through perseverance, support, and a love for the sport, Ila continues to inspire others to chase their dreams, conquer challenges, and ride the waves of adventure.


Follow Ila Stow and Laura Stark - TEAM 73 as they take on the 2024 Absa Cape Epic in the Women's UCI category at https://www.epic-series.com/capeepic

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