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African Epic the untamed Mountain Bike race

Edited by Justin Fox


an African


Edited by Justin Fox




Foreword Kevin Vermaak, founder of the Absa Cape Epic


reating the Cape Epic took every ounce of effort I could muster and a lifetime of emotions. I’ve foregone nights and even weeks of sleep and, in the beginning, it took every cent I had. But every day that passes, I feel privileged to have had the chance to feel true passion for what I do. In some ways, it’s almost a relief to be one of the fortunate few who have the opportunity to turn a hobby into a sustainable business. Before I started the Cape Epic, I’d ridden my bike across continents and over mountain ranges in the far corners of the globe. It was perhaps inevitable that I’d end up doing something like this because I also come from South Africa, home to some of the most gorgeous and untouched landscapes on the planet, ready to be explored. But I still count myself lucky. Creating and developing the Epic has been tremendously exhilarating and satisfying; it brings together avid mountain bikers from around the world and showing them new routes traversing the spectacular byways of the Western Cape. Our management team’s excitement is perhaps akin to the sense of achievement that more than a thousand riders feel after committing an entire year to their preparations and finally crossing the finish line at Lourensford. The event never fails to thrill me, and neither does the anticipation I feel as I look to the Epic’s future, mapped out ahead.

In this book, the allure of the Untamed African Mountain-Bike Race has been captured by a handful of talented individuals who are widely regarded as some of the best sports photographers in the business. Their images, over the years, are in no small way responsible for attracting thousands of riders from around the world. Every year, the event produces great stories of personal triumph, inspiration, honour, the settling of old scores and rising above adversity. As was my dream from the very beginning, I hope you’re inspired to join us on our journey, whether it’s blazing the trail at next year’s race or watching from the comfort of your armchair, witnessing this great tale unfold.

A motorbike takes the lead group out of Uniondale on stage two in 2007 (the only time the race visited this Little Karoo town) while a television helicopter hovers overhead. During the first five years, the route took riders deep into this semi-desert region, which served up many a dusty sunrise image. above Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser stand dejectedly in their yellow, zebra-striped leaders’ jerseys at a tech zone on stage four in 2009. Minutes earlier, Stander had crashed spectacularly, damaging his front wheel. After resorting to illegal outside assistance to continue riding, they later received a one-hour time penalty, losing their overall lead. This incident was the catalyst for introducing pro-tech zones and the development of race rules to permit technical support from other riders. Here race founder Kevin Vermaak discusses the incident with Sauser and Stander. opposite



prologue Tom Ritchey, mountain-bike designer


he Absa Cape Epic entered my life at a pivotal point in my career, just after I’d visited Rwanda and ridden in Africa for the first time. I’d felt that the sport of XC mountain-bike racing had matured and topped out in North America. Road racing was gaining more importance, along with technologydriven, downhill mountain biking. This made it refreshing to come to Africa, ride in Rwanda and then challenge myself on the Absa Cape Epic. The sport needed to reinvent itself and this event elevated the cross-country race into such a wellrun stage race that it started attracting the best pros from all over the world. What was really great for the sport ¬(as well as for me and our own Team Rwanda initiative) was Kevin Vermaak’s enduring vision to have the pros and general competitors starting each stage together, sharing their experiences and fraternising with each other when the day’s racing was done. I think this is tremendously healthy; it goes back to the roots of the sport and the team spirit I first experienced 30 years ago. It’s something you just

don’t see in road racing. This keeps the sport real and the community together – just the way it felt for those of us who were around at the beginning. Personally, I love this kind of racing, with no barrier between top athletes and entry-level riders. We all take part in a combined experience. Everyone hurts; everyone suffers. The camaraderie of the Absa Cape Epic has left me with life-long memories.

Riders circle Worcester in 2010 during the first, mid-race time trial, a 27-kilometre, two-man race against the clock. Previous editions had featured time trials, but only as prologue. above Credited as one of the founders of mountain biking, Tom Ritchey competed in his first Epic in 2007 with fellow mountain-biking legend Thomas Frischknecht. Ritchey represents Team Rwanda, a development initiative he set up after his first visit to Africa. opposite



Contents history




Neil Gardiner

Nic Lamond

Route 50

Logistics 109

Neil Gardiner

Neil Gardiner

team work 70


Nic Lamond

Neil Gardiner





Nic Lamond

Kevin Vermaak

the Pain



history I

t was 2 am on 13 April 2005. Race-founder Kevin Vermaak lay flat on his back on the floor of his office, alone. With a second Cape Epic under his belt, the event was beginning to show its true potential and attracting some of the big stars in the sport. It had captured the imagination of the world’s mountain-biking community and a growing number of fans. But that night he considered it a failure. He gazed into an abyss of debt and considered his rapidly diminishing options. His mind wandered back to his well-established life in London, three years earlier. Working as a project manager for the Royal Bank of Scotland, he’d been earning more than just a comfortable living and travelling extensively. He thought of the beach in Costa Rica, where, in the days preparing to embark on La Ruta de los Conquistadores race, he imagined a similar mountain-bike stage race on African soil, but longer, faster and better. Those happy memories faded as the office walls pressed in on him. Since then, there had been the two-year, headlong dive into this project, the 18hour days, the six-and-a-half-day weeks (he took the small luxury of a Sunday morning omelette and the paper), the stunted social life and the small matter of a life’s savings that had gone into this venture. Kevin began to realise he was in so deep, the only way out was to somehow make it work. He remembered the tiny booth he’d hired at the 2003 Argus Expo and approaching riders about his planned Epic journey from Knysna to Cape Town. He thought back to the hour the race registration opened, sitting up after midnight and watching the numbers tick over as the entries came in. The inaugural, 250 two-man-team slots sold out in three days. But despite this initial success, Kevin now owed millions. He recalled the moments of uncertainty and self-doubt: would he and his small team be able to pull it off? Did 500 identical tents even exist in South Africa? However after the start gun fired, his insecurities were put to rest. ‘This race is actually happening!’ he thought. But on that dark night in April, he wasn’t so sure anymore. Since he was young, Kevin had had an entrepreneurial streak. However, initially his education and career path followed a well-trodden route: get good marks, go to university, find a secure job with an established company. After La Ruta things changed. He began to scour the Internet for all known mountain-bike stage races (there were few at that time), travelled three times to Germany to meet potential marketing partners and the organisers of the Transalp. Was this the germ of an idea worth packing up eight years of his life and resigning for? History tells us it was. But on that night it didn’t seem so. Kevin was alone and unable to offload. He simply couldn’t risk telling anyone he was using income from the following year’s race to repay the previous one. If the riders had found out, it’s doubtful they’d have paid entry fees nine months in advance. If prospective employees had seen the full, ugly picture, they’d have taken jobs elsewhere. On that night of turmoil, Kevin felt he’d hit rock bottom. He arose the next morning with renewed motivation. He turned to the Industrial Development Corporation, South Africa’s national financial institution that helps fund fledgling businesses. The Cape Epic became the first ever sports event to partner with this economic development agency. With the new cash injection, he’d sidestepped the bullet and could now face event suppliers and his staff.


In the early days, when the race started in the mountain-biking Mecca of Knysna, riders experienced some of the most diverse landscapes yet seen in a mountain-bike race: ancient yellowwood forests, the semidesert of the Little Karoo, endless orchards and, finally, the lush Cape winelands.



above Riders roll off the start line in Knysna at the inaugural event in 2004. Note the first iteration of the Cape Epic logo in the background. Graphic elements included zebra stripes and the colours of the South African flag. The Absa logo featured today was incorporated two years later when the bank became the title sponsor.


In addition, Kevin had been courting Absa to fill the vacant title-sponsorship place. In-between arranging the logistics of a 1 200-rider, 800-kilometre mountain-bike race, he’d served almost enough time in Absa’s boardrooms, PowerPointing and persuading, to qualify as a part-time employee. Just five weeks before the 2006 event, the bank came on board as the main title sponsor. That day, Kevin went to a hotel bar near the Cape Epic offices in Loop Street to drink a toast with operations manager Richard McMartin. Once they’d drained their glasses, it was back to work. As riders pedalled out of Knysna at the start of the newly christened Absa Cape Epic, Kevin headed down the road in his mobile home and slipped a Faithless CD into the deck. It was a personal tradition of playing the appropriately named track ‘Insomnia’, a favourite from his London days. That year he turned it a click or two louder.
 It had been quite a journey. The Epic had got to where it was through Kevin’s will, passion and drive. He was an exacting project manager and he loved mountain biking, embarking on one adventure after another. He’d ridden around the traditional trekking circuit of the Annapurna Massif in Nepal, pedalled over the Himalayas thrice before he was 30 and led the first ever mountain-biking/climbing/snowboarding expedition to Mustag Ata (7 500 metres) in the Chinese Pamirs. The next logical step was to combine escapade with commerce. From the very beginning, the Epic has seen some fierce competition, attracting top international athletes. Stage-race specialist Karl Platt from Germany won the inaugural event, riding with top-ranked marathon rider Mannie Heymans from Namibia. South African and international riders vowed to return, not just to soak up the experience of cycling in such beautiful terrain, but also to settle scores they’d had with rivals. In the early years, Kevin paid particular attention to recruiting. During the World Cup crosscountry season, he travelled to events, convincing riders this was the race to add to their calendars. For many World Cup stars, this would be the only stage race they competed in. Today, no other event attracts as many current and former world champions. 
The event’s next big milestone was to get highlights broadcast every day on television. Growing TV coverage meant a wider audience and increased value for sponsors. In 2007, a 26-minute summary of the day’s action started being broadcast nightly across the globe. In a high-pressure production, there’s precious little room for equipment failure or human error. The Absa Cape Epic was to become the first to attempt the challenge of tracking the world’s fastest mountain-bike riders across remote and rugged terrain.

 The event fascinated riders, fans and the media. Interest increased even more when cycling’s governing body, the UCI, awarded it HC status in 2008, the same level as

the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta d’España. This meant pro mountain-bike racers were now able to earn qualifying points for the Olympic Games. Apart from the occasional minor glitch, all was running swimmingly. Mountain biking had attained new standards of race organisation professionalism and there was a growing television audience. Demand for race entries exceeded available slots by five to one. By 2008, the Absa Cape Epic had become a slick and popular event, enjoying good PR growth and attracting a high-quality field. The course saw pros fight tooth and nail. Jakob Fuglsang, a young Danish rider, caught the attention of professional road team CSC and within a few years he was competing in the Tour de France and wearing the leader’s jersey at the Vuelta d’España. Everyone wanted to race the Epic, no matter how hard or long it became (2008 saw a nine-day event).
 However, looking deeper, Kevin noticed some worrying signs and the event was fast approaching its second watershed moment. The previous year, 80 per cent of the riders stated in a survey that they’d be back for more; in 2008 that figure had dropped alarmingly. With the race starting in Knysna, route designers were running out of good trail options. Mountain-bike legend Tom Ritchey intimated that slogging for hours on open, dirt roads each year was not worth the trip from northern California. Kevin was also keen to take the Epic to a wider range of locations and discover new routes. In addition, many race villages were too small to host the ever-growing event. Exploring new town and route options would mean the race got even longer, and excessive stage distances were already the loudest grumble from rider-feedback surveys. 
Kevin knew then the race format had to be revamped. Sparked by an idea from race doctor Basil Bonner at a 2008 crew workshop, it was unanimously decided to forego the odyssey theme in favour of spending multiple days in each location. There was an outcry. Some riders claimed the romance of an epic journey might be compromised. Many believed the decision was largely an economic one, but in fact the savings were negligible. Much of the event’s costs involve staff and equipment rental, which are booked for the week, regardless of whether they move towns or not. Despite a 50 per cent increase in fees for the 2010 race, entries sold out within 24 hours of the end of the 2009 event. Kevin put this down to the success of the new format. The new cloverleaf-style route, with two-night stays in each race village, had taken a convincing argument to the critics, featuring far more technical singletrack, and a lot more ‘real mountain biking’. Today, one would be hard pushed to find a rider who misses slogging for hours on long dusty roads from Knysna to Cape Town. The Absa Cape Epic is a pioneer among mountainbiking races. The hard-earned lessons have been fastidiously noted and addressed to make it a worldclass sporting event. In its current phase of stability and maturity, Kevin and his team can look back at the Epic’s illustrious history for inspiration as they craft its future. The 2009 marathon world champion, Roel Paulissen, leads Olympic gold and bronze medallist Bart Brentjens in a dominant performance in 2005. Paulissen won again in 2008, partnered with Jakob Fuglsang, while Brentjens returns to the race every year, calling it ‘the Tour de France of mountain biking’. He has since stood on the men’s category podium twice, before winning the masters category in 2012. Here Paulissen wears a black armband, honouring amateur rider Leon Steenkamp, who sadly died from a heart failure the previous night. overleaf While mountain biking was a long-established sport before the Cape Epic, the race can be credited with boosting its popularity to mainstream status. One of the godfathers of mountain biking, Tom Ritchey, refers to the race as a renewal of the spirit of the sport. above






above and opposite In the first five years, wide-open gravel roads characterised the point-to-point route format. Powerful road racers took the opportunity to show their strength, but to perform well with the new format, they have needed to brush up on their technical skills. previous spread Burry Stander leads a field of the world’s elite mountain bikers on a loop around Oak Valley during stage six of 2011. He was on track to becoming the first South African ever to win the Absa Cape Epic.





Newly-weds Erik and Ariane Kleinhans lead the mixed category on stage four in 2012, a few days away from becoming the first, and only, married team ever to take an overall category win. Over the years, several couples competing in the mixed category have put their relationships to the test. Some resulted in finish-line proposals. previous spread Brandon Stewart and Max Knox challenge Lukas and Mathias Fl端ckiger in 2009, hoping to be the first South African team to win the final stage into Lourensford Wine Estate. Fans had to wait nine years to celebrate a local victory, when Burry Stander took the honours with Christoph Sauser in 2012. right





previous spread In 2007, the event was still a point-to-point race. Leaving Ladismith High School on stage four, the lead bunch is still large before the pace heats up. When the new route format was introduced in 2009, including more narrow singletrack, the riders were sent off in batches at 10-minute intervals, ranked according to teams’ general classification.


above The Absa Cape Epic’s new race concept was introduced in 2009. Here riders leave Gordon’s Bay to spend two days in Villiersdorp. By staying multiple nights in each race village, riders get to explore the best trails of the region. It took 18 months to secure permission to ride in this pristine area around Steenbras Dam.


above Nearing the race village in Oak Valley, overall winners Team Bulls are only one day away from sealing their third overall victory on stage seven of the 2010 edition. They would become the most successful pairing in the race’s history, with victories in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Karl Platt won the inaugural race in 2004, riding with Mannie Heymans. oppsoite This start in 2008 marked the last time the race would begin in the Garden Route town of Knysna.



left Since the race began, support from local communities has buoyed the riders. Here reigning cross-country world champion, Spaniard JosĂŠ Hermida and teammate Ralph Naef greet school children near Worcester during stage three in 2011. overleaf Riders head out of the race village in Ceres at sunrise.







he vandal as caught red-handed destroying one the event’s vital route markers, and the race leaders were a mere 15 minutes away. Olympic medallists and world champions were about to miss a crucial turn in Buffelsdrift Game Reserve. Tampering with signs can cause havoc in any race and route designers consider it the gravest of crimes. In this particular case, the culprit was an adult rhino. He didn’t much like the taste of the white board with the big red arrow. After crumpling it and chomping on the metal pole, he spat the thing out. The route designer immediately called the park ranger, who arrived minutes later in a pickup laden with hay bales. In a cunning manoeuver executed with the tail gate open, the rhino was lured away by the slow-moving hay. Once out of harm’s way, he was left to feast on the heap of 16 bales. The sign was replaced and, moments later, the leaders flashed past. While a white rhino isn’t usually on the list of a riders’ concerns when preparing for a race, being sent the wrong way poses some serious risks, considering the remote locations. After all, this is Africa. Creating a 700-kilometre route with more than 16 000 metres of climbing is something of an art. Riders and fans alike demand a lot from the route: high drama on an epic scale with euphoria, torment, tragedy and rapture dished out in perfectly measured proportions. The players come from all over the world and they need a theatre. The route design team couldn’t ask for a better backdrop than the Western Cape. If you own a patch of land in the region, you might already have had a cuppa tea with the route designers. Much of the race traverses private property and each year relies on gaining permission from up to 150 landowners. Relationships are key to extracting the sweetest mountain-biking from a region. Sitting on a stoep or at a farm kitchen table, the event is outlined, questions are answered and minds set at ease. Many jump in, boots and all, offering to clear tracks, disused for years, and cut back swathes of bush. Others share their intimate knowledge of the trails and introduce the designers to local cycling-club members. The route-design process is a thing of high aspiration tempered by realistic compromise. The founder dreams of dramatic finishes on mountaintops and intricate capillaries navigating forestland, while the design team has real-life, practical concerns, such as safety. First and foremost, each race village must have world-class trails on its doorstep. It also has to be big enough to host 1 200 riders and their not inconsiderable wants and whims, plus their entourages, and the crew. When the Absa Cape Epic comes to town, there’s not a bed that isn’t slept in, even if it means renting out the kids’ room. Once locations are finalised, the fun begins: finding ways to link race villages with the most interesting, scenic and challenging tracks. In short, the hard way to get from A to B (and, with the race’s updated format, back to A again). Each year, at a gala dinner in October, the fruits of the team’s labours are presented to riders amid much flashing of cameras and nervous laughter. With the extensive media attention the event attracts, all eyes are on the selected race towns. This gives local communities a chance to benefit from their town occupying the limelight for a few days. Cyclists glued to the broadcasts and poring over photographs will be made aware of all the trails in the vicinity. Some riders may be keen to return


The leading pack leaves Swellendam on stage five in 2008 bound for Bredasdorp on the longest stage in Epic history (147 kilometres). After this edition, Kevin Vermaak decided to bring the start of the race to Cape Town. That year was also the longest Epic: 933 kilometres over nine days, instead of the usual eight.



and relive their Epic moments, others may just want a small sample of it. Tulbagh is a case in point. Before the 2010 event, the town hosted only a handful of bikers; now it’s home to one of the most popular one-day races on the Western Cape calendar. The Absa Cape Epic has appointed key staff to help the town’s residents make the most of their newfound fame. Having switched from a point-to-point race format to the new cloverleaf format, the design team is able to focus on specific regions (there’s not much scope if all you have is a straight line between towns). Now each edition can be tailored to finding the finest trails in a given area. Studying detailed topographical maps, designers mark up trail sections deemed special by local bikers. Once the map is filled with highlighted lines, it’s time to join them up and create a stage. Heaven forbid that a day’s parcours should be too easy, if only out of respect for the riders and their hard-earned finishers’ medals of previous years. But it shouldn’t be insurmountable either. Everything is considered, from track width (for overtaking opportunities) to trail surface (impacting on the riders’ average speeds). For stages featuring especially loose and steep sections, the overall distance is adjusted. Riders have grown wary of the shorter days as they’re often the most severe. Six to twelve months after receiving their initial brief, the team is ready to display their wares. Each year in September, a core unit of test riders tackles the proposed route in a group trial ride. This is effectively a full dress rehearsal of the race. Occasionally, when it’s not in tiptop shape, a route designer has to fire up a chainsaw to clear the path. Often in the saddle for more than 10 hours a day, trial riders are able to judge the appropriate maximum allotted hours for the stage. For these unfortunate crash-test dummies, instructions from the accompanying vehicle are often suspiciously vague, such as: ‘Just try this section and if it’s too hard we’ll take it out.’ The design team has a rich palette to work with: the botanical and geological providence of the Western Cape. The Epic usually kicks off with a prologue. This (relatively) short, two-man-team time trial typically showcases an iconic location. In 2008, the prologue took place in Pezula Estate, with aerial footage showing off vistas of the rugged coastline and indigenous forests of Knysna. The following year it took place along the front face of Table Mountain (during which Kevin Vermaak received an emotionally charged text message from a sponsor saying, ‘This is what I imagined when you first told me your Epic idea in 2003!’). Tokai Forest hosted the prologue’s first live broadcast in 2011 and in the following year viewers worldwide saw a hilltop finish at Meerendal Wine Estate, with panoramas of Table Mountain and Robben Island in the background. The race traverses spectacular terrain covered with remarkable flora. Fynbos is the name given to the endemic heathland vegetation found in the Western Cape. This rich floral kingdom is one of the country’s greatest natural treasures and botanists come from far study the staggering array of species. The UNESCO-registered Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve is a hotspot for fynbos … and for the Absa Cape Epic. Fires frequently sweep through the area. While highly inconvenient to the race crew and riders, the fires reset the ecological succession cycle – an essential part of the regeneration process. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere on the planet. Gantouw Pass leads the race from the outskirts of the Grabouw region into the fertile valley vineyards of Somerset West. It was once a gateway to the interior for the Voortrekkers, those early adventurers and pioneers who struck east over the mountain pass with their lumbering ox wagons. The steel-hooped wheels gouged ruts in the rock, still evident today at a spot where riders navigate this compulsory portage section.


The 2011 prologue held at Chrysalis Academy in Cape Town’s Tokai Forest set the scene for the first live television broadcast of the Absa Cape Epic. This was the third time the race kicked off with a two-man-team time trial. The first was at Pezula Estate in Knysna and the second at the foot of Table Mountain. overleaf Stage five in 2009 stretched from Greyton to Oak Valley and crossed vast tracts of farmland. Every year the route traverses the properties of more than 150 different landowners, who grant permission according the race’s specific requirements. From the beginning, the event has relied on their generosity. opposite

Records show that one in five wagons attempting the pass were damaged, with obvious comparisons drawn to riders’ legs at the end of a long week of racing. But it’s Groenlandberg mountain that is the jewel of the race. This pristine Cape Nature reserve is a regular feature at the climax of each event. There are several routes to the top and, whichever side is scaled, careers are furthered or hopes of glory shattered on what is known to the racers as the Grand Old Dame of the Epic. Although the summit is only 1 100 metres, temperatures can soar to 40 degrees Celsius or plummet to 10 below if the southeaster blows. The Absa Cape Epic provides ever-changing vistas, from rugged peaks and rosefringed orchards to lush forested valleys and brick-red dust plumes in the arid Little Karoo. It threads through landscapes teeming with animals and decked with endemic flora. Riders speed by, ruthlessly focused on line honours or gritting it out to conquer the stage. But even at high velocity, and with so much at stake, it’s hard not to be moved by the majesty of the terrain.




Riders stretch out in single file following the railway line between George and Calitzdorp on a brutal stage two in 2008. Many members of the Amabubesi club (riders who have completed three or more editions) have cited 2008 as the toughest Epic ever.



In 2008, many regions of the Western Cape hosted the race for the last time, with the new route format taking place nearer to Cape Town from 2009. Riders bade a final farewell to towns such as Swellendam. overleaf On 4 April 2011, race leaders Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser are about to receive a heroes’ welcome on the final stage into Lourensford Wine Estate, referred to by riders as the Champs-Élysées of world mountain biking. Stander was about to become the first South African to win the race. right




the history 47

The lead group leaves town on a great loop around the Roberson Valley on stage two in 2012. In keeping with race regulations, the lead motorbikes stay far ahead and out of the riders’ sight. If they don’t, leaders would have an advantage over the rest of the field, which has to navigate using route markers. overleaf Riders rate the singletrack trails around Lebanon and Oak Valley as some of the best in the race. Cooler than the arid semi-desert sections in the Little Karoo, this area is home to some of the largest apple farms in South Africa. Since the race visited the area for the first time in 2008, Oak Valley has become a thriving mountain-bike Mecca. right







above The field traverses the fertile region of Robertson on the 143-kilometre stage three to Caledon. Before the race began, it was predicted that this would be one of the most demanding stages of 2012. However, with 40-degree heat the day before, a 35-knot wind the following day and atrocious weather conditions on stage five, riders had to overcome far more than the challenging terrain. opposite Riders head through plumes of dust between Greyton and Oak Valley on the 111-kilometre stage five of 2009. With low visibility, dust can spell danger for the riders. previous spread The head of the field surprises a pig. Given the vast distances covered as well as its varying nature, it’s inevitable that bike and beast should meet. Riders have encountered elephant, ostrich, wildebeest, zebra, many kinds of antelope and even the occasional venomous snake. overleaf The Western Cape is famous for its fruit and bountiful orchards and vineyards provided a backdrop to stage three in 2012. Here the riders pass between the outbuildings of a wine farm at one of the race’s many spectator points, giving them a much-needed morale boost.







Top contenders cross the strongly flowing Breede River early on stage one of 2012. It’s important that leaders keep going and don’t dismount, as this could force the trailing riders to dismount. previous spread Deep furrows indicate hard work to come for the riders as sandy sections slowing their progress. The Epic’s annual route reconnaissance is conducted during spring of the previous year when the ground is firmer after winter rains, making it difficult to predict the state of the trail surface in March at the end of a dry summer. bottom


Masters category contenders Shan Wilson and Andrew Maclean splash through one of the many river crossings during the final stage into Lourensford in 2009. Overnight rains have been known to make rivers impassable. In such cases, route designers revert to a planned contingency trail and work through the night to mark it out. top right River crossings not only spell the danger of sharp rocks hidden beneath the surface; puff adders have also been spotted in streams along the way (thankfully an uncommon occurrence). overleaf The race towards the finish: 360ne-Songo-Specialized and 360Life dominated stage three in 2012, held from Robertson Primary School to Caledon. top left




The Absa Cape Epic isn’t called untamed for nothing and regularly traverses private game reserves and conservation areas. Here riders encounter the biggest of the Big Five as they head from Uniondale to Oudtshoorn in 2007. The event is actively involved in initiatives such as the Cape Leopard Trust and BirdLife South Africa.



A precarious, rocky dropoff on the 2011 prologue in Tokai Forest attracts spectators and media. The addition of prologues close to the city of Cape Town has drawn far more spectators to the event. overleaf The main field crosses the Breede River outside Worcester during stage five of 2011. They ride in a neutral zone before the race director drops a flag to signify the start. right


listings 67





left Mixed-team leaders Nico Pfitzenmaier and Olympic medallist and former world champion Alison Sydor head down the historic wagon trail of Gantouw Pass during the final Stage of 2009. Riders are more than capable of navigating this rocky section on their bikes, but as it is a National Heritage Site, they’re bound by race rules to portage. This section of the trail was opened to the race in 2007 and is a crucial link from Oak Valley to Lourensford Wine Estate. previous spread After losing their yellow jerseys the previous day, Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser are set to launch an attack on one of the main climbs of the day to distance their rivals in 2009. This move at a decisive part of the route would see them claw back over more than five minutes from race leaders Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm. overleaf Overall race leaders Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm of Team Bulls make their way carefully down Gantouw Pass. The rocks bear gouge marks from ox-wagon wheels. This historic landmark has become a regular feature of the race. When they catch the first glimpse of False Bay at the top, rider know they’re nearly home.







above The first three teams cross the beach approaching the finish in Hermanus during stage six of 2008. Kevin Evans and David George took line honours on the day, wearing the African leader jerseys. Since the first year of the Epic, it was race founder Kevin Vermaak’s wish to feature a section of shoreline in the race and host a stage finish on a beach. This was realised when the race visited Kleinmond in 2007. In 2006’s stage into Mossel Bay, the finish line was very close to, but not quite on the beach sand. Hermanus hosted two seaside finishes on the cliff tops above the old harbour. opposite Yellow-jersey wearers have not been the first to reach Lourensford Wine Estate on the final stage since 2006. Overall victory is, more often than not, sealed in the stages preceding the Grand Finale, with the men’s category leaders already having secured a healthy lead. But even with a 25-minute buffer, winners Stander and Sauser gave it horns all the way to the line in 2012. previous spread The leaders descend Babylonstoren flat out on a day of hard riding that climbed to 2 600 metres on a 105-kilometres loop around Caledon on stage four in 2012. With the new format, stages are typically shorter, but more taxing given the difficult terrain.





left Even in the early sections of stage one in 2012, signs of fatigue began to show, such as during this tough climb in the Robertson Valley. previous spread stage one of the 2011 edition was a mere 85 kilometres and looked set to be an easier first day than in previous years, but with over 2 000 metres of climbing on loose, rocky terrain, riders would soon know better.





repro needed

left One of the stand-out memories for many riders in 2009 was the prologue in Table Mountain National Park. previous spread Dust and heat were ever-present during stage two of the 2011 Epic, held from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh. overleaf Flat out on stage five in 2012, race leaders Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander hurtle through the UNESCOregistered Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, home to some of the richest floral biodiversity on the planet.




the route 89



Riders leave Gordon’s Bay during stage one of the 2009 Epic on their way to Villiersdorp. The switch to a cloverleaf layout changed the face of the Epic, with more opportunity for riders to enjoy the thrill of singletrack, like this one in Oak Valley, in 2008. above

previous spread



team work


very Absa Cape Epic veteran will tell you the most important part of preparation is the phone call to your partner inviting him or her to join you in tackling race. That moment changes your relationship forever. The race is a rollercoaster ride of emotions, a lifetime of highs and lows compressed into eight formidable days. It forces you to play roles you may not be familiar with: parent, mechanic, masseuse, physician, coach, psychologist. If you pick the right person, your journey can be life-changing. The two-person-team format is not unique to the Absa Cape Epic, but it has defined the race and become a major draw card. It was adopted for safety reasons during the inaugural 2004 event from Knysna to Cape Town when riders covered vast distances between remote marshal points. The enforced two-minute gap between teammates ensured riders would look out for each other along the route. But the two-person format is more than a crude insurance policy. Kevin Vermaak calls it, ‘The very soul of mountain biking: just you and your mate riding in the wilderness’. By its very design, the Absa Cape Epic generously dishes out something vital for all mountain bikers – camaraderie and partnership. Husband-and-wife team, Erik and Ariane Kleynhans met while mountain biking in South Africa. As winners of the mixed team category, the race has proved to be the toughest test of their marriage. ‘We do pretty much everything together,’ says Erik. ‘We’re there to drive each other … to get out of bed and get going.’ Ariane agrees, ‘If one of you has had a bad day, the other one is always there. It’s a very big motivation.’ These days, riders are shadowed by a throng of media, marshals and medical staff. Timing mats are now scattered throughout the route to compel riders to adhere to the two-minute rule and strict sanctions apply if teams are separated. But the solidarity with your partner remains. It’s just the two of you toiling against Mother Nature on some of the most spectacular and inaccessible trails in the world. For South Africans Kevin Evans and David George, pursuit of the zebra-striped yellow leader jersey has meant forging a powerful bond. ‘It’s like riding with a brother,’ says David. ‘Through the ups and downs, we’ve never questioned each others’ commitment. We always know the other one is giving 100 per cent. It’s special to work towards a goal with someone and achieve it, as opposed to on your own. In a road race, if you win, you share the victory with the team, but it’s not the same dynamic. There’s not the same closeness. In the build-up to the race, Kev and I chat on the phone four or five times a day, more than we do to our wives!’ Riding the Absa Cape Epic is a big responsibility. Not only do you need to manage expectations of your own performance but you also need to consider the hopes and dreams of your partner. No matter your relative physical strengths at the start of the race, one thing is certain: there will be days when one partner will feel stronger than the other. When that happens, communication is the only way to see you through to the finish line. It’s not surprising, then, that so many family teams race the Epic; mothers and fathers pair up with sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. You don’t need to be from the same gene pool to finish the Epic, but it certainly helps. The companionship on multi-stage mountain-biking events is phenomenal. Lifelong friendships are forged in the race village, whether it’s by getting lost for hours sharing stories while looking for your tents, repairing a broken spoke or sipping a glassy-eyed


After a disastrous mechanical failure on stage five in 2012, Leo Greve crosses the line and embraces teammate Alex Gaspar minutes before the maximum allotted time runs out. They live to fight another day. Had they finished outside the allowed time, they would not have been listed as official Absa Cape Epic finishers (riders are permitted to continue, but are given blue number boards).



cappuccino together in the morning. People from all walks of life and from across the globe sign up for this test of endurance and it creates a vibrant community with which to share the experience. It can certainly be beneficial to train in the same zip code as your partner, yet hundreds of aspiring Epic riders are unable to do so. Some are separated by just a few hundred kilometres. Others are forced to prepare on lonely stationary bikes in the basements of their northern-hemisphere homes, while winter rages outside. Swiss World Champion Christoph Sauser doesn’t believe it’s essential to train with his partner in the lead-up to the race, as long as it’s clear what the expectations of one another are. ‘If we have the same goal and understand each others’ jokes, we’ll be fine,’ he reckons. ‘We don’t do any training together. The most important thing is to share the goal to win. We have cycling in our blood. We know each other.’ South Africa’s Shan Wilson, a multiple masters category winner, is famous for his grit and determination. He’s also one of just nine riders to have completed all Cape Epics to date. Shan is a big fan of the paired racing format. ‘The Epic is so long and hard, to do it alone would be utter hell,’ he says. Fortunately for Shan, he’s never experienced a relationship breakdown during the race, ‘If anything, the hardship and depths of despair I’ve endured have strengthened the relationship with my partners.’ However, tension between teammates is inevitable, so a healthy dose of empathy and humility is essential to succeed. A poor choice of partner can result in a miserable experience. In the high-pressure race environment, the fallout can be devastating. Bustups out on the trail followed by hours of suffering in silence are not uncommon. Shan has witnessed winning teams crack. ‘To this day, deep-seated dissension remains. I don’t know exactly what happened but they raced like individuals, killing each other during the race. At the end of each day they went their separate ways. It was terrible. Both of them were my friends.’ The race is a cruel mistress and can shatter dreams in a matter of seconds. If you haven’t stopped to smell the roses along the way, you’ll be heartbroken when your ride doesn’t go according to plan. If one partner is feeling strong, it might be necessary to hold back without grudge or regret if the other is struggling. After a long climb, the best teams know from a glance into one another’s eyes or a glimpse of the other’s body position whether they can keep pushing or should ease off to recover. The Absa Cape Epic inevitably presents fierce internal battles. At times, you simultaneously give yourself permission to quit and convince yourself you’re going to finish. The race can take you to very dark places of self-doubt. If you choose the right partner, it becomes that much easier to shrug off misfortune or a miserable mood and snap out of that thousand-yard stare. Your partner needs to be someone who’s able to talk you through the lows, encourage you to keep pedalling and, if needs be, tow you home. Importantly, you need to understand that at any time fate can step in and the roles may be reversed. The drop-out rate of the Absa Cape Epic is roughly 15 per cent. That means one in six teams doesn’t finish. The key to completing a race this strenuous isn’t found in a hardcore training regime or a strict eating plan, nor in the lightest and fastest mountain-bike technology. It’s the person in the tent next to you. If you want to be among the teams that go the distance and earn their finishers’ medals, you need to know how to communicate with your partner … even when you aren’t saying anything.

Linus Van Onselen assists partner Breyton Paulse, former Springbok rugby player walk a steep section of the climb during the 2009 prologue held in Table Mountain National Park. Both rode in support of the JAG Foundation.



Absa team Kobus and Fienie Barnard battle on during stage six in 2008, with Kobus sharing his strength on the lagoon approach to Hermanus. The stronger partner assists so that both riders expend similar amounts of energy. Even the professionals described this 130-kilometre stage as brutal.



above German rider Nico Pfitzenmaier has all but adopted South Africa as his second home and is considered the ultimate mixed category partner – tactically astute and highly perceptive of his partner’s condition. Riding with Yvonne Craft, they led the 2008 race’s mixed category from start to finish. Pfitzenmaier has won the mixed category twice with two different partners. opposite Team Cannondale-Vredestein shows canny tactical savvy in the 2008 edition. After Roel Paulissen shredded a tyre, Jakob Fuglsang (the stronger rider of the two on the day) takes his bare wheel. With their leading margin dwindling, they powered into Bredasdorp on the rim for 18 kilometres, still retaining their overall leaders’ jerseys and eventually winning the race. This was to be the last time Fuglsang rode the Absa Cape Epic before turning to road cycling. overleaf Dwarfed by the mountains surrounding Worcester on stage four’s time trial in 2011, this pair of riders has only themselves for company. This was the first year the race featured two time trials: one as a prologue and one in the middle of the week.





above Each team celebrates in its own way at the finish line after the roller coaster of emotions during each Stage. Sharing the Epic experience creates a special bond between teammates, especially evident on the finish line. opposite Brazilian team Adauto Bellini and Mario Roma finish their first Absa Cape Epic. Bellini (left) is one of only two blind riders to have competed in the race; South African Hein Wagner is the other. Both rode as stokers on tandems.



Since riding together at the 2008 event, Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser have developed an almost telepathic rapport. During race week, they share the load, carrying just the right amount of spare tubes and tools, and there is no unnecessary duplication in this slick team unit. Here they share a bottle.



The race traverses some very remote areas and riders are bound by race rules to look after each other throughout the week. Good teamwork runs deeper than just sticking together, however, and cohesive teams have a polished routine to deal with mechanical mishaps, like repairing a puncture. bottom Wearing the African leader jerseys, Kevin Evans and David George frantically fix a flat as their chances of victory disappear up the trail. Later, at the tech zone, they had to decide whether to either change wheels, costing them more time, or risk continuing on the repaired tyre. They continued – a decision they’d later rue. top


David Kinjah Njau and teammate Davidson Kamau Kihagi high five after reaching the top of a big climb in the Kammanassie Nature Reserve during stage two in 2007. bottom David Retief and Pierre Winshaw perform makeshift repairs to the cogs on their rear wheel during stage one in 2011. top




The support of an attentive partner helps relieve the nerves just before the start of stage four in Greyton’s race village. Brazilians Mario Roma and Adauto Belli enjoy themselves during the relatively easy 27-kilometre, stage four time trial in 2011. Riding a tandem mountain bike requires constant communication and great technical skill from both pilot and stoker – even more in this case as Belli is blind. opposite bottom Alban Lakata runs his bike home while MTN Qhubeka Topeak Ergon teammate Kevin Evans rides alongside during stage three of the 2010 Epic. This broken wheel would ultimately cost them the overall title. previous spread Stefan Sahm and Karl Platt’s success is owed to their close relationship. Here they congratulate one other on a day’s successful defence of their leaders’ jerseys on stage six in 2010. That year they sealed their third overall victory together and Karl’s fourth. above

opposite top


Five-time finisher and Amabubesi Club member Max Knox from South Africa offers a helping hand to race novice teammate and Specialized Factory team-rider Kohei Yamamoto from Japan during stage two in 2012.



the pain


here was nowhere to hide. The railway tracks cut a rusty swathe through dry bush, splitting the side of the mountain under an oppressive African sun. There was no water in sight, only the occasional mirage of another rider flickering in the distance. Jarring sleepers and razor-sharp stones played havoc with mind and bike. It was impossible to find a rhythm. Frustration was etched on sweaty brows and dusty faces. Scorched lungs and legs screamed for oxygen. Somehow, the riders pressed on. It was the torturous first day of the 2010 Absa Cape Epic. That stage will forever be fixed in the minds of those who rode it. Eight endless kilometres at the end of the day during which every iron sleeper sent a jolt of pain through the spine. It was a rude awakening for the northern-hemisphere riders. They’d left late-winter training for a 40-degree African oven. Most of them pulled through to the charming sanctuary of Ceres to prepare for another day in the saddle, but the test was too much for some. Nothing prepares you for the mental challenge of your first Absa Cape Epic, no matter how many weekends you devote to riding the areas you guess the Epic will pass through. Nor how many thousands of kilometres you amass alongside your partner in training. No amount of carbon technology or fast-rolling tyre tread guarantees your safe and swift navigation of the route. For the professionals, such as three-time winner Christoph Sauser, training for the battle of the mind is part of the deal. ‘You have to be prepared to suffer deeply in the weeks leading up to the race,’ he says. ‘With that kind of mental focus, you can deal with the physical challenge. It’s hard to deal with the suffering if you think the race will be easy.’ The sacrifice required to complete eight days in the saddle still catches seasoned campaigners by surprise. Fitting in the minimum amount of training is immense and the cost is not borne by riders alone. Husbands, wives, friends, work colleagues, bank managers – all must be willing to pick up the slack as the challenge of the Epic looms. On a treacherous, dusty descent near Tulbagh during the first stage of the 2011 race, celebrated local mountain biker Kevin Evans came off badly and broke his collar bone. With that crash, his dreams and those of his partner David George, as well as the South African mountain-biking fraternity, were shattered. David cut an especially tragic figure as he came across the finish line alone that day. Their team, 360Life, had been created with the specific goal of being the first all-South African team to win the Epic. Stage three in 2011 took riders from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh, through the picturesque Waterval Nature Reserve in the Slanghoek Valley to Worcester. The 125-kilometre route tested even the toughest riders. The day included six rough climbs. Although these weren’t particularly long, they were made up of loose rock and were steep enough to be almost unrideable. German cyclist and four-time winner of the Epic, Karl Platt, has competed in the race since its inception, yet even he was shattered by the day’s route and gasped afterwards, ‘That wasn’t mountain biking, that was crazy!’ Then there was the towering Groenlandberg on stage five. Moments after summiting the imposing mountain, top-placed Swiss rider Konny Looser broke his frame. To stay in the race, he ran the final 23 kilometres to the finish at Oak Valley in Elgin. Just three kilometres from the line, his partner Urs Huber fell and broke his arm. The two bravely finished the stage, but called it quits later that day. The eventual 2011 overall winners, Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander, also struggled.


The severe gradient and loose trail surface forces Polish rider Arkadiusz Cygan to carry his bike during stage four in 2012. Arkadiusz cited this as one of the hardest days in his life. Walking provides relief on the long steep climbs, but it breaks riders’ rhythm. They also run the risk of getting painful blisters from their hard-soled mountain-bike shoes.



By the end of the race, Stander seemed a shadow of his former self. The final three stages saw him grimly defending the race lead despite debilitating mouth ulcers that wreaked havoc with his diet. It had him uncharacteristically avoiding fans and media attention too. When Burry crossed the finish line at Lourensford Wine Estate, becoming the first South African to claim overall victory, his sunken face was revitalised by the thrill of victory. ‘You can buy your entry but you can’t buy your finish,’ he famously quipped. The Absa Cape Epic is a war of attrition. Over the course of the race, an ever increasing number of riders limp into the dining marquee at meal times, frayed strapping holding some part of their bodies together. Stories of the day’s crusade against the elements are traded across the tables. Every now and then, accounts surface of a more serious crash that’s ended someone’s race. A silent prayer ripples across the faces of everyone within earshot, acknowledgement that it could just as easily have been the end of their own campaign. Dr Basil Bonner is the man who gets to make the call on whether you’re fit to continue each day or not. With a broad mandate to ensure the safety and health of the riders, Dr Bonner has seen it all, from the tragic to the most trivial injuries. Ever since the first Cape Epic, Dr Bonner’s medical team has been a vital cog in the event’s wheel. It has evolved into a multi-disciplinary team of emergency experts: orthopaedics, general surgery and sports-medicine specialists, with nurses drawn from surgical care, ICU and emergency nursing. When the Epic is in full swing, the medical team deals with 200 to 300 rider ailments a day. There are race-ending cycling injuries such as dislocations and fractures, but it’s the common cases of muscle strain, dehydration, saddle sores and abrasions that take the biggest toll over the eight days. It’s more likely to be the small niggles that rob you of your finisher’s medal: gravel rash from that silly spill on Stage Three; the strain you’ve felt in your Achilles since yesterday; blocked sinuses from the dust on Stage Six; the saddle sores that won’t allow you to sit down to pedal. These things all add up and before long you’re battling your body as much as the terrain. There’s also a lighter side to the medical dimension, the infamous bum clinic. Over the years, it’s become an institution. The queues swell each morning as the race progresses. According to Dr Bonner, ‘One of the riders renamed it the “Crack of Dawn Club”. Hilarious comments fly from riders as they abandon shyness and inhibition and drop their shorts to have their saddle sores reviewed and treated.’ Physical ailments are often eclipsed by the mental aspect. All Epic riders know the moment well, when the war against the unforgiving terrain shifts to a battle inside your head. It isn’t necessarily marked by a spectacular crash, or illness, or a mechanical issue. It can be a gradual wearing down over days. Despite the presence of your partner, it’s almost always a solitary experience. There’s no escaping the unspoken expectation of the rider beside you, even if they are doing their best to keep you motivated and moving. Again and again, the Epic creates extraordinary choices for ordinary people. And conquering the mental and physical pain is part of the race’s magnetic attraction. It’s as integral as the spectacular scenery, or the cheerful camaraderie. For those at the back of the field, the suffering usually starts sooner than for the frontrunners, and it tends to last longer. Hein Wagner says, ‘The first half of the Epic you ride with muscle and strength, the second half you ride with the six inches between your ears. Quitting is never an option and when that thought starts crossing your mind, drop a gear and grind harder.’

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Tim Boehme upended himself on the technical trails of stage two in 2009, ripping his tyre off the rim. Brought to the race to ride in support of teammates and eventual race winners Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm, he was bitterly disappointed not to be able to provide help to Team Bulls on the loop around Villiersdorp. Fortunately, he was unhurt, but had to walk several kilometres to the next tech zone.


Hein should know. In 2010, after eight days seated behind his partner Gerrie Olivier on a tandem, he became the first blind rider to complete the Epic.


above Covered in dust raised by more than 1 000 riders, Linus van Onselen shows the strain of stage two’s 132-kilometre trek from Uniondale to Oudtshoorn in 2007. opposite The expressions on riders’ faces speak volumes about the hardships endured out on the trail. Overcoming severe weather conditions and tough terrain makes the feeling of holding a finisher’s medal that much sweeter. overleaf Wipe out! Riders come unstuck on a section strewn with peach pips.





above Legs run out on a hilly loop around the Robertson valley on stage two in 2012. It’s common for climbs through the vineyards to reach gradients of more than 20 per cent. opposite top Hailing from Switzerland, former professional road cyclist and Tour de France veteran Alexandre Moos knows all about climbing steep mountains. But limited traction on the hills of stage one in 2012 added a new dimension to his cycling: getting off and pushing. opposite middle Bruce Malela and Exxaro Academy teammate Musawenkosi Manana passed through several pain barriers on their way to completing their first Absa Cape Epic. Here they show their grit on a steep, rocky climb near Caledon during stage three in 2012. opposite bottom Burry Stander and teammate Christoph Sauser didn’t give an inch during the 2012 race and were constantly on the attack. Stander says that when he’s hurting, he’s very conscious that others are too … and it’s less painful applying the pressure than being on the receiving end. overleaf Heading up Simola Hill, Knysna, the first of many climbs in stage one of 2008, provides riders with a rude awakening as their bodies begin to produce painful lactic acid.





A rider is deceived by a sandy patch on the 104-kilometre loop around Tulbagh on stage two in 2011. Falling off is part of mountain biking and almost inevitable given the unknowns of a race such as the Absa Cape Epic. bottom This duo has done all they can to repair a tyre. One teammate has to walk while the other lightens the load, carrying the rear wheel to the tech zone for assistance. top


Proud Amabubesi member Karl Schubert’s account of stage two of the 2012 event comprises a series of mishaps, each of which could have ended his chances finishing. A broken rear derailleur seven kilometres before the first water point forced him to use cable ties as a temporary repair to get to the tech zone. A bolt holding his saddle broke 15 kilometres from the third water point. And then Schubert noticed his partner Ben van Niekerk’s wobbling rear wheel, caused by a broken bike frame‌ bottom Stage five in 2012 saw the worst conditions of any Epic to date. Riders battled rain, hail, mud and extreme cold and many were treated for hypothermia. This was in stark contrast to the scorching heat experienced a few days earlier top




Kevin Evans ploughs through mud on his way to Oak Valley in the atrocious conditions of 2012’s stage five. The deluge on stage four, heading into Swellendam during the inaugural Epic, was spoken about for years to afterwards. Many said this was the toughest day they’d ever spent on a bike … and they still had four days to go. Riders who completed both the 2004 and 2012 editions have experienced the worst conditions the Epic has dished up. previous spread Having to get off and push breaks the rhythm and sometimes the spirit, even among top riders. Here Christoph Sauser leads José Hermida and Karl Platt during stage six of the 2011 edition. above



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above David George tastes the bitter pill of defeat in stage four in 2012, with Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander outgunning him and teammate Kevin Evans in the last few kilometres into Caledon. What with mechanical trouble during stage one, the duo’s hopes of becoming the first, allSouth African team to win the race were fast diminishing. opposite: top left An exhausted Candice Marsh hugs teammate Maryke Van Zyl. After 10-and-a-half hours of fighting the elements, damaged bikes and broken spirits, they finally made it to Oak Valley with 30 seconds to spare before the cut off and the heartbreak of missing out on a finisher’s medal. top right Pushing your body to its limits on the final stage in Lourensford at the Absa Cape Epic. bottom left After an icy, muddy stage five in 2012, Bart Brentjens uses the water running off a trackside hospitality tent to clean up. Riders of Brentjens’ level would have spent less time out in the cold, but medics had to keep a close watch on midfielders and back-enders suffering from hypothermia. bottom right Karl Platt dislocated his shoulder while crossing a riverbed on the run into Greyton. Teammate and friend, Stefan Sahm, popped it back in at the trailside before climbing back on to win the stage and, eventually, the race. This was the second time Platt had to call upon Sahm to assist with his shoulder (the first occurred during the prologue on Table Mountain). The German had surgery later that year to treat this long-standing injury.



A rider misjudges a turn and flies over the handlebars after only a few kilometres of racing during the 2009 prologue held in Table Mountain National Park.



Erik Skovgaard Knudsen of Danish team Racing29ers is shattered after stage five in 2012. Knudsen and teammate Thomas Bundgaard had the honour of being the highest placed team to sleep every night in the tented village (UCI elite riders typically stay in mobile homes or guesthouses).


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If it’s not the freezing cold that gets you, it could be the sweltering heat. Douw Jakobus Du Preez makes the most of a trailside dam on stage four in 2010. bottom With the Kleinmond finish still a few hours away, a rider cools off in the Palmiet River during stage seven in 2007. top


It’s a tough course for everyone. Here a camera motorbike and rider go swimming while attempting a deep-water crossing. It was another hot day on the trail for the scorching 111-kilometre stage five of 2009. overleaf With four punctures hampering his progress to Robertson, former US champion Adam Craig gives his opinion of stage one in 2012. Craig later retired from the race. His partner, Swedish cross-country champion Emil Lindgren continued without him, wearing an outcast jersey. These are worn by UCI-registered riders who have lost their partners, but want to finish the event. They may do so as long as they don’t interfere with the race by pacing at the front of a group or offering technical assistance. top



above Upta quibeatem et, omnis ut re lictoremint inia debitiorro modis mint inia debitiorro modis m imint inia debitiorro modis ditatempore disse que delendio. Et et, optur? Quias estion nobis quatque.


the pain 143



he Absa Cape Epic can feel like a lifetime of emotion, shoe-horned into eight intense days. The journey every rider makes in the months leading up to the race, just to be able to line up at the start, is immense. Fitting in the minimum amount of training takes commitment: months of riding in the half-light of dawn, weekends away piling up the kilometres while testing a new sports drink or lightweight handlebar. Planning for the race begins to consume every waking moment. The motivation to take on the Epic can come from many different places. Some race to win, others for the chance to traverse spectacular scenery with their mates. Many enter the race to mark a lifestyle change. The Absa Cape Epic finisher’s medal is a powerful symbol of achievement. For professional mountain bikers, the Epic is the pinnacle of marathon stage racing. For South Africa’s Burry Stander, it is the unlikely cornerstone of his international career in cross-country racing. He met his Swiss riding partner Christoph Sauser and his sponsors, Specialized, through the race in 2008. ‘When I started doing the Epic, winning wasn’t a major goal,’ Burry confesses. ‘It was just an opportunity to learn from world champion Christoph.’ The Absa Cape Epic is a far cry from the explosive lap races that athletes like Burry contest throughout the year. In the Olympic cross-country format, riders compete as individuals. The races are seldom more than 90 minutes long and mechanical support is available at multiple points on the course. For Burry, the huge contrast between the Epic and cross-country racing is part of the attraction. ‘It’s totally different to what we usually do,’ he says. ‘The Epic is a race where we’re counting on a partner. And it’s also a race where the most extreme endurance and durability are tested.’ Burry knows all too well just how capricious a mistress the Epic can be. He and Christoph have had their fair share of disappointment. Burry was forced to abandon his first Epic in 2008 with a knee injury. Then, during his next attempt, a broken front wheel and a time penalty for outside assistance, robbed them of the leaders’ jersey. In 2010, Burry was ill for the first three stages of the race. However, 2011 was to be their year and he became the first South African to stand on the top step of the podium. Christoph won his first Epic in 2006 with fellow Swiss rider Silvio Bundi. It took him another five years to win the next with Burry. ‘It’s always sweeter when you fail at something for so many years, or come so close, and have it taken away … then finally it all comes together and you achieve that goal,’ says Christoph. ‘The ups and downs that we’ve had make our triumph greater.’ For Burry, winning the race stirred up unexpected emotions. ‘The biggest feeling you have when you’re within striking distance of the line is relief,’ he says. ‘There’s the obvious joy, but also relief that everything played out the way you wanted it to. It’s a great feeling. It’s indescribable. When you pull on an Epic leader’s jersey, you already feel something is going to go wrong, especially if everything has been running smoothly. It’s happened so many times in the past when we’ve thought, “Okay, we’ve got this,” and then it goes pear-shaped. We don’t take it lightly now. We race until the last five kilometres or even closer.’


Former marathon world champion Ralph Naef hams it up for the cameras while crossing a river during stage three in 2011, much to the amusement of Swiss Lukas Flückiger.



South Africa’s Elana Meyer is another competitor who understands the champion’s mind set. In 1992, she thrilled a sports-mad nation with a silver medal in the 10 000-metre race at the Barcelona Olympics . An international sporting boycott during the apartheid era meant it was the country’s first Olympic Games since 1964. Then, 20 years after Barcelona, she decided to tackle the Epic as part of a fundraising initiative for a local charity, the JAG Foundation. To compete in the Cape Epic, above-average fitness and bike skill are essential. The years have been kind to Elana and she was in fine fettle, but she had never owned a bicycle prior to training for the Epic. With only a few months of riding experience, she’d set herself a particularly tough challenge. ‘I knew it was going to be something out of my comfort zone,’ she admits. ‘I needed to learn to ride technical terrain and have the right nutrition for long days in the saddle.’ Critically, Elana understood that such a race is conquered almost entirely in the mind: ‘It was a mental decision to take on something this extreme. Getting physically ready is part of my frame of reference. ‘I had a couple of bad falls, one in particular. For a moment, I thought it was all over. I was given some sweets to get over the shock, and I got my elbow strapped at the next water point, then got stitches in the evening. It made me realise that if I wanted to reach the finish line, I had to minimise the risk of falling.’ Despite coming off her bike almost daily, Elana persevered. ‘I had watched the event enough times to know that it was going to be tough, but the overwhelming memory was not of pain but of a wonderful journey through the most beautiful country. ‘It was a fantastic feeling: beating all those obstacles. I saw big men cry coming over Sir Lowry’s Pass with the wine farms and finish line below, all of us sensing a personal victory. For the frontrunners, racing not only the elements but also other competitors it must be very tough. That’s very different to what I experienced, but both are equally rewarding.’ There’s little doubt the most impressive feats of endurance are to be found further back in the field. Burry Stander says: ‘The race is the ultimate yardstick for enthusiastic mountain bikers, for endurance mountain bikers. It’s like a scorecard. If a guy comes to me and says he’s done an Epic, or two or three, he’s immediately part of the club. That guy is a real mountain biker, you know he can suffer. You know there’s so much behind the statement. It’s the race that measures all.’

Erik and Ariane Kleinhans of Contego 28E fly down a fast descent on their way to winning stage three’s mixed category by almost 20 minutes. The previous year, they finished second overall in the mixed category, racing as an engaged couple. Days later they married and in 2012 returned to win the overall mixed category. overleaf Lood and Chris Rabie are overjoyed at reaching the finish line at Lourensford Wine Estate in 2011. While the Absa Cape Epic is the race every professional wants to win, amateurs consider crossing the finish line a personal triumph. Lood said they were both grateful, humbled and in awe. opposite





There’s never a bad time to celebrate. Koos and Isaac Pretorius admit that, with their combined weight of more than 200 kilograms, they may take a little longer than the average rider to get to the top of a long climb, but that they appreciate the down hills more than anyone. Having competed several times, they consider the year-long preparation for the event as ‘a race to the start line’. overleaf: left The grins take hours to wear off after crossing the line at Lourensford. Journalist Chris Whitfield took on the Epic in what he describes as a foolish yearning to keep middle age at bay. He considers the completion of three Epics as life-changing, igniting a passion for cycling that has kept him active and engaged with all the good things in life. inset top Former marathon world champion and Olympian Esther Süss had a rare bad day in an otherwise successful week in 2012. A mechanical issue forced her and partner Sally Bigham to wait a long time at the tech zone on the infamous stage five. Süss came dangerously close to hypothermia from standing still for so long in the cold weather. Despite a disappointing third place on that stage, she was grateful to still be in the race. inset middle Exxaro Academy riders were in good spirits throughout the 2012 event, even after a tough stage five. XX eventually took the Exxaro Development leaders’ jersey. The program is a victory for aspiring, previously disadvantaged cyclists. inset bottom Stage one in 2010 from Wellington to Ceres saw some challenging parcours, topped off with a particularly punishing 12-kilometre section along a railway line. This posed a catch-22 situation: riders had to maintain good momentum to glide over the sleepers, but not push too hard that they tired themselves out. Riders could not help but smile once the feared section was behind them. left





After covering more than 900 kilometres in nine days in 2008, Pia Sundstedt and Alison Sydor celebrated their overall victory (and six stage wins) in the women’s category a little too early. They let their guard down as they crossed the finish line at Lourensford and took a tumble. overleaf Overall winners Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm celebrate their third victory. They took the 2010 edition without winning a single stage. As master tacticians, Team Bulls ride conservatively early in the race. They typically wait for their rivals to make a mistake and finish them off with a precisely-timed attack. For the first seven years this was the most successful partnership, but a life-threatening thrombosis discovered after a lacklustre performance in 2011 left a question mark over the rest of Sahm’s career. right





A bushwhacked rider is more than just a little relieved that 2010’s stage three is over. The finish line is not just the end of a gruelling eight-day race, but of a journey spanning many months. The achievement does not belong to the rider alone; it’s shared by all those who’ve offered encouragement and support along the way. Some of the Epic’s most enduring images are of riders reunited with their loved ones at the finish in Lourensford.




There’s no feeling quite like crossing the line, ready to stand on a stage to receive that medal and bask in the sense of achievement. bottom Having had plenty of time in the saddle to mull things over, Denver Knoetzen proposes to his girlfriend on the finish line. He later claimed that the only thing better than finishing the race (he has an Absa Cape Epic logo tattooed on his leg) was asking the woman of his dreams to marry him. She said yes. top




Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander share the spoils of their second victory with teammates Max Knox and Kohei Yamamoto. It’s not only the glory that’s shared: prize money is divided among the back-up riders and support staff. We may see only two people standing on the podium, but winners are the first to admit that they owe a lot to the dedication of the team around them. previous spread Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander of 36One-Songo-Specialized are first across the line at Lourensford wearing their leaders’ jerseys in 2012. Stander was the first South African winner in 2011 and stood on the top step of the podium for the second time in 2012. His was a long hard journey, preceded by three unsuccessful attempts (injury in 2008, crash in 2009 and stomach bug in 2010). This was Sauser’s third title, also having won the 2006 edition partnered by fellow Swiss rider Silvio Bundi. overleaf Long after the day’s victory ceremonies, a rider takes a quiet moment on the podium at the end of stage two in 2011. right







t precisely 7.45 am, the honeysucker arrives, ready to execute its delicate manoeuver. It backs up, then moves carefully into position. Honeysucker is the name given to the truck that has the unenviable yet vital task of emptying the toilets in the Absa Cape Epic race village. It needs to do its business the moment the last rider exits the start chute, leaving the ablution facilities refreshed and ready in time for the returning riders. Co-ordinating the world’s premier mountain-bike race is no mean feat. While champion riders stand on the podium soaking up the admiration of the crowds, the logistics team keeps the intricate race machinery humming smoothly in the background. In fact, the planning for each event begins 18 months before the start gun is fired. Consider, for instance, how far a cold beer travels before it reaches a rider’s lips after a long day in the saddle. So too the ice, tubs, beanbags, tables and bottle openers – and all of it has to arrive exactly on time. The marquee was booked nine months ago, erected the night before and required an engineer to issue a certificate to verify its structural integrity. Indeed, to get that beer into the rider’s hand, at the right temperature, in a remote location, requires forward-thinking and precision timing. The crew is clock-obsessed. From day one of the event’s planning, founder Kevin Vermaak began timing every element of the race to get to grips with the logistical colossus that lay ahead. One afternoon he timed himself erecting and disassembling a tent to work out how long it would take pitch 1 200 of them. The team noted how many seconds it took a rider to drink a cup of water, how long to fill a hydration pack at a water point and the average time an athlete needed for a shower. If a rider emerging from a portable toilet ever spotted a crewmember clicking a stopwatch, they now know why. Kevin began compiling a database, an ever-growing master plan that provides a logistical snapshot of the event. This vast document records and tabulates every mindboggling detail, no matter how minute, from the exact arrival time of the baby potatoes at the water points to the volume settings on the PA system’s mixing desk. Operating to a precise timetable with an 825-strong crew keeping the complicated engine running at full power, nothing can be left to chance. Every eventuality has to be considered, as evidenced in 2012 when Mother Nature threw all she had at the crew, dishing up a series of tests that were later referred to as ‘the Day of the Heat, the Day of the Wind, the Day of the Fire and the Day of the Rain’. The logistics manager gets a lump in her throat relating how her team defied the elements, recalling how they were drenched to the skin, shivering too much to type a text message. Some had to hold down Bedouin tents, marquees and gazebos in a howling gale until help arrived. Things seldom unfold the way one imagines. Plan A is vital, but so is Plan B … and C. Even if we consider the small matter of 800 kilometres and 16 000 metres of climbing over eight days, the riders have it easy. In a full-service mountain-bike race, athletes have to concern themselves only with going the distance. Take, for instance, the bike wash. Immediately after a rider finishes, the bike is taken away to have its accumulation of mud, dust, sweat and spilled energy drinks defragged. Later, after the riders have showered and dined, their phones bleep a message informing them their bikes are clean


A familiar site at any Absa Cape Epic race village: precisely arranged tents and prone athletes with their belongings strewn about them.



and ready for collection. Riders can also have their laundry done, cellphone charged, legs massaged, wounds dressed, caffeine topped up, pictures uploaded and socialmedia status updated. And if a beer at day’s end is non-negotiable, there’s a chill zone, the social hub of the race, to tick that box. Most importantly, the athletes have to eat. Sports scientists have calculated that an average midfielder burns up to 8 000 calories a day, equivalent to the energy contained in half a dozen cheeseburgers. By consulting nutritional specialists (fast food is hardly ideal recovery fuel), each meal is carefully balanced and, during a three-hour, beltbusting session, the entire week’s menu is tasted. Under normal circumstances, the food consumed by the 1 200 riders could feed 5 000. Figures such as 1 500 loaves of bread, one ton of pasta and 13 000 yoghurts read like a passage from the Bible (minus the fish). To illustrate the scale of the event today, the amount of equipment deployed to a single water point along the route is equal to the entire rig at the finish line in 2004. Water points are self-contained events in themselves, complete with 60 metres of barricades, water and food supplies, rider technical support, risk management, a helicopter landing pad and an announcer. While riders relax after each day’s racing, it’s rare to find a crewmember sitting idle, what with 607 tons to transport and mountains of paraphernalia to disassemble and then reassemble at the next race village. Of the 825 beavers employed during the race, only 17 are permanent staff who will return to the office the following week and begin planning the next year’s event. For them, the Absa Cape Epic is never over.


The event didn’t get to where it is today without a strong media blueprint. During the day, a television crew films, edits and provides a voice-over for a 26-minute programme. Each evening, this HD show is beamed from a mobile satellite news gathering unit. The whole process must happen in under nine hours. While Tour de France cameramen and women can follow every metre of the race on smooth, paved roads, cameras tracking the Epic require expert off-road motorbike and quadbike riders. Some of the trails are too narrow and tree canopies too low to squeeze a motorised vehicle through, so the route designers provide alternative tracks and run-off paths. Photographers spend 45 minutes each night planning for the day ahead. Two helicopters follow the leaders, capturing any action missed on the ground. Covering areas far from civilization, the choppers’ refuelling points have to be carefully considered. The growing success of the event can, in no small measure, be attributed to the spectacular imagery flashed all over the world to appear in the likes of The New York Times and on Eurosport and ESPN. No newspaper or television station worth its salt wants to miss out.

below A helicopter carrying a camera person and scriptwriter tracks the leaders’ progress. Choppers have to be small and agile, given the intricate nature of the trails. Carefully planned refuelling stops ensure the racing is covered from start to finish. overleaf New, rigid weather-resistant start/finish banners debuted in 2012. They were put to the test with that year’s extreme conditions, including torrential rain, hail and gale-force winds.




Riders in the start chute prepare to leave scenic Kleinmond an hour later than usual, given the shorter, final stage into Lourensford in the 2007 edition. The logistics team is always grateful for an extra hour’s sleep. overleaf Riders are seeded into batches according to their overall ranking after the previous stage. Starting these batches at staggered intervals helps avoid congestion as the trails narrow along the route. right





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With more than 1 000 riders in attendance, the registration process needs to be slick. Participants are issued with an armband to allow access to facilities. top right A rider gets some much needed chain lubrication at an official tech zone. bottom left Marshals hail from a wide range of backgrounds, including research and engineering. bottom right A crewmember goes the extra mile at a water point. opposite Each night, riders hand in three bottles of their own personal nutrition or recovery-drink mix to the personal race nutrition service. Every day, two bottles are delivered (chilled) to the second water point and the third is waiting for them at the finish line. previous spread The Absa Cape Epic employs specialist pilots with expertise in fire fighting, game tracking and camera work. They are vital to capturing the dramatic footage to beam round the world. The third crewmember, a scriptwriter, posts regular race updates to the Epic’s official website. top left



The original, orange tents of 2004 differ from the new tents of 2012 with the Absa Cape Epic logo. opposite Those who’ve stayed in race villages all agree there’s a special atmosphere in ‘tent town’. above and overleaf





above With so many facilities available at the race village of a full-service mountain-bike event, directions are essential. opposite top Spotters are positioned ahead of the water points to announce the arrival of each team so their personal nutrition can be immediately available. opposite bottom In a rare moment, the lens is turned on the race photographers as they wait at the finish of stage seven in 20xx, ready to capture the emotions of the final day at Lourensford Wine Estate.



these pages Two lead quad bikes and two helicopters follow the front of the race. Several others capture the drama in the masters, mixed and women’s categories, as well as the backmarkers. At the end of each day, drivers and cameramen are almost as exhausted as riders.





illem* had never owned a jersey, a pair of socks or even underwear. Every day he’d arrive at school in the same threadbare shirt and shorts and sit silently at the back, ducking below the gaze of his teacher and classmates. At nine years old he showed no sign of being able to read or write. While others wrote full sentences, he scribbled untidy lines in his exercise books, just as a pre-schooler would. Willem’s plight is similar to that of thousands of underprivileged children in the Western Cape, except his has a happy ending. A representative from the Absa Cape Epic’s official charity, the Big Tree Foundation, arrived at his school with new packs of shirts, jerseys, pants, socks, shoes and underwear. Just six months later, he was standing in front of the class writing on the blackboard. It’s a stretch to say that new clothes taught a child to write, but Willem helped to prove the Big Tree Foundation’s belief that providing the basic tools for education can change everything. A respectable uniform is one of the key needs of primary-school learners, allowing children to come to school with their heads held high. Inspired by a quote from Nelson Mandela, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,’ the Big Tree Foundation was established on the principle that poverty can be eliminated through education. The seed of this organisation was planted even before the first Epic took place, with founder Kevin Vermaak integrating a charity programme into the event’s master plan. In its early years, when the foundation’s managing director Victor Sables was still a member of the Epic staff, Big Tree began donating bicycles to key community members. Even when the Epic was under intense financial pressure, it still donated funds to assist the needy in communities that hosted the race. The next major project of the Big Tree Foundation (now established as a not-forprofit company) involved alleviating the plight of preschool kids living in De Doorns, a rural community near Worcester, one of the stage locations in the 2010 and 2011 races. Thanks to the charity’s efforts, children who’d been sitting idly for most of the school day could receive well-planned and structured lessons, which included fun, mentally stimulating activities. The original, wood-and-iron classroom shack was replaced with a more formal structure. Good teaching and better facilities set the children on a path to breaking the cycle of poverty. Using the race as a vehicle to raise funds, the Big Tree Foundation was able to train teachers in more effective educational methods. The Sibabalwe (meaning ‘blessing’) Preschool now accommodates more than 60 children and offers a firm foundation for the next phase of their education. Furthermore, the Big Tree Foundation has handed over this sustainable model to an organisation specialising in education for ongoing management, with a view to expanding it across the province and, eventually, the country. Focusing on uplifting communities that the Epic touches, the Big Tree Foundation is just one manifestation of Kevin’s dream to have a strong development component to the race. Another is the JAG Foundation, which aims to teach sporting values and develop life skills through its Mighty Metres initiative. The idea is for children to learn that through endurance and determination they can attain their goals. The JAG All Stars Challenge enlists local celebrities to ride the race and raise money to help build a positive future for the children, their families and their communities. Sporting greats


* not his real name

Rafiki Mwimana partnered with American Doug Andrews in 2007 for Project Rwanda. This initiative is to further the development of Rwanda using bicycles as tools to help boost the economy. As a rookie team, they finished a creditable 63rd overall.



such as rugby star Joel Stransky and soccer supremo Mark Fish have taken part, doing their bit to inspire underprivileged children. Entries into the race are highly sought after, with demand far outstripping the 1 200 slots available. Each year, the organisers release a number of charity entries at a premium price, with the extra amount supplementing the generous donations from other riders and fans. In addition, many athletes choose their own charity to support. In recent events, teams riding for causes close to their hearts have raised millions of rands. Just such a team is that of Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander, and their cause, one of the most successful sports development programmes in the Western Cape, came about by chance. One could say it was enforced, albeit inadvertently, by the introduction of new rules for the elite UCI riders for the 2008 edition of the race. Section 8.4 of the official Absa Cape Epic rules states that both team members must ride in identical cycling jerseys. Late in 2007, Sauser was searching for a teammate who was good enough to match him. He identified the young Stander as a potential candidate. At that time, they both rode for different trade teams, Sauser for Specialized and Stander for GT, making team gear tricky. After mulling it over for a while, Sauser finally hit on the idea they would ride for a charity. At an Absa function, Sauser found himself sitting next to Songo Fipaza, a local community leader, who expressed an interest in providing children in a nearby township, Kayamandi, with some sort of outlet for healthy pursuits that could instil life skills. Fipaza suggested a BMX track. Sauser was practically a resident of adjacent Stellenbosch, where he stayed in the off-season to train; the cause was right on his doorstep. It was the perfect coincidence. Today, that BMX track is a thriving bustle of kids, duelling on the course and hoping to become the next big name in off-road cycling. Within a couple of years, three riders emerged from Fipaza and Sauser’s programme to compete on the international stage. Sivuyile Kepelele, Azukile Simayile and Siphosenkosi Madolo took part in the 2011 Absa Cape Epic. The following year, mining company Exxaro signed as the Epic’s Official Development Academy Partner, paving the way for a vast and as yet untapped talent pool to be discovered. Exxaro established the mountain-bike academy to support previously disadvantaged riders, increase participation in the sport and assist aspirant competitors in their quest for mountainbiking stardom. In 2012, nine development teams competed at the Absa Cape Epic, all hoping to wear the new Exxaro Academy leaders’ jerseys. A year after their Epic debut, Simayile and Madolo stood on the top step of the podium at Lourensford having won this new category. As part of their prize, the pair were sent to compete in the Transalp, an eight-day stage race across the Alps from Germany to Italy. They were following in the footsteps of Nicolas Quitoyi and Patrick Majeke who were also supported by the Absa Cape Epic when they participated in the 2004 Transalp. Quitoyi has since gone on to compete successfully in a number of events. Exxaro has established mountain-bike clubs at all its mines and each region sends teams to the Epic every year. With the creation of organisations such as the Exxaro Mountain Bike Academy, the groundwork has been laid for a future Epic winner, as well as for the future of mountain biking in southern Africa.

right and overleaf Rwandan Adrien Niyonshuti’s career has flourished since he took part in the 2007 Epic, his first ever mountain-bike race. He was partnered with mentor Jock Boyer, a top-ten finisher in the Tour de France. In 2011, Niyonshuti finished the race wearing the African leader’s jersey and, in 2012, became the first Rwandan mountain biker to represent his country at the Olympic Games. Six of Niyonshuti’s siblings were killed in the 1994 genocide.







Rugby legend and 1995 World Cup winner Joel Stransky, dons his trademark mohawk helmet. He has finished three editions of the race, riding for Team Absa in support of the JAG Foundation and his own charity initiative, LumoHawk. Several famous athletes join Team Absa each year to support causes dear to them. bottom Former Springbok rugby player Breyton Paulse says he was inspired to ride the Absa Cape Epic when he discovered the race gives back to the communities that host it. He grew up in Worcester, one of the race locations of 2009. Here he signs autographs during stage four of that year. previous spread No matter how fatigued a rider, morale is always lifted by local support. From its inception, the Epic has sought to give back to the communities it passes through. top


Former professional cyclist Justice Makhale, who represented South Africa at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, rides for Team Exxaro, mentoring young riders from the Exxaro Development Academy. Nine teams were selected to race in the 2012 edition and seven finished – impressive considering that many had taken up mountain biking less than a year before. bottom Members of Team Songo enjoyed a day in the saddle during the 2011 event outside Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh. Founded by former world champion Christoph Sauser and community activist Songo Fipaza, raises funds to build, maintain and sustain a BMX track and provide constructive pursuits for Kayamandi’s youth who are vulnerable to drugs and gangsterism. next two spreads Through the Absa Cape Epic’s official charities and the riders’ various funds and causes, thousands of children have been given opportunities they would otherwise hardly have dreamed of, with considerable funds raised for education programmes and school buildings. top



legacy 199


legacy 201

Thanks M

ore than 800 crew members and volunteers work at the Absa Cape Epic every year, so the list of thank yous is a long one and grows longer each year. The race inspires everyone involved to contribute a healthy dose of passion and it is this abundance that makes the Epic special. There are so many people who have engaged with me personally and played a vital role in the success of the Epic. Thank you for sharing and contributing to my vision of creating a new benchmark in the world of mountain-bike stage racing. It’s difficult for anyone not intimately involved in the race to appreciate the volume of work that goes into it. Thank you to my 20-member team of full-time staff at Grandstand Management for your tireless efforts over the years. Thanks especially to Kati Csak and Richard McMartin for making the Epic a part of your life for nearly as long as it has been a part of mine. The Epic is all about partnerships and I cannot imagine a better commercial partner than Absa to support the race in achieving its true potential. Absa’s support has developed in tandem with the race. In addition, a host of other sponsors and partners deliver backing and service with the kind of passion that money simply cannot buy. Thank you to the photographers and the editorial team who’ve contributed to this book. It’s been five years in the making and it does the Absa Cape Epic proud. My parents, Jean and Warner Vermaak, created a loving environment in which I believed I could achieve anything I wanted to do. I’m eternally grateful for this very special upbringing. Thank you Mom and Dad. During the dark days of all work and no play, when the Epic demanded every minute of my time and every cent in my bank account, I’d explain away my lack of a social life by saying I was married to the Absa Cape Epic. So it was perhaps fitting that I met my wife, Nele, at the 2009 Epic. Thank you, Nele, for your loving support.

Kevin Vermaak

Heading into the rising sun, riders faced a hot and testing day in a loop around Ceres, in the 2010 event.



Editor: Justin Fox Managing editor: Tanya Odendaal Photographers: Gary Perkin, Karin Schermbrucker, Sven Martin, Nick Muzik, Greg Beadle, Chris Ruegge Writers: Neil Gardiner, Nic Lamond Copy editor: Sarah Keevy Proof reader: Margy Beves-Gibson Design and layout: Louise Topping

RamsayMedia Custom Publishing Group publisher: Neal Farrell Group editor: Robyn Daly Production manager: Karen Sands Cape Town head office Tel: 021-530-3100 Fax: 021-530-3197 Uitvlugt 3 Howard Drive Pinelands 7405 PO Box 180, Howard Place, 7450 Printed by CTP Web, Duminy Street,a Parow


Absa Cape Epic




African Epic: The Untamed Mountain Bike Race  

'African Epic' is a photographic collection, capturing the allure of the Absa Cape Epic: The Untamed African Mountain Bike Race. Every year,...

African Epic: The Untamed Mountain Bike Race  

'African Epic' is a photographic collection, capturing the allure of the Absa Cape Epic: The Untamed African Mountain Bike Race. Every year,...