The Absa Cape Epic has a formidable global reputation which sees the event attract celebrities and sports stars that seek to take on the challenge of the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race. Every year we see an increase in former roadies participating, looking to clinch a podium spot. It stands to reason, but the rugged terrain of the Western Cape is far removed from the smooth asphalt of Europe – making competing in the Absa Cape Epic seem like virtually a different sport to the former road racing stars.
Two icons from the road, making the transition to the mountain for the 2018 Absa Cape Epic are Erik Dekker and Jurgen van den Broeck. Hailing from the Low Countries neither has any significant mountain biking experience to call upon, but they do each have an impressive palmarès from their years of racing on the WorldTour.
Dekker, a four-time Tour de France stage winner and the ex-LotoNL Jumbo sports director, has reignited his competitive spirit as a Masters category rider. “A year ago I was also convinced that I want to experience the adventure. Later on it became a race as well! Now both are possible” he began. “A year ago I was looking for a mountain biking experience. I have followed the Absa Cape Epic for years, but I was sure that if I wanted to compete in it I’d have to learn a lot to be ready to race eight days. Mountain biking is more than just biking! So I took some time to gain experience” Dekker reflected on his journey thus far.
“During 2017 I gained more experience and I was getting really excited about mountain biking. In July I became Dutch XCO champion in the Masters category. After that I rode my first multiple stage race in Poland. I loved it, although it was very hard. Then in September I participated in the Crocodile Trophy, which was my big goal for 2017. I finished third overall, and won in the Masters category and I managed to win a stage, even beating the elite riders! I was very proud! Following the Crocodile Trophy Maikel Govaarts [an accomplished Dutch Masters’ XCO mountain biker and 2016 Absa Cape Epic finisher] asked me to ride with him in the 2018 Absa Cape Epic” Dekker continued.
“This year winners, Cadel Evans and George Hincapie, proved that there is a big competition in the Masters category. And that is what I like; competition, fight, race! Our goal is to be competitive in the Masters category and compete for a podium. We are also looking forward to battling with the 1996 Olympic Champion Bart Brentjes, a MTB legend in my home country Holland” he concluded.
While Dekker has been retired since 2006, van den Broeck has only just hung up his road racing cleats. Having announced his intension to retire at the end of the 2017 season, the Belgian is moving into a new phase in his life. But like Dekker his competitive spirit remains fierce. “Taking part in the Absa Cape Epic was something I have always dreamed of doing after my retirement, because I really love cycling and staying in good shape. My primary goals are to really enjoy the race and the country, because I have been told that South Africa is really beautiful; but I will also be trying for a good result…” van den Broeck smiled.
Taking part with his brother Kurt, van den Broeck is all too aware that the training conditions in Belgium are going to be very different to what they will face in South Africa come March next year. “I really do not have experience in real mountain biking” he confessed. “I do a lot in Belgium, but that is totally different to real racing. That difference makes the challenge so nice. We will build up as well as possible at home, maybe also with some training further south in Europe if we can. But when it is not too cold you can still do good training in Belgium, so I’m sure we will come in top shape to the start of the Absa Cape Epic.”
Van den Broeck was once seen as a potential Grand Tour winner, but a series of injuries meant he never quite fulfilled that potential; though he did race to fourth position in the 2010 Tour de France. His all-round ability honed first as a general classification contender and then as a super domestic for Steven Kruijswijk at LotoNL Jumbo makes van den Broeck a potentially powerful mountain bike stage racer. Just how he and his brother will fair in the elite category next year remains to be seen though. At just 34 years of age, and given Christoph Sauser and Karl Platt’s Absa Cape Epic success into their late thirties, van den Broeck could well be quietly building towards success off road.
*The 2018 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race takes place from 18 to 25 March and the much anticipated route can be viewed here.