The Absa Cape Epic is notably one of – if not the toughest – mountain biking stage races, and although the drop out number for 2014 was the lowest since it started, it was definitely not easier than previous years.
Taking on this monster of a race you need to prepare your mind and body for 8 days of some of the most extreme mountain biking you will ever experience.
You find that when you didn’t practice as much as you know you should have, you will be at the back of the pack being chased by Hyena’s (as the sweepers at the back are known as) forcing you to fight to make the cut-off every day.
That said, this is also one of the most prestigious races you will ever attend, and with a world class crew operating behind the scenes, everyone will feel like a pro – From the start right through to the finish line with superb feeding zones along the route.
The adventure started in Meerendal Wine Estate with the 23kilometre prologue. And after taking on the “Staircase to Heaven” you will immediately realize that this is going to be a tough task.
This year the guys from Meerendal came up with a brilliant idea, letting the riders cycle over a bunch of grapes in plastic covers, pressing the grapes which would then end up being bottled into a terrific red blend and handed to the riders after finishing the event.
With all seriousness, Stage 1 started and ended at Robertson, taking you deep into the Langeberg Mountains with some seriously demanding climbs. The pros were flying through the climbs with fresh legs while the rest of us at the back realized there is no shame in pushing your bike up the steep climbs, with no one to impress but ourselves.
The following day, Stage 2 would prove to be another challenge with the rain that fell the previous evening. The start was a muddy and wet one, with what was supposed to be a flowing single track becoming a fight for survival, again proving how the Absa Cape Epic could test every rider.
The first moving day came to pass with the start of Stage 3, and we looked to a seemingly dry but extremely long day in the saddle. We took on the stage knowing that this would be a somewhat flat stage with only 1800 meters of climbing spread over the 134km stretch, running from Robertson to Greyton where the most spectacular mountains awaited us.
Again Mother Nature had other ideas, with 50km left a strong wind picked up and we had to battle through the last part of the stage huddled in groups with the Hyena’s in close proximity.
We finally caught a break in Stage 4 with a short stage filled with single track that made every mountain biker’s heart beat like an African drum. The climbs, which were thrown into the mix by Dr Evil, were taken bravely by a much more cheerful crowd than what we’d gotten used to over the past couple of days.
As we raced back into the race village, everyone had an extra hour of two to recover for what lay ahead on Stage 5, the queen stage as described by the organizers. After the race briefing that evening most of the back markers had a couple of worried frowns.
Stage 5 from Greyton to Elgin was a true test of character, and if anyone should ask, Hell is much closer to Heaven as previously believed, and it has a pair of “Rusty Gates”. The 550 meter climb over Rusty Gates left the back markers with only two outcomes: push harder and triumph over, or give up and end your hopes of finishing this race in time.
With 4 punctures, and my knees reminding me about my lack of preparation, we had to sprint the last 20km of this stage, and with a hero’s welcome we made the cut-off with 4 minutes to spare, an experience that took us to the dark side of mountain biking.
The second last stage would prove to be a reward for surviving the previous day’s torture, and with some seriously tired legs we were spoiled with a trip through the West Cape’s best mountain biking trails at Thandi and Paul Cluver. We sailed through the single track back towards the race village with only the final day left.
Yes, the final day to Lourensford awaited all the survivors. Excitement mixed with its fair share of nervousness filled the air on a misty Sunday morning. As expected, nothing is for free at this race, and with our final hurdle we started to climb over the Hottentots Mountain Range towards the finish.
An emotional grand finale awaited us as we rolled into Lourensford. With friends and family looking on we realized this was so much bigger than we could ever have imagined; this is after all the Absa Cape Epic – and it’s between these mountains, along the rugged single track, that the human spirit triumphs.
Next year some will be back while others would have sold their bikes, but in the end the Epic adventure will continue. You have to decide whether you’ll be a part of it… or not.