Today the Absa Cape Epic unveils its Last Lion Trophy: a stunning bronze artwork by internationally renowned sculptor Dylan Lewis.
The weighty statue stands about 30cm tall and 50cm long and depicts a lion lying on a rock and looking out across the plains.
It will go to the last cyclist who has finished every edition of the event. As things stand there are four who have managed to finish each of the 13 editions so far.
The Fabulous Four are Craig Beech, John Gale, Mike Nixon and Hannele Steyn and they will all be on the start line in 2017. Eventually, as one or another drops out or fails to finish, there will be one person left who has finished each event: The Last Lion.
That person will get the Last Lion Trophy, a much sought after artwork by a man regarded by London’s Portland gallery as “one of the world’s most important contemporary sculptors of animals”. Lewis has exhibited around the world to critical acclaim and, appropriately, one of his installations was called Untamed.
Now his Trophy will become part of the Untamed African MTB race story.
Lewis chose this particular work for the Last Lion award because of its “sense of solitariness … which seemed appropriate”. It was created in clay and then converted into bronze using a process known as “lost wax casting”.
Lewis confesses to be more of a surfer than a mountain biker, but says he is well aware of the Absa Cape Epic and its challenges.
Last year Absa Cape Epic CEO Lynn Naudé announced the Last Lions concept: “We decided to recognise these athletes in a special way. They have shown amazing committed and drive and are obviously very talented athletes. It is quite something to just get to the start of the Absa Cape Epic, but to finish every one is truly amazing.”
The Last Lion contenders
Profession: Chartered accountant from Cape Town
What does it take to finish the Absa Cape Epic: “A whole year of luck in training and being lucky enough with health, work and personal life to be at the start line. Eight consecutive days of luck on the bike. Not picking up an injury, not dehydrating, not getting sunstroke, not breaking the bike. It needs a lot of luck. Each year the field is stronger, faster, better equipped and better prepared.”
Why do you keep on coming back for more: “I have the tiger by the tail, like Baloo; he has to come back to feel that the other end has teeth. The first stage is always the most difficult. After eight days of training I am ready for the later stages.”
Profession: Geneticist/Microbiologist from Knysna
What keeps you coming back to the Absa Cape Epic: “I love the race and it became my favourite race experience from the very first one when I had no clue what to expect or what multi-day racing as all about. As a professional racing for Adidas International that was also the sponsor of the Cape Epic, it was just one of the planned races on my calendar, but after I retired from professional racing in 2007, I had done four already and wanted to get to five at least. Each year after that I was fortunate enough to get a sponsor and then it became a challenge to get to number 10. If you have done 10, you must either stop or again carry on till the next big number.”
When do you think you will stop doing the Epic? “While I love it and because this race is such a challenge, I will try and do it until something outside of my power stops me.”
Profession: Conservationist in Somerset West
What keeps you coming back to the Absa Cape Epic? “It has now become a little bit of a habit. Due to work travel I don’t get the opportunity to do many races in the calendar year, so I try pin down one or two each year, in which to participate. I definitely favour the longer stage events, and the Absa Cape Epic is often described as the toughest in the world, and I appreciate the challenge. I also like to spend our end of year break on the bike, often cycling through the Karoo. The year’s travels are similar to how a bear would treat its summer, I find I scurry around, all the while building up the ‘winter storage’, and then the time comes at the end of the year to pin things down, use the lard and burn the calories.”
When do you think you will stop doing the Epic? “When I am no longer capable.”
Profession: Commercial property developer in Cape Town
What keeps you coming back to the Absa Cape Epic? “The Tour de France of mountain biking on your doorstep. How can you resist.”
When do you think you will stop doing the Epic? “After so many years my wonderful wife has got used to the solitude from December to March. So when she wants me back I will stop.”
And given that you have summited Mount Everest, which Absa Cape Epic climbs do you remember over the years as being the toughest? “None is tougher than Groenlandberg (in Grabouw).”