Epic boasts another year of untamed adventure

Words: Keegan Longueira | Photos: Greg Beadle & Sam Clarke | Video: GoProteam@Epic

Mountain Biking

With the tenth edition of the Absa Cape Epic visiting the beautiful winelands once again, it was up to young stars, the usual contenders and even the newbies, to make their mark.

Epic boasts another year of untamed adventure

On 17 March 1,200 riders lined up to tackle the spectacular Prologue course and get their campaign underway. The setting was none other than the popular Meerendal Wine Estate, in Durbanville, and consisted of a well-crafted network of single tracks that stretched for some 22 km. The infamous ‘Stairway to Heaven’ climb in the first couple of kilometres of racing was a challenge for all, but once over, the rewarding fast decent into the quarry below was very welcome for screaming legs.


Small, sharp climbs showed their face regularly during the course, but nobody could deny the absolute pleasure of flying down the final hill with its well-bermed switchbacks. Defending champion Christoph Sauser and his partner Jaroslav Kulhavy, a gold medallist in mountain biking at London 2012, posted the quickest time of the day, making it quite clear that they were here to defend their title.


Stage 1: Citrusdal (96 km / 2,350 m climbing)

Stage 1 saw a sea of smiling faces at the starting line for their respective shoots, unaware of what the day held for them. This 96 km route entailed riders circuiting a loop in the Citrusdal area, but it was the most horrible thick beach sand that overshadowed the tough climbs, challenging single track, fast roads and awesome descents! Professionals and amateurs alike pushed and carried bikes for many kilometres on a day that would go down in history as the sandiest day in the Epic. Victors on the stage were the Multivan Merida team.


The mood back at camp rapidly changed, and once energetic and excited bodies were transformed into nervous, tired wrecks. The Epic had begun!


Stage 2: Citrusdal to Saronsberg in Tulbagh (146 km / 2,350 m climbing)

Although stage 2 was tough, it was a welcomed day after such a terrible first stage. For the first 18 km, riders had the challenge of summiting the Middleburg Pass and then plummeting down a smooth fast descent before the trail levelled out, making for some fast riding to the first water point. There was more climbing at the halfway mark, followed by an easier 5 km single track to break the monotony. The dry, gripy single track was superb and passed through some iconic rock formations. But the best was yet to come. After a long, hard day in the saddle, riders then had to tackle an extremely technical 5 km single track into Saronsberg Wine Estate. The route was rough and one wrong move could result in a rider going off the edge of the cliff. This stage went to the best technical riders on the day, Bulls Team 1, Karl Platt and Urs Huber.



Stage 3: Saronsberg (94 km / 1,950 m climbing)

Stage 3, the ‘short’ stage, promised some serious climbing! The route was a tour of the basin, with riders having to complete a figure-eight loop before ending once again at the Saronsberg Wine Estate. The single tracks were flowing and very enjoyable for all riders. With only a few kilometres to the finish, the leaders, Sauser and Kulhavy, made a navigational error that lost them the stage win to Bulls Team 1.


Stage 4: Saronsberg to Wellington (120 km / 2,300 m climbing)

Stage 4 was a day for the strong. It started with various bunches forming fast peloton-like groups on the first 15 km of flat, fast racing. However, speeds were sharply reduced as riders headed into a 5 km, steady but rutted climb. The 8 km descent on the other end was fast and dropped to water point one for a quick stop before riders headed into another serious climb. The climb was frustrating for those looking to climb up the overall standings, as they were stuck behind many of the riders who walked the climbs, making it impossible to pass. The section of road for the ‘roadies’ up the Bainskloof Pass was steep and fast, but it was also the last of the smooth roads as riders headed into the last climb of the day. The ascent stretched some 10 km on rocky, washed-out roads, making it near impossible to get any kind of rhythm. Fresh legs now overtook those who had given too much on the previous pass. An early break in the day saw Sauser and Kulhavy easily clinch this stage win!


Stage 5: Wellington (75 km / 1,800 m climbing)

Stage 5 was considered a ‘rest’ day, with 22 km of the 75 km route being on single track. It was fast, fun and a bonus for tired legs, and an awesome day for those riders who managed to avoid traffic on the tracks. The stage winners were none other than Sauser and Kulhavy, who were now comfortably in the lead.


Stage 6: Wellington to Stellenbosch (99 km / 2,950 m climbing)

This stage would be the last 'real' challenge for riders, as they would soon be on the road to the finish line at Lourensford Wine Estate. A 10 km climb quickly split the field as they raced towards the second last major climb of the day, Helshoogte Pass. However, it was the last steep climb that had riders digging deep to make it up. Once over, a fast single track descent took the tired riders into Stellenbosch. The domination of team Songo.info, riding under the banner ‘#Ride4Burry’, continued as Sauser and Kulhavy took the stage once again. With just one day left of racing, Songo.info was now in a commanding position to win this year’s event.


The Scott Factory Racing team of Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes had clinched their first African jersey and were looking for a strong last day to secure a victory in the category. The African jersey is a very prestigious jersey that is given to the best performing are African team, and allows the local riders to get a taste of the glory, as most of the top teams either have one or both riders representing overseas-based teams. Buys and Beukes, who are arguably two of the best technical riders in the world, managed to steal the win from Charles Keey and Darren Lill on the technical days of racing. Lill and Keey had held onto the jersey for most of the event, but Buys and Beukes had paced themselves well and were peaking at the last possible moment. The two managed to overtake Keey and Lill on the stages where there was loads of single track. In the Ladies category, the team of Yolande Speedy and Catherine Williamson had no trouble in securing their spot as number one heading into the last day. In the mixed team, Ariane and Erik Kleinhans could not be beaten! The two continued their domination in the event, their skills and strengths complementing each other throughout the seven days so far. Nico Pfitzenmaier (Germany) and Abraao Azevedo (Brazil), riding under Bridge, proved superior in the Master’s category. With their years of experience, this pair was just unshakable. In the Grand Master’s category, it was none other than Heinz Zoerweg and Bärti Bucher who led the event.


Stage 7: Stellenbosch - Lourensford Wine Estate (54 km / 1,550 m climbing)

The final stage featured a fast 54 km loop from the school in Stellenbosch to the Lourensford Wine Estate. The day’s festivities was over shadowed by an epic battle that was taking place at the front of the race, with team Multivan Merida and Scott Factory Racing going head to head. The two South Africans wanted nothing less than a stage victory on the last day, but so too did Hermida and van Houts. The riders watched each other, looking for any signs of weakness, but nobody seemed to put a wheel wrong. In the end, it was a nail-biting sprint to the finish with team Multivan Merida only managing to just pip Buys and Beukes. Nonetheless, these two youngsters did South Africa proud!


“Our goal was to win the African jersey, but we just missed the top five by around 20 seconds, to place us in third place. And just losing a sprint for the win on the final stage was much more than what we’d hoped for. So we are really happy with our performance and appreciate all the support we’ve had,” said Beukes, who heads back to his team Giant Contego for the rest of the season.


With the 2014 early bird entries selling out within 34 seconds of going on sale, the eleventh edition of the Absa Cape Epic promises to be just a little more competitive, exciting and difficult. Well done to all those who competed and we’ll see you next year at this untamed mountain bike experience!


Issue 25 May '13