|Region||Western Cape, South Africa|
|Discipline||Mountain bike racing|
|Race director||Kati Csak|
The Absa Cape Epic is an annual mountain bike stage race held in the Western Cape, South Africa. It has been accredited as hors categorie (beyond categorisation) by the Union Cycliste Internationale. Among other events in world cycling which enjoy this status are the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. First staged in 2004, the race typically covers more than 700 kilometres (435 miles), and lasts eight days - a prologue and seven stages. The Absa Cape Epic attracts elite professional mountain bikers from around the world, who compete in teams of two. To qualify for a finish, teams have to stay together for the duration of the race. The race is also open to amateurs, who enter a lottery in order to gain a slot. A total of 600 teams take part. The times taken to finish each stage are aggregated to determine the overall winning team in each category at the end of the race. The course changes every year, but the race has always taken place in the Western Cape. The Absa Cape Epic was described by Bart Brentjens, 1996 Olympic gold medallist in mountain biking and a former Absa Cape Epic winner, as the "Tour de France of mountain biking".
- 1 Origins
- 2 Route
- 3 Race concept
- 4 History
- 5 Burry Stander
- 6 Stage types
- 7 Prologue
- 8 Mass and staggered start
- 9 Time trial
- 10 A brief history of the racing to date
- 11 Organisation
- 12 Logistics
- 13 Prize money
- 14 Floating trophy awarded to overall winners
- 15 In the media
- 16 Official charities
- 17 Exxaro Academy
- 18 Doping
- 19 Statistics
- 20 Rider death
- 21 References
- 22 External links
Kevin Vermaak, 42, founded the Absa Cape Epic in 2004 at a time when there were no similar events in South Africa and the sport of mountain biking was in its infancy in the country. His vision was to create the world’s premier mountain bike event and set a new benchmark for the sport - today the Absa Cape Epic is routinely referred to as “the Tour de France of mountain biking”. The growth of the Absa Cape Epic has been paralleled by an explosion in mountain biking in South Africa and there are now more than 50 stage races. Kevin, a Capetonian and UCT electrical engineering graduate, worked in IT in London in the early 2000s and, as a passionate mountain biker, took part in events across the world, including two mountain bike crossings of the Himalayas. He conceived the Absa Cape Epic while taking part in the La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica in November, 2002. By February 2003 he was back in South Africa after eight years in London to establish the Cape Epic.
The route starts and finishes in the Western Cape, South Africa. It is redesigned every year. Race week lasts 8 days and typically covers around 700 kilometres (435 mi). The shortest Absa Cape Epic was in 2009 at 685 kilometres (425 mi), the longest in 2008 at 966 kilometres (600 mi). The route originally was a point-to-point race, beginning in Knysna and ending in the winelands of the Western Cape. This format changed in 2009, where riders spent multiple days in each stage location to ensure the route could fully explore the best mountain biking that the region had to offer. This format looks likely to be the way forward for the organisation.
Two person team
All riders must enter as a two-person team. Teams register in one of five different categories that include Men, Women, Mixed, Masters and Grand Masters. Initially the team concept was developed because stage racing often takes riders through some very remote areas, and having partners who are bound by the race rules to look after each other serves a very valuable safety function. A two-person team race originated as an adventure – but this concept of ‘looking after each other’ still runs deep in the ethos and technique of stage racing. It’s gone from being a necessity to an integral part of race tactics. Even the pros have to be in perfect sync, taking care of one another. Riders in a team must remain within 2 minutes of each other at all times during the race or face a one-hour penalty. This is enforced by means of timing mats places through the stage. After a third offence, the team is disqualified. Teams are expected to reach the finish line by the specified maximum stage time, team dynamics therefore are a major part of the race.
Categories and leader jerseys
All riders aim to win stages, but mostly they want to win in their category. There are five categories: Men, Women, Mixed, Masters and Grand Masters. The colours denoting the category leaders are: yellow – Men; rust – Women, green – Mixed (a woman and a man), blue – Masters (both riders must be 40 years or older on 31 December of the year of the race), purple – Grand Masters (both riders must be 50 years or older on 31 December of the year of the race). The category leaders competition is decided by totaling the time each team takes on the daily stages. The team with the lowest overall time at the end of each stage receives ceremonial leaders’ jerseys and the right to start the next stage of the race in those jerseys.
Blue numbers boards
Any rider who does not complete a stage within the maximum stage time for the first time will be classified as a blue board rider. Blue board riders will be entitled to continue the race (they may start the following stage), but will not be classified as official race finishers. Should any blue board rider fail for the second time to finish a stage within the maximum stage time or fail to start a stage, he or she will not be allowed to continue the race.
UCI licensed riders who lose their partners will be allowed to continue riding but without influencing the outcome of the race. They are required to ride in an Outcast Jersey. Riders in this jersey may not ride within the first 30 teams or interfere with the race or other categories such as the mixed or ladies teams. Any rider or team accepting mechanical or any other assistance from the outcast rider will be penalised. This will give the rider the opportunity to finish the race, be it unofficially, but still be part of the experience.
Internal technical and tactical support
It is allowed - any rider, including riders from the same sponsor (but not in the same 2-rider team) can provide technical assistance and equipment from his own bicycle to support another rider. Teams can also form alliances with other riders and teams, even if they are not of the same sponsor.
Pro-Am aspect of the race
Amateurs use the same chute, ride the same course and stay in the same race village as the UCI registered riders, which include world and national champions and Olympic medalists.
This is a loyalty programme to recognise riders that return each year to ride the Absa Cape Epic. "Amabubesi" means "pack of lions" in Zulu. In addition to a special certificate to honour their achievement, members receive a set of benefits. Three finishes secures entry into the club, but as the race has matured, additional benefits have been reserved for riders that have completed a greater number of races. Special Amabubesi merchandise range is available only for members.
Timeline from 2002
|2002||Kevin Vermaak participated in the 10th La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica and was inspired to start something similar in the Cape.|
|2003||The Cape Epic name and logo are finalised in London + Munich: The knobbly tyres of the cyclist show that it is an off-road mountain bike race. The zebra stripes represented Untamed Africa. The colours of the South Africa flag denote that it will be a truly South African race.|
|2003||The first marketing opportunity for the Cape Epic was a roaring success. The promotional stand at the Pick n Pay Cape Argus Cycle Tour Expo in Cape Town attracted more than 1000 inquiries.|
|2003||More than eighty VIP's, sports journalists and guests attend the official launch party of the Cape Epic at the Cullinan Hotel, Cape Town.|
|2003||South African regional entries for the inaugural race sell out in three days.|
|2003||The first crew workshop was held, along with distribution of the first official Cape Epic merchandise to 27 attendees - 17 of whom have worked at every single race since 2004. It was also the only time that black caps were produced for Cape Epic merchandise, and the few proud owners of these first pieces of official merchandise refer to this workshop as the ‘black-cap workshop’.|
|2004||2004 Inaugural Cape Epic: 28 February to 6 March. 788 km & 17 380m climbing, from Knysna to Spier. 550 riders, 21% international and 20 countries represented. Winners: Karl Platt & Mannie Heymans.|
|2004||The 350 South African regional team entries for Cape Epic 2005 sell out in less than five hours.|
|2004||The international block of entries sells out for the first time.|
|2004||To accommodate the growing full-time staff of the Cape Epic, occupation of the new offices at 155 Loop Street in Cape Town were taken. The event is still managed from there today, but the staff of 2 in 2004 has grown to 20 full-time staff that work exclusively for the race throughout the year.|
|2005||2005 Cape Epic: 2 April to 9 April. 898 km & 16 020m climbing, from Knysna to Spier. 840 riders, 25% international and 29 countries represented. Winners: Roel Paulissen & Bart Brentjens.|
|2005||The Vigne à Vigne was launched. A mountain bike race held at the Grand Finale venue the morning of the Cape Epic finish, it is designed to allow riders to finish in time to see the winning Cape Epic riders cross the finish line.|
|2005||Through the Big Tree Foundation, the Cape Epic gives back by providing tangible benefits to the learners in the towns that host the race. The Foundation provides bicycles, desks, writing materials and uniforms to the most needy learners in these communities.|
|2005||The Cape Epic is awarded UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) status, the first ever team mountain bike stage race, and at the time the only mountain bike race in Africa to appear on the UCI calendar.|
|2005||The Cape Epic surpasses 2500 hours of global TV hours to become the most televised mountain bike race of all time.|
|2006||Absa, Africa's leading bank, announces title sponsorship – it's the Absa Cape Epic presented by Adidas.|
|2006||2006 Absa Cape Epic: 22 April to 29 April. 940 km & 16 605m climbing, from Knysna to Spier. 1040 riders, 31% international and 35 countries represented. Winners: Christoph Sauser & Silvio Bundi.|
|2006||Introduction of Amabubesi club – the Cape Epic finishers club. "Amabubesi" means "pride of lions" in Zulu, an excellent description for mountain bikers that return year after year to ride. Riders that have finished the event three times will be awarded membership of Amabubesi.|
|2006||Lourensford is announced as the new finish venue after three successful finishes at Spier Wine Estate.|
|2007||2007 Absa Cape Epic: 24 March to 31 March. 886 km & 15 045m climbing, from Knysna to Lourensford. 1200 riders, 29% international and 45 countries represented. Winners: Karl Platt & Stefan Sahm.|
|2007||A daily 24 minute TV highlights package is distributed globally – a world first for any mountain bike stage race.|
|2007||Personalised nutrition services introduced. Riders provide three Absa Cape Epic personalised water bottles each night with their own personal nutrition/recovery drink already mixed in it. The importance and appeal of chilled nutrition and recovery drinks on a 40 degree day ensures that this service sells out each year.|
|2007||Absa African Jersey for highest-placed all African team introduced.|
|2007||2008 route is announced, with a prologue to kick off proceedings in Knysna.|
|2008||2008 Absa Cape Epic: 28 March to 5 April. 966 km & 18 529m climbing, from Knysna to Lourensford. 1200 riders, 29% international and 41 countries represented. Winners: Roel Paulissen & Jakob Fuglsang.|
|2008||Team Absa, featuring South African celebrities and sports figures, riding for charity, launched.|
|2008||New route concept announced – multiple days in one stage location. Prologue to take place beneath Table Mountain.|
|2009||2009 Absa Cape Epic: 21 March to 28 March. 744 km & 15 132m climbing, from Cape Town to Lourensford. 1200 riders, 32% international and 46 countries represented. Winners: Karl Platt & Stefan Sahm.|
|2010||2010 Absa Cape Epic: 21 March to 28 March. 661 km & 14 126m climbing, from Dimersfontein to Lourensford. 1200 riders, 38% international and 51 countries represented. Winners: Karl Platt & Stefan Sahm.|
|2010||Freedom Ride on Robben Island, where a select group of riders had the opportunity to ride their bikes on Robben Island, including a tour and visit to Nelson Mandela's cell.|
|2010||Introduction of OUTCAST jersey. This jersey is given to any UCI pro-elite category rider whose partner is no longer participating in the race for any reason, allowing them to continue riding, so long as they do not provide physical assistance to any other UCI pro-elite rider or podium contender.|
|2010||Introduction of Men's floating trophy. If a team wins it 5 times, they will keep it.|
|2011||2011 Absa Cape Epic: 27 March to 3 April. 708 km & 14 550m climbing, from Tokai to Lourensford. 1200 riders, 40% international and 49 countries represented. Winners: Christoph Sauser & Burry Stander.|
|2011||Nine current and former world champions ride the 2011 Absa Cape Epic.|
|2011||The Ladies race is awarded UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) HC (Hors Categorie) status, allowing Ladies to earn UCI points during the race.|
|2011||To coincide with Craft’s introduction as the official cycling apparel of the Absa Cape Epic, a new logo was introduced along with a complete brand refresh. The new corporate identity was launched along with 2012 route.|
|2011||Grand Masters category, in which both riders must be 50 years or older, is announced for 2013.|
|2012||2012 Absa Cape Epic: 25 March to 1 April. 775 km & 16 300m climbing, from Meerendal to Lourensford. 1200 riders, 34% international and 49 countries represented. Winners: Christoph Sauser & Burry Stander.|
|2012||The first Exxaro Academy riders compete for the Exxaro Development Jersey. Exxaro established the academy to introduce mountain biking into historically disadvantaged communities, as a catalyst for change in South Africa.|
|2012||Introduction of Ladies' floating trophy. If a team wins it 5 times, they will keep it.|
|2012||Announcement that a rider caught doping at any time during the course of his/her career will be issued a lifetime ban from the race.|
|2013||Announcement of R1 million prize purse.|
|2013||2013 Absa Cape Epic: 17 to 24 March. 698 km & 15 900m climbing, from Meerendal to Lourensford. 13 World Champions riding, as well as Gold, Silver and Bronze from the 2012 London Olympics. Winners: Christoph Sauser & Jaroslav Kulhavy.|
|2013||First black South African woman finishes the Absa Cape Epic.|
|2015||Swiss legend Christoph Sauser sealed his legacy on his last Absa Cape Epic as a professional by becoming the first person to win it five times with partner Jaroslav Kulhavy Defending champions Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad dominated the women’s category again, winning by more than an hour overall in spite of having to overcome a 73-minute penalty after inadvertently taking a short cut on Stage Two.The race was also memorable for the tough weather conditions, with riders having to confront rain, heat or wind on each of the stages.|
Winners from 2004
|Year||Team||Rider 1||Rider 2|
|2004||Focus/Rocky Mountain||Mannie Heymans||Karl Platt|
|2005||Giant||Roel Paulissen||Bart Brentjens|
|2006||Specialized||Christoph Sauser||Silvio Bundi|
|2007||Team Bulls||Karl Platt||Stefan Sahm|
|2008||Cannondale Vredestein||Roel Paulissen||Jakob Fuglsang|
|2009||Bulls||Karl Platt||Stefan Sahm|
|2010||Bulls 1||Karl Platt||Stefan Sahm|
|2011||36ONE-SONGO-SPECIALIZED||Christoph Sauser||Burry Stander|
|2012||36ONE-SONGO-SPECIALIZED||Christoph Sauser||Burry Stander|
|2013||Burry Stander - SONGO||Christoph Sauser||Jaroslav Kulhavy|
|2014||Topeak-Ergon||Robert Mennen||Kristian Hynek|
|2015||Investec-Songo-Specialized||Christoph Sauser||Jaroslav Kulhavy|
|Year||Team||Rider 1||Rider 2|
|2004||Yellow Jacket||Hanlie Booyens||Sharon Laws|
|2005||Fiat/Bianchi/Adidas||Zoe Frost||Hannele Steyn-Kotze|
|2006||adidas-Fiat-Rotwild||Sabine Grona||Kerstin Brachtendorf|
|2007||DURAVIT||Anke Erlank||Yolandè De Villiers|
|2008||Rocky Mountain||Pia Sundstedt||Alison Sydor|
|2009||Absa Ladies||Sharon Laws||Hanlie Booyens|
|2010||Rothaus-CUBE||Kristine Noergaard||Anna-sofie Noergaard|
|2011||USN||Sally Bigham||Karien van Jaarsveld|
|2012||Wheels4Life||Sally Bigham||Esther Süss|
|2013||Energas||Yolande Speedy||Catherine Williamson|
|2014||RECM 2||Ariane Kleinhans||Annika Langvad|
|2015||RECM Specialized||Ariane Kleinhans||Annika Langvad|
South Africa got its much sought-after first overall winner of the Absa Cape Epic in 2011 when Burry Stander, riding with Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser, swept to a commanding win. The same combination went on to win it again in 2012.
The Swiss-South African pair won for the first time on their fourth attempt after a run of bad luck - injuries, crashes and mechanical problems - hampered their earlier efforts. They pulled out in 2008 when Stander injured his knee, finished sixth in 2009 and second in 2010.
Stander had made a name for himself on the cross country World Cup circuit, winning the Under-23 World Championship and consistently finishing near the front of the men’s elite field. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in Beijing, Stander finished 15th in the cross-country mountain bike race. In the 2012 Summer Olympics, in London, he finished 5th in the same discipline. In June 2012 he won his second elite World Cup race, at Windham in New York.
Tragically, on January 3, 2013, he was killed in an accident with a minibus taxi while training near his home at Shelly Beach, KwaZulu Natal. He was 25 and beginning to fulfil the massive promise of his early career.
His death shocked the country - he had become well-known beyond cycling circles after the 2012 Olympics - and cast a pall over the 2013 Absa Cape Epic. Sauser, who had been scheduled to ride with Stander, raced with Olympic gold medallist Jaruslav Kulhavy and the pair emerged as overall winners. Both had been teammates of Stander, riding for bike manufacturer Specialized, and dedicated their win to him.
Stander’s wife Cherise, herself a top professional rider, rode the 2013 event with his brother Duane.
Recent editions of the Absa Cape Epic have started with a prologue followed by seven stages on the following seven days. The prologue is characteristically less than 30km and held on a course that favours riders with technical skills. The stages normally range from between 80km to 140km. The longest stage in Absa Cape Epic history was the 146km Stage 5 in 2008, which took riders from Swellendam to Bredasdorp.
Marking the opening day of the race, this is a two-man team time trial, where teams usually leave at timed intervals. Riders use the prologue as an opportunity to be seeded in a faster group, ensuring a good position for the mass start the following day. The first ever prologue of the Absa Cape Epic was in Knysna in 2008. A sloping start ramp launches the team into motion after a countdown.
Mass and staggered start
In most stages of the race, teams start together, either in a mass start or in staggered, seeded group starts. As they roll out of the respective start towns, the teams are led by a vehicle, without racing. Once out of the neutral zone is the real start, setting riders on their way. The second member of the first team across the line wins. Riders in a group finish in the same time as the lead rider. Time bonuses for intermediate sprints have been offered in the past. Stage lengths usually vary between 60 km and 145 km. Long stages cause major shifts in the general classification and large time differences between teams. A maximum ride time is allotted for each day and teams must complete the stage within that time. If they arrive after their start group’s maximum allotted time they will be listed as unofficial finishers.
Some years, an individual time trial appears midway through raceweek, this is a two-man team time trial, where teams usually leave at timed intervals. Like the prologue, it’s an all out effort. The distance varies but typically is around 30 km, which is regarded by the main field, who are not contending for overall victory, as an ‘easy’ day.
A brief history of the racing to date
In its inaugural year, the Absa Cape Epic attracted one of the biggest names in the sport. 2004 saw stage-racing supremo Karl Platt team up with Namibian Mannie Heymans, one of the world’s top marathoners at the time. The week’s racing was white hot, with impressive performances from Team GT Africa and the motivated Kenyans David Kinjah and Davidson Kamau. However Platt and Heymans controlled the race throughout, winning six out of the eight stages, with a 20-minute lead overall.
In 2005 the field got more than they bargained for with former world champion, Olympic gold medalist and mountain biking legend Bart Brentjens arriving at the start with equally fast Roel Paulissen as his partner. The Dutch / Belgian team dominated the race, even more so than Platt and Heymans had the year before.
Fortunately for all, Brentjens had proved his point, not returning for the 2006 edition, leaving the Swiss team of Christoph Sauser and Silvio Bundi to race the legs off the field. Previous winner Platt only managed 3rd, partnered with Carsten Bresser. This was to be the Absa Cape Epic’s most convincing win yet, with Sauser and Bundi’s 29min 08sec lead over Johannes Sickmuller and Christian Heule.
It was as if Karl Platt had been plotting his revenge after two humiliating defeats – he’d formed a new team with Stefan Sahm – the Bulls. They won stage 1 in a close sprint finish against Roel Paulissen and Jakob Fuglsang of Cannondale Vredestein. This set the tone for the week – a dramatic ding-dong battle with the leader jerseys changing shoulders four times. Platt and Sahm had the final word, wearing their yellow leaders’ jerseys on the final stage into Lourensford Wine Estate.
Roel Paulissen and Jakob Fuglsang were back, baying for the Bulls’ blood. After a dominant performance on stage 2, and with the Bulls imploding that same day heading into Calitzdorp, Cannondale Vredestein had a comfortable lead over the Germans. Only once was their lead under threat with some tyre trouble outside Bredasdorp. The Belgian/Danish team had made their case winning the 2008 event convincingly.
New rivals came to the fore in 2009 – Team songo.info of South African Burry Stander and Swiss Christoph Sauser. The pair won the prologue and the first 3 stages, till Stander’s momentary lapse of concentration put an end to their overall hopes with a smashed front wheel. The Bulls capitalized and held their leader’s jerseys till the end, but not without a challenge from old rival Bart Brentjens, partnered with Australian Chris Jongewaard. Their campaign was not without incident, breaking a chain on the penultimate stage into Oak Valley. True to form, it was repaired quickly and they limited their losses.
Even as outright race favourites, the Bulls still had to prove themselves, after what many said was a lucky win in 2009. Their strength and tactical aptitude was tested to the limit as Team MTN Qhubeka’s Kevin Evans and Alban Lakata powered to victory on stage 1, taking the race lead. Illness put Stander out of action early in the race but made good with 3 stage victories while MTN Qhubeka’s tyre woes lost them South Africa’s chance at an overall win at the Absa Cape Epic. Arriving at Lourensford, the Bulls had prevailed – it was Platt’s forth victory, Sahm’s third. By 2011, teams were left wondering how to break this phenomenal run of success.
Burry Stander made history on 3 April 2011, as the first South African ever to win the Absa Cape Epic in its 8th edition. Stander and his Swiss teammate, former world champion and Olympic medallist Christoph Sauser won 5 of the 7 days. Stander and Sauser finished in an overall time of 28:44.44,0. In second place in an overall time of 28:51.52,8 were the German team of Hannes Genze and Jochen Käss (Multivan Mérida Biking), with the Bulls, Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm, in third place overall in 29:05.53,7. The Bulls Team of Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm won the Absa Cape Epic in 2007, 2009 and 2010, and Karl Platt won in the inaugural year (2004) with Mannie Heymans from Namibia. He is the most successful participant in the history of the race having won four times with eleven stage wins.
The 36ONE-Songo-Specialized team of Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser walked away with top honours as overall winners of the 2012 Absa Cape Epic, following their victory of 2011. With a 25 minute and 57 second lead time at the start of the final stage, Stander and Sauser finished in an overall time of 31:46.50,5. In second place in an overall time of 32:14.12,6 were the South African duo of Kevin Evans and David George (360Life), with the German-Swiss team of Hannes Genze and Andreas Kugler of Multivan Mérida Biking in third place overall in 32:17.57,5. The Bulls 2 team of Thomas Dietsch and Tim Boehme finished fourth overall (32:18.48,2) with Alban Lakata and Robert Mennen (Topeak Ergo Racing) in fifth (32:19.22,7). The Bulls 1 team of Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm, who won the Absa Cape Epic in 2007, 2009 and 2010, finished in sixth place overall (33:03.00,2).
Team Burry Stander-Songo, Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy, won the 2013 Absa Cape Epic by 7:10. With this fourth win, Christoph Sauser tied Karl Platt for the most Absa Cape Epic victories. In second place in an overall time of 29:47.55,3 were Team Bulls' Karl Platt and new partner Urs Huber, followed by teammates Thomas Dietsch and Tim Boehme with a time of 30:07.35,9.
Topeak Ergon’s Kristian Hynek (Czechoslovakia) and Robert Mennen (Germany) emerged as overall winners after a dramatic event in which the lead changed several times. Pre-race favourites Karl Platt (Germany) and Urs Huber (Switzerland) of the Bulls team pulled out on Stage 4 after the German, bidding for his fifth win, injured his knee in a crash. Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser, also seeking to be the first to win five times, and his Czech partner Frantisek Rabon finished second after a race plagued by mechanical problems and punctures. The women’s event was comfortably won by Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) and Annika Langvad (Denmark) after they overcame a poor Stage 1 in which they too were plagued by punctures.
The holding company of the Absa Cape Epic brand is named Grandstand Management and this events team is responsible for all that is required for a full service mountain bike stage race. They coordinate route design and permission requests, rider registration, race rules, emergency and medical services, marshals, timing and results, optional extras available to riders as well as crew and volunteer management. On the logistics side there is the planning and implementation of infrastructure such as tents, marquees, security, ablution facilities and catering, to name a few. In addition to the aspects of the race mentioned, the events team manage the relationships with the various stage locations, venues, towns and municipalities that the race visits each year to ensure that the event meets with their expectations and assists them to maximise their opportunities.
After each stage riders arrive at the finish to a full-service race village. The forward planning begins up to two years before the race. Finding a location for a race village involves complex planning for space, water, electricity access and other amenities. The entire race village moves from one location to another. Typically each location is used for two nights. 1 200 fully supported riders start the event, the vast majority eating and sleeping within the village - most in one-man tents supplied by the organisers, others in camper vans which they can hire. Ablution and medical facilities need are provided. The bikes require attention too, with a free cleaning service and mechanics on hand. The Absa Cape Epic crew of more than 1 000 also stay in the race village. Besides these, media representatives from TV, digital and print need to be accommodated.
There are several areas of speciality required to run the event:
The Mediclinic race hospital is equipped to handle any medical emergency, either at the village or out on the course. A UCI anti-doping official and an anti-doping caravan also accompany the medical team.
A team of thirty trained marshals not only show riders the way, but ensure the safety of cyclists. The marshals are trained in first-aid, with a number having more advanced medical training.
Shower trailers are available throughout the race, with the units being towed between the various stages to await the riders.
Pro tech zones
These are situated at all waterpoints. They are for the use of UCI-registered riders only. The organisers will transport one wheel set and one tool bag per two-rider team to each of the zones for every stage. The content of the tool bag is at the team’s discretion and may consist of anything riders wish to use – tools, spares, tyre sealant, food, waterbottles, sunscreen. No technical or mechanical assistance is provided and teams may only access their own boxes and wheelsets.
These are provided for amateurs, with a mechanic present to aid amateurs with their repairs.
In 2014 the Absa Cape Epic matched the women’s prize purse to the men’s prize purse for the first time. The increase to R700 000 for the women’s category took the total prize purse for all categories to R1 600 000.
At the time this was the highest prize purse for women’s cycling globally, including road races.
Alan Cameron, MD of Sasol Oil: “We’re delighted to be sponsoring the legendary Absa Cape Epic. This gruelling race demands exceptional performance from all riders, regardless of their gender. We believe the prize money should reflect this and we’re therefore proud to be increasing the 2014 women’s prize, to equal that of the men.”
Floating trophy awarded to overall winners
The overall winners of the Absa Cape Epic are awarded a floating trophy designed by local artist Neil Jonker, and receive a replica trophy for each rider to keep. If the same team wins the race three times, they get to keep it.
In the media
The Absa Cape Epic is the most televised mountain bike race in the world. It is broadcast to 175 countries, including UK, USA, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Czech Republic, Japan, Brazil, Egypt and Rwanda. Viewers tune in to watch news clips, highlights packages and an hour-long program worldwide. Photographs and articles about the event have appeared in the New York Times the LA Times, Sports Illustrated, as well as dozens of international and local bicycle magazines and websites.
Since the first Absa Cape Epic in 2004, the organisation has had a formal programme of giving back to the communities that host the race. Initially the project involved handing bikes to key people in the villages and towns. Today, these programmes have evolved into Big Tree Foundation, a Section 21 company, which works to uplift the communities that host the race through educational projects. Big Tree Foundation’s belief is that poverty can be alleviated through education. The programs face challenges in many of the smaller communities, supplying basic stuff, like books, clothes, even desks and chairs. Big Tree Foundation now has the full support of the government. The Department of Education had adopted a development model built on the success of the Sibabalwe pre-school in De Doorns. Big Tree Foundation is poised to take this model and to expand it into the Western Cape and hopefully, the entire country. The Sibabalwe pre-school in De Doorns now accommodates 90 children per year. Workshops on bike repair and coaching help improve the local economies, giving rise to sales and workshops. Another of Big Tree Foundation’s plans is to subsidise bikes for school kids who walk 3 to 9 km to school per day – reducing travel time by two thirds.
The JAG Foundation is the other official charity of the Absa Cape Epic. The JAG Foundation enlists local celebrities to ride the race to raise funds in the All Stars Challenge. South African rugby players Robbie Kempson, Breyton Paulse and footballer Mark Fish have all taken part.
Exxaro is the Development Academy Partner to the Absa Cape Epic and sponsor of the Exxaro Academy. The goal of the Exxaro Academy is to introduce the mountain biking experience to historically disadvantaged communities and individuals, and ultimately assist to transform the sport in South Africa. Additionally, Exxaro Academy riders and all other Historically Disadvantaged South African riders under the age of 26 are eligible to be awarded the Exxaro Special Jersey during the Absa Cape Epic.
In December 2012 the Absa Cape Epic introduced a lifetime ban for all athletes found guilty of a doping offence.
This followed the first high-profile doping case in South African mountain biking. In November, the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) announced that top cyclist and previous Absa Cape Epic contender, David George, tested positive for the banned drug, EPO (Erythropoietin) and would face a charge of doping at an independent tribunal.
George was subsequently given a two-year ban from all competitive cycling. SAIDS indicated that only results dating back to 29 August, 2012 - when its test was carried out - could be erased. Riding with Kevin Evans, he had finished second in the 2012 Absa Cape Epic which took place in March and the result therefore stood.
Kevin Vermaak, founder of the race, said at the time: “As of 1 January 2013, any athlete (professional or amateur) caught using performance enhancing substances, whether at another event or out of competition, will be banned for life from participating in the Absa Cape Epic. Not only will the person not be allowed to participate (as an amateur rider or UCI- licensed elite), but the individual will also be banned from being involved on any level including as a team manager. This is harsher than what is required currently by any federation, but is our considered opinion of what should be enforced even on a wider scale with regards to event participation of convicted dope cheats.”
Vermaak continued: “We've chosen not to apply this retrospectively because we believe that would be naive. As has been exposed in recent months, cycling has a dark past. Many riders from this previous era have rediscovered the joy of cycling as mountain bikers and participate in the Absa Cape Epic as their expression of riding clean. Previous offenders, who have served their suspension term, may ride future Absa Cape Epics. We want to be part of the new era of cleaner cycling, and therefore only future offenders will receive the lifetime bans.”
Subsequent to this decision several riders have been banned from riding in the Absa Cape Epic for life.
In spite of extensive testing there have, however, been only two positive in-competition doping tests at the Absa Cape Epic. Both were amateur riders.
Two teams have won more than one Absa Cape Epic – Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm of Team Bulls, and Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander of 36One-Songo-Specialized. The German Platt is one of 9 riders who have competed in all nine events, winning four times. He is one of two foreigners to do so, along with Dirk Rossignol, an amateur from Belgium. Only one woman is on that exclusive list, Hannele Steyn of South Africa.
Karl Platt, Mannie Heymans, Bart Brentjens, Roel Paulissen and Stefan Sahm all won the Absa Cape Epic the first time they rode the race. The Absa Cape Epic has been won four times by teams who led the general classification from the first stage and holding the lead all the way to the finish. Karl Platt and Mannie Heymans did it during the first edition, 2004. Bart Brentjens and Roel Paulissen repeated the feat the next year and Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander in both 2011 and 2012.
Only one women’s team has ever won the Absa Cape Epic twice – the partnership of Sharon Laws (GBR), Hanlie Booyens (RSA).
James Williamson (1983–2010) was an Australian journalist and cyclist who won the World Solo 24-hour mountain bike Championships in Canada in 2008.
On 23 March 2010, James Williamson died whilst competing in the Absa Cape Epic, a 722 km eight-day race in South Africa. After competing in the first two stages and being in 18th place in the field of 1200, he died in his tent prior to the third stage. His death was due to an undiagnosed heart condition; an autopsy found that one of the chambers of his heart was not functioning correctly, which led to the enlargement of one of the ventricles in his heart.
Williamson was also an editor at Enduro magazine and blogged during each race on his personal website. His final post was written two days before his death.
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- "Absa Cape Epic | The Untamed African MTB Race". Cape-epic.com. Retrieved 2013-12-16.
- "Cape Epic imposes lifetime bans for doping". Cycling News (Future Publishing Limited). 18 December 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
- "R1 Million Prize Purse in 2013". Absa Cape Epic.
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- Sauser and Stander Take Title.
- Stander and Sauser Win in 2012,
- "Absa Cape Epic | The Untamed African MTB Race". Cape-epic.com. Retrieved 2013-12-16.
- Absa Cape Epic Prize Money.
- "Exxaro Academy".
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