Cape Epic-One Of The Toughest Races On The Planet

Cape Epic

Mountain biking in Africa

Photo by Greg Beadle/Absa Cape Epic

What do you get when you bring together the strongest mountain bikers on the planet and have them race against each other for eight straight days in one of the most beautiful places on earth? You get an absolutely amazing competition, one that goes by the name of the Absa Cape Epic.

Louie Meija of Colombia leads teammate Johnny Cattaneo of Italy through the mountains in Stage 6. The two finished seventh overall among the men. Photo by Nick Muzik/Absa Cape Epic

The first Cape Epic was held in 2004 in the Western Cape of South Africa. The race and its reputation grew quickly in the following years. It soon came to be recognized as one of the greatest mountain bike races on the planet. One of the greatest mountain bikers in history, Bart Brentjens, the first men’s Olympic mountain bike gold medalist, described the race as “the Tour de France of mountain biking.”

Nino Schurter leads teammate Lars Forster in Stage 1 of the event. With Nino being the seven-time UCI Elite Men’s world champion and Lars being the reigning European champion, the two were the favorites from the beginning. Photo by Nick Muzik/Absa Cape Epic

The scheduling of the race is ideal for attracting many of the top mountain bike racers in the world. It comes after the winter break and before the start of the World Cup series. While riders in North America and Europe are still waiting for the winter snow to disappear, the racers who go to the Cape Epic enjoy the final days of summer in the southern hemisphere.

Anna van der Breggen leads teammate Annika Langvad through a mountainous section of the course. Photo by Michal Cerveny

In recent years, some of the top cross-country racers on the planet have gone to the Cape Epic to compete against riders who specialize in ultra-endurance events. It’s been said that athletes generally reach the peak of their ultra-endurance capabilities in their mid to late 30s and early 40s, which seems to be one or two decades later than the peak of most athletic abilities.

The racers head off together with the rising sun shining through the dust. Photo by Nick Muzik/Absa Cape Epic

One of the things that makes the Cape Epic so interesting is that you’ll often find the top mountain bikers of the past, racers such as Thomas Frischknecht (the top male World Cup star of the 1990s), racing on the same course as modern-day stars, such as Jaroslav Kulhavy and Nino Schurter, our sport’s most recent Olympic gold medalists.

Cannondale’s Manuel Fumic leads teammate Henrique Avancini during Stage 4 of the event. Photo by Nick Muzik/Absa Cape Epic

Of course, there are a lot more people competing in the Cape Epic than just the superstars of the sport. The event drew 650 teams this year. We pay the most attention to the top riders in the race, but there were 1300 riders and seven different divisions.

Jaroslav Kulhavy stops to fix his cleat during Stage 1 of the race. Photo by Nick Muzik/Absa Cape Epic

What’s more, the promoters of the race create a new layout for each edition of the event so that racers get to ride a different course each time they compete, which puts everyone on the same footing. Put it all together and it’s definitely one of the greatest events in mountain biking.

Scott-SRAM’s Lars Forster and Nino Schurter topped the men’s overall podium, with the Cannondale team in second and the Trek team in third. Photo by Nick Muzik/Absa Cape Epic

 

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