By FOCUS REPORTER
The dramatic new route of the eighth edition of the Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas, which takes place from 27 March to 3 April next year, will be as challenging as previous years. Both local and international mountain biking enthusiasts will be taking on the demanding eight day mountain bike adventure of 707km with 14 550m of climbing from Tokai to Lourensford.
The route, which changes significantly each year, will lead 1 200 cyclists through vast distances of virgin territory, previously untouched by the race. With its challenging and exhilarating landscapes, the stage locations of Saronsberg (Tulbagh), Worcester and Oak Valley await the most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world, before riders again finish at the Lourensford Wine Estate as has been tradition for the past 5 years.
One of the most visited tourist attractions in the southern hemisphere, the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront, will again play host to the opening celebrations and registration for this pioneering, tough and breathtaking mountain bike race on 25 and 26 March 2011.
For the second time in the Absa Cape Epic’s history, riders will compete in a prologue. A common feature in grand road cycling tours, the prologue in the Tokai Forest, part of Table Mountain National Park, will allow spectators to see teams race against the clock. Regarded as the Eden of mountain biking in Cape Town, this revered network of trails represents all of what makes this sport so great, with tough climbs, fast descents and flowing single-track forming the 27km route. This showcase event will decide which teams will wear the coveted zebra-striped leaders’ jerseys at the start of stage 1 on Monday, 28 March 2011, at Saronsberg in Tulbagh.
Says Kevin Vermaak, Director and Founder of the Absa Cape Epic: “The Absa Cape Epic has again selected some of the best terrain that the Western Cape has to offer. Our route designer, Leon Evans or as he is best known amongst riders, Dr Evil, has again found the perfect balance between exciting trails, challenging terrain and wider vistas in the pursuit of the ultimate mountain biking experience.”
Stage 1 – Saronsberg to Saronsberg (outside Tulbagh) – (89km with 2 050m of climbing)
Stage 1, with a distance of 89km, may sound short but should not be underestimated. The flat roads out of town will leave few clues as to what is to come. Soon after leaving town, short but incredibly steep, rough and loose climbs will appear, and on the treacherous descents, volleyball-sized rocks and sand patches will pock the little-used dual tracks. While the pro-riders will make short work of it, the first 50km may take backmarkers over 5 hours. The stage’s last climb on some rough roads will bring riders to the top of one of most precariously difficult downhill’s they have seen at this legendary mountain bike stage race. With large rocks, deep ruts and a sheer drop on the left, riders will need to take it slow.
Stage 2: Saronsberg to Saronsberg (104km and 2 300m of climbing)
A 12km steady upward drag will take riders to a 6km climb on an ancient Voortrekker wagon trail, specially opened for the race. At the top, the 18km mark, riders will have already ascended almost 1 000m. With this stage’s major obstacle out of the way, the valley opens up ahead, with the route looping clockwise, following the buffer zone between orchards and mountainside. A look at the profile shows that the tracks are far from flat and a short section of single-track will compensate the labours of the first 50km. If it is a hot day in the valley during race week, riders will be tempted to take a dip in one of the several dams dotted along the route as they begin to head home. After a 1.5km rise to the highpoint of the day’s outing will come the reward of the hard work invested in the first climb. On a clear day, the unmistakable silhouette of Table Mountain will be visible from the crest. Riders then descend the wagon trail towards town for a good night’s rest.
Stage 3 – Saronsberg to Worcester (125 km and 1 900m of climbing)
With the fast roads out of town, riders will cover 13 km before the first climb. It is steep at times and very loose, requiring hard bursts of effort to gain momentum over the rockiest parts. If there was ever a theme of race week, it’s ‘from effort comes reward’. After the 4km climb, riders will arrive at a plateau with a beautiful valley nestled between spectacular mountains that resemble the pictures found on the covers of fantasy novels. There will be little time to look around during the race though – the deeply rutted descent tests the rider and equipment alike. After smooth farm roads and more rocky tracks, the tyres will be put to the test, with devil thorns lying in wait. A long drag upwards on a rough path leads to a remote hut at the foot of the cliff face of the bare rock of the mountainside. This area is a geologist’s paradise. After the final water point, Absa Cape Epic veterans will have déjà vu, with a similar run into the race village through some winding single-track.
Stage 4 – Worcester to Worcester (32km with 800m of climbing)
Stage 4 will mark another first for the Absa Cape Epic – two time trials in one race – with a 32km route through the foothills of Brandwacht. As in 2010, riders will traverse the western side of Worcester in this semi-desert environment. Added to last year’s route is an extra 5km loop along dual tracks past the local golf course. The route data reads only 860m of climbing, but over such a short distance, it requires a hard effort. As usual, the top teams will leave at 1 minute intervals, racing only against the clock, some looking for a stage win and others to consolidate. While the pro teams battle it out, experienced amateurs will be holding back, saving themselves for the second half of the Absa Cape Epic adventure.
Stage 5 – Worcester to Oak Valley (143km with 2 350m of climbing)
Stage 5 will be a classic epic day out and the longest stage in many years. With fast open roads, marked by 3 obstacles along the way, riders will be wise to save their strength and cooperate with other teams to form larger groups, to take turns at the front to lighten the load. The first climb of the day will be a shock to the system, not only from the gradient but also the track’s surface. In parts, the climb is barely rideable, and only the fittest and best bike handlers are likely to make it up without dabbing a foot. As with everything, what goes up must come down, and those with full suspension bikes will be grateful for their weapon of choice. More open roads will help get some kilometers under the belt before the radio mast comes into view. Down the other side of this deceptive climb is a fast chute into farmlands and waiting for them is a set of rolling hills that’ll deaden the legs of even the most hardened campaigner. At the 100km mark, riders will reach the foot of the exquisite Groenlandberg, the grand old legend inviting riders back in 2011 thanks to Cape Nature Conservation. The 15% gradient on the concrete path should be paced conservatively, with the remainder of the climb taking most riders well over an hour to complete. The north-facing slope will make for a challenging ascent on a hot afternoon, but the rocky downhill section leads to the famed Oak Valley single-track to make it all worth it.
Stage 6 – Oak Valley to Oak Valley (128km with 2 700m of climbing)
In the penultimate stage competitors will be wary. The route profile and the total ascent will tell how they will be tested right to the end of the week on this brutal Oak Valley loop. Again riders head over Groendlandberg, for the second time in two days, this time following the 2010 route in reverse. After crossing the R43 riders need to come to terms with a tough sandy climb, nicknamed ‘The Beeatch’. A short section on Highlands Road will be a relief before more loose and partially sandy climbing – which will be rewarded with a dramatic view over the Indian Ocean, the Botriver mouth and Kleinmond. One last climb leads them through another Cape Nature area featuring some rare fynbos. Shortly after riders get to enjoy the flowing single tracks of Lebanon, before they dip under the N2 for more fun single track through Thandi and back home to Oak Valley – a great way to finish a strenuous day in the saddle.
Stage 7 – Oak Valley to Lourensford (59km with 1 700m of climbing)
It is the same every year – the last day of the Absa Cape Epic might be short but it is never easy. Old Viljoen’s Pass and Nuweberg remind riders that it is not over yet. Trail builders are in the process of cutting new routes and Dr Evil has warned riders of a final few surprises before a traditional finish at Lourensford. Here they will be reunited with their loved ones – a life’s task accomplished and an experience they will never forget.
Says Vermaak: “Our aim is definitely not to make the route tougher each year just for the sake of it. We aim to offer participants from around the world an awesome trail that showcases the best that the Western Cape has to offer. We want new routes, with suitable technical and challenging riding, that take the riders to new towns whilst at the same time giving the riders the most beautiful and remote scenery, and with wild animals to boot. Without the incredible support of Cape Nature Conservation, this would not be possible as they give us access to their reserves. .
“The Absa Cape Epic has grown in popularity worldwide and is increasingly becoming an iconic endurance event. Finishing the Absa Cape Epic is and will always be an enormous physical and mental challenge, and riders will need as much dedicated training and preparation to earn the title ‘Absa Cape Epic Finisher’,” he says.
The Absa Cape Epic, the largest full-service mountain bike stage race in the world, is organised and presented with the participating riders at the focal point. Their satisfaction, well-being and enjoyment of the race are the organisers’ primary goals. Says Vermaak, “We aim to deliver an unsurpassed and unforgettable mountain bike and African travel-experience. Therefore, we offer a 24-hour full service around the race, including tented accommodation in race villages, carbo-loaded breakfasts and dinners, race nutrition, bike servicing, masseurs, and stage location specific entertainment every evening.”