at the heels

You may not want to meet these spotted sweeps, but be assured they really are the good guys!

KZN teenager Lindo Ngubo was the talk of Stage 3 of the Untamed African MTB Race, with his inspirational run-ride-run scrape inside the maximum stage time pumping social media numbers into orbit.

Much of the internet success - in fact, the only reason the vast media contingent at the Absa Cape Epic was aware of the drama unfolding on the trails around Greyton - was thanks to the event’s Hyenas. Veteran sweep Rich McMartin sent regular video updates throughout Ngubo’s ordeal, as he does most days as his role shepherding in the last riders on the route heats up.

“He was sitting at the water point when we found him. He was out at water point one, waiting for a lift. So, it was quite nice to play a small role in getting him going again.” Ngubo is in no doubt of the value the Hyenas bring to the back markers, after his Absa Cape Epic sojourn; “They helped me a lot, to tell me more about how I can finish the race and to keep running. I wouldn’t have finished without them telling me to be strong so much.”

The Hyenas first prowled The Race That Measures All in 2014, as the race’s sweeps, who monitor riders at the back and relay information to the office about the conditions of these riders and, if necessary, notify medics, who are on standby. They aren’t timed, they don’t get a medal and, although they ride every inch of the Absa Cape Epic course, are not official finishers – and that doesn’t matter to them one bit.

The second rider to pull on the custom-made Ciovita Hyena shirt in 2022 is Matt Carter, a long-time friend of the Absa Cape Epic thrust into this new role after 2021 2nd Hyena Chris Whitfield picked up an injury. “At the back of the field you see the humanity in the race. The guy who wins is the guy who has the least amount of drama. The guy that finishes last has the most amount of drama for that day, and you get to see the humanity in the race instead of just watching a sprint.”

For McMartin, the joy of this role is the relationships that are forged in the shared suffering. “This year was the first - it’s my 5th year as a Hyena - that I’ve actually suffered, physically. The second and third days were rough.” Stage two was a monster, and the first time the Hyenas have finished in the dark. But they did, making sure their charges (In this case Absa Cape Epic legends Marius Hurter and Adele Niemand) got home safely. “Seeing Marius not make it again. That was quite hard. He’s a big, proud strong guy. It’s tough to see him drop out. There’s a weird emotional attachment to people you don’t know. It took me probably three years to learn I need to set up this emotional wall.”

“It really is about about the people, and the fleeting, intense bonds that you make and break, every day."

“It really is about about the people, and the fleeting, intense bonds that you make and break, every day. This afternoon, [Stage 6] we were riding with one of the Mexican guys. He was telling us everything in Mexico is under the table. How much to push him to the top of the hill? We started at 200 bottles of tequila. We got down to 100 bottles.” This was quite obviously banter - the most golden of Hyena rules is they may not physically help a rider - cajole, advise, encourage, inspire, but never give any form of tangible assistance. The penultimate day of the 2022 event had been relatively drama-free, the last riders comfortably beating the maximum stage time. “We spent the last few hours with Jaco,” says Carter. “He was leaving DNA samples all over the trails today. But we made it, and he made it, quite easily in the end. But it was very hard for him.”

Jaco van Der Merwe, from Team West Cape Projects, spoke through tears on the finish line. “I tell you those guys are superb, hey. The amount trust and faith they put in you and guide you through this thing is amazing. They just never give up. F**k, it’s quite emotional. And it’s always positive hey, you can do it, you can do it.

Carter looks around, slightly bemused as he begins the process of refueling. “I’ve never been to the Woolworths Recovery Zone when there’ve been other people here.”

While the Hyenas are undoubtedly some of the most popular guys at the Absa Cape Epic, you do not want to bump into them on the trails because if you do, you know you’re at the bottom of the food chain.

At the end of every day, the Hyenas always have the last laugh.