A new year, a new Prologue location, a new Chapter, the Absa Cape Epic begins.
A typical March day, something riders may have forgotten after the October Absa Cape Epic, in the Boland greeted riders as they registered for the 18th Absa Cape Epic on Saturday 19 March at Lourensford Wine Estate. Lourensford, with its 4 000 hectares of forestry, fruit orchards, vineyards and fynbos, has played host to the race eight times before, but that was always as a Grand Finale venue - a stage for elation and celebration at the end of the race.
This year, for the first time ever, it is the launchpad, hosting the Prologue, as well as Stage 1 and the start of Stage 2.
This heralds a new beginning for the event and the excitement was palpable among the 1 000+ riders as they collected their number boards and Scicon Rider Bags. Talk in the registration venue among those who rode the unique 2021 Absa Cape Epic no less than four months ago, was how different it felt to that event. For others, it was the excitement of lining up again and, for many of the pros, it was the nerves ahead of Prologue day. Another big talking point was the weather (it always is). With heat, and lots of it, forecast for the next eight days over 681 rugged kilometres with some 16 900 metres of climbing taking in the trails of the Hottentots Holland Mountains, Greyton and Stellenbosch before finishing in Val de Vie, The Race That Measures All will no doubt live up to its name.
"The vibe is amazing, but you can't get too swept up in it and get too excited. You have to take it day by day"
"You have to get to the finish," mused Absa Cape Epic veteran, Oliver Munnik who is riding with Tour de France rider, Nic Dlamini. "The vibe is amazing, but you can't get too swept up in it and get too excited. You have to take it day by day."
According to Dlamini who is making his debut at the event: "Our communication is very good on the bike. We're at the point where we can read each other.”
Hayley Preen, who suffered a broken wrist during last year's event, is fresh off second place at the Cape Town Cycle Tour and cannot wait to get out on the trails. “We have some unfinished business,” she said, remarking how good her preparation has been this year, with a lot more time on the mountain bike than what she was able to do in 2021.
Preen's partner, Mari Rabie, added that they are both looking forward to the warm weather. "I usually race better when it's hot," she said, adding how she cannot wait to race on her home trails.
"The temperatures are higher and the conditions are drier, meaning we can expect 40+ degrees Celsius out on the course and a lot more sand"
Also excited about the forecast is Sarah Hill of Team Liv Factory Racing. “We can expect very different conditions compared to last year,” she said. “The temperatures are higher and the conditions are drier, meaning we can expect 40+ degrees Celsius out on the course and a lot more sand (this makes for great pictures as our sweaty faces gather the dust around us!)”
According to Hill – who is riding with American Kaysee Armstrong – her preparation has gone well. “I deliberately entered events where I knew the heat was going to be a factor. I also trained in the heat of the day five times a week and even went as far as to turn my fan off while training on the indoor trainer!"
These small efforts are bound to make a big difference during the eight days which starts with the 24-kilometre Prologue at Lourensford Wine Estate. Packed with singletracks, but optimised for overtaking to allow the fastest teams to set the best possible times, it sets the tone for the seven stages that follow. Stunning mountain and ocean views await those who can lift their eyes from their stems. The first half drags steadily uphill driving heart rates upwards before the second phase of the day is packed with roller-coaster downhills on manicured singletrack.
In both the Men's and CM.com Women categories the races are wide open. "I love that there isn't a favourite and that there is a big possibility to be in the top five," said Hill's teammate Armstrong. "Last time I was here I had no idea what I was getting into, but I'm much better prepared now and I know what my body can do. If the stars align for us we can do really well."
Spectators will once again be allowed to be a part of the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race in 2022, to add to the excitement of the racing. “After a very successful 2021, we’re happy to not only be hitting trails once again in 2022 but that we can also have spectators come and experience some of the best of what the Western Cape has to offer," says Karen Clements, Race Director of the Absa Cape Epic. “Most importantly, we’re excited that we will once again have that all-important support for the riders.”
“We are so grateful to once again be working with many amazing landowners, who will host the spectator points,” Clements says. “Information about the wine farms and venues on (and along) the route with some great restaurants and experiences on offer for supporters can be found on our website and social media channels.”
If you cannot make it to the Western Cape in late March, you can of course also experience the Untamed action of The Race That Measures All as it happens by tuning in to the Live Broadcast.
Follow the teams’ journey across these beautiful trails by tuning in to the Livestream, here.