Route Director: Hendrico Burger's
What does it take to design the Absa Cape Epic route, and what it takes to ride the 2023 edition.
Hendrico Burger has a certain way of telling a story. In a deft blend of English and Afrikaans he sets the scene, defines the characters, ratchets up the tension and delivers the roundhouse punchline that vividly snapshots the moment. There’s always collective belly laugh. The type you have at school. The kind when you laugh more than you’re supposed to.
Still, there’s more to the Absa Cape Epic’s Route Director than amusing anecdotes. As a great storyteller, he is a keen observer and above all, he has a love for people, which is almost invariably reciprocated.
“Take Stage 2 for instance. The Stanford Valley Inn trails are some of my favourite in South Africa, but till now they’ve only been open to guests of the establishment. We’ve been talking to them about taking the Absa Cape Epic through here for almost five years. Sometimes that’s how long it takes for everything to fall into place. We invest a lot of money in establishing new trails and those can be left behind as legacy, for locals, tourism and even for other events – it’s a symbiosis. This year I think we’re in contact with 120 landowners, agencies, tenants and conservancies and once, in 2019, we visited 57, on one stage. In all the regions we visit we rely on local knowledge. On our route recces we always have someone from the community with us who knows the ‘hidden secrets’ of the area. I have seen events fail when they break the relationship – visit once and then don’t stay in contact for three years. In fact, if I heard that another event wanted to use a certain piece of trail I would rather contact the owner myself, to maintain the relationship the owner has with mountain biking. Relationships on the bike between teammates are also the key to a successful Cape Epic and failed one.”
WHEN YOU SIGN UP FOR THE ABSA CAPE EPIC YOU RIDE THE ABSA CAPE EPIC
FROM THE WORST SITUATION CAN COME THE BEST
THAT SPREAD SHEET
“There is a bit of an art to designing a route, but we follow the numbers closely. There’s a master spreadsheet that shows historical data on the winning times of each stage in each year (the professionals’ average speed ranges from 22.5 to 27km/h), and from that we apply a formula to work out the maximum allotted time for each stage. First and foremost, this is for safety. We can predict the winning time almost to the minute. It’s uncanny. The ETAs at each waterpoint… sometimes a few minutes out, because of the varied terrain. We are working on that!”
“We always remind ourselves; this job is about people. There are easy going landowners who recognise that we want all to benefit from the race visiting their land and frankly a couple of landowners see us as a nuisance. I have yet to have an issue, but there is always a challenge, every year. I was once asked ‘what was the easiest landowner experience and what was the most difficult?’ The answer – we woke up on race morning to an out of the blue message saying, ‘you cannot come through’. There were guards with weapons, and they’d closed the gates with the biggest locks you’ve ever seen in your life – all with the riders heading that way. The neighbouring farmer heard about this, and he got into his vehicle and drove it straight through a fence so we could reroute!” Things happen out there, and most importantly we learn to spot issues before they happen.”
PLANNING. PLANNING. PLANNING.
“We get more flak from the riders if we make it too easy than if we make it too hard. It’s all about consistency. A rider in 2023 wants to face the same challenge as a rider in 2013. The race may be shorter in distance today with less climbing and the average speed differs too, but we look mostly at the fatigue factor, and that’s hard to measure. It’s not only the legs, but also the body, the shoulders, and arms. That’s why we do a dress rehearsal of the full route in August, with back-to-back stages. We also consider that riders have improved dramatically over the last 18 years, as have the bikes. We look at all eight days as a whole – never to have eight hard days, always a combination, all in context. The weather is the biggest unknown. Like in 2013 – riders did the same climb into Lourensford, and no one moaned, but in 2022 there was the heat, the wind… so we also have to put plans in place for that, just in case.”
“We start with the towns that are secured for that year and we link them up in the best way possible, with some old and some new. By the way it’s not easy finding venues for race villages. Each has to be 8-10 hectares in size and the agreement on the site has to be set in stone years in advance. We don’t want to arrive at the venue to set up and find it to be full of apple trees! We work closely with the logistics guys, especially on the safety side – medics, traffic, marshals, route marking crew. Plus, there’s a complex plan with getting permissions (government, municipalities, owners, conservancies) which I don’t want to bore you with. But I will say that we are already working on the 2025 route and 2024 is pretty much done.”
Turning his attention to the 2023 Absa Cape Epic, Burger said “The 2023 Absa Cape Epic route is tough. Don’t underestimate it by looking purely at the stats, as they’re just words and numbers on paper and we know that they mean little when you’re out their dealing with whatever the race throws at you. Do your homework, do your preparation, and know what you’re in for, Good luck!”
Each year’s Absa Cape Epic route crosses hundreds of kilometres, much of which covers private land. Over 1 000 riders visit new and unique trails and this pivots on the strong relationships between the event and the landowners. Burger, in his role, is in no small way responsible for that special ride experience, year after year.
As one of the first mountain bikers in South Africa, with decades in the cycling event industry, we wanted him to share his insights. Just what does it take to design the Absa Cape Epic route, and what does it take to ride the 2023 edition? He had these nuggets for us (and his take on each stage):