Dd Masters category
Whomever said that your cycling performance starts to nose-dive after 35 has clearly never raced the Absa Cape Epic, especially in the Dimension Data Masters category.
According to sports science, cyclists tend to hit their endurance peak between the ages of 28 – 35 and that major endurance gains don’t happen in the 40s. Those theories are being challenged on a yearly basis in the Absa Cape Epic’s Dimension Data Masters category. At the Absa Cape Epic, teams whose riders are aged between 40 – 49 are eligible to compete in the Dimension Data Masters category – a category that has been notoriously competitive since its inception. The category is so competitive, in fact, that it consistently sees some of the world’s finest riders and retired sporting professionals line-up to try their, well-experienced, hand at The Race That Measures All.
In recent years, the serious amateurs of 40+ have found themselves rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bart Brentjens, Abraão Azevedo, Jose Hermida, Joaquim Purito Rodriguez, Erik Dekker, René Haselbacher, Maarten Tjallingii, Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie, Massimo Debertolis, and even Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans.
But what really drives the competitive spirit in this category? Is it the fact that egos are still rife and these seasoned veterans still have the desire to prove that they can mix it up with the best? Or is it something else entirely?
It’s a combination of factors; retired pro racers are there and like they say ‘once a racer, always a racer’
Brothers Sakkie and Hannes Hanekom are at home on the rugged trails of the Absa Cape Epic
We caught up with local legends, Sakkie and Hannes Hanekom (who have 20 Absa Cape Epic finishes between them) to get the inside scoop on what keeps the fire burning in the 40+ers. “It’s a combination of factors; retired pro racers are there and like they say ‘once a racer, always a racer’” explained Hannes. “The category is just as competitive as the elites but the riders are a bit more relaxed, and dare I say it, mature. They know what life is really about and even though we leave it all out there, it feels a bit like we’re a bunch of mates. It’s an honour to race against some of the world’s best – standing next to guys like Cadel Evans, who I never thought I’d meet, is something truly unique about the Absa Cape Epic.”
To date, Sakkie and Hannes have 20 Absa Cape Epic finishes between them.
“Even though we are a team looking at achieving the same goal, the competitive nature is still there between us. Racing alongside my boet [Hannes] is great, but he is strong from the gun and I usually take few days to warm up, so I often get concerned I’ll disappoint him” Sakkie revealed. “But our abilities are so closely matched that it works out well and we usually manage to balance the efforts and then it’s game on! To me, sharing the race village, start line and trails with cycling’s legends is really cool as you get to know them as people and not just guys you’ve seen on TV. But sometimes I’m not their biggest fan as they can make it REALLY hard.”
Craig Kolesky, seven-time Absa Cape Epic finisher, navigates the sandy trails of Grabouw during the 2019 Absa Cape Epic.
Craig Kolesky, seven-time Absa Cape Epic finisher and long-time friend of the race added, “We all have a competitive streak, if it does not show during training it definitely shows once that start gun goes off. With the ex-pros moving up into the older age groups there will always be something to prove amongst the other riders. Beating my times year on year is one of my targets; that, and beating all of my mates who are also in the Dimension Data Masters category.”
None of us can ever get rid of that competitive streak, no matter how hard we try.
René Haselbacher, ex-Austrian Road and Time Trial champ, as well as WorldTour Racer, delved deep into his life as a pro and what the Absa Cape Epic means to him.
“After racing as a professional for 14 years and giving my all in races like the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana, Giro d’Italia and more, I never thought I wanted to suffer again. I hung up my bikes, my race numbers and thought that was that. Chapter closed. Then I did my first Absa Cape Epic.” Speaking about life after retirement Haselbacher added: “After racing for that long, it becomes a part of you. A part of your being. But after a few years, you get tired of not racing and start to look for new challenges. For me, that new challenge was the Absa Cape Epic and it challenged me to grow as a rider in ways racing on the road never did.”
“I had to improve my skills, my mental toughness, and my ability to race with only one teammate instead of an entire team. The Absa Cape Epic cannot really be compared to any of the Grand Tours as it is its own beast. Especially for riders in the Dimension Data category where we’re all a bit older, wiser (supposedly), but no less competitive!” laughed Haselbacher. “Seeing old friends and rivals you have raced against on the road ignites that fire to show that you’ve still got it, and in no time you find yourself dragging yourself up climbs that could be walked, just to prove a point!”
René Haselbacher, ex-Austrian Road and TT champ, has four Absa Cape Epic finishes to his name.
“The entire Absa Cape Epic process is an adventure, from getting an entry, to training, to travelling from Europe’s winter into the middle of the African summer, and onto the amazing singletracks. What stands out is how different the event is. It’s kind of a holiday to me; a really hot, dry, and tough holiday where I get to experience things that are so different to my past, like waking up in the dark (we didn’t do that as pros. Ever), grabbing a beer straight after the stage, talking smack with other guys in the race village, having another beer and then a shower, and then kicking back to chill and recount the stage and the past with guys I have known forever and new friends I have made along the way.”
“Then we get up again the next day and drill each other, just to show that we can. As riders, no matter if you’ve raced as a pro or not, we are all competitive. Sometimes it’s against ourselves, but at the Epic in the Dimension Data Masters category, it’s against yourself, against Africa, and against your buddies who want to beat you as badly as you want to beat them.”