Cast your mind back to 2004. 26ers. V-brakes. Bar ends. Sleeveless jerseys. The year the Absa Cape Epic was founded.

Mountain biking was still in its infancy stage within South Africa and, at the time, none could name an event, in the country, to compare to the mammoth eight-stage event that had been birthed by Founder, Kevin Vermaak.

Since the inaugural Absa Cape Epic, the event has set the global standard for mountain bike events and has, consistently, attracted the world’s finest mountain bikers to test their mettle against Africa’s challenges and race for glory in the Untamed African MTB Race.

Having the event dubbed “The Race That Measures All” by the late, great Burry Stander is one thing, but hosting a race that lives up to this tagline is a completely different challenge in itself and only the riders can truly judge if each Absa Cape Epic was, in fact, The Race That Measures All.

To unpack what makes the Absa Cape Epic ‘epic’, we called upon Annika Langvad, the first woman to win five Absa Cape Epic Women’s category titles, to share her views and experiences of racing in Africa.

Annika Langvad won the Absa Cape Epic Elite Women's category with Ariane Lüthi three times

Q: “Annika, you first raced the Absa Cape Epic in 2014 – what attracted you to come to South Africa to race The Absa Cape Epic?”

A: “At Marathon Worlds in 2013 I ended up sitting next to Ariane Lüthi at dinner. After our chats, I was present in her mind when she went searching for a stage race partner later that year. When I got her request, I didn’t hesitate! I absolutely thrive on new adventures, so when Ariane asked me if I wanted to do Cape Epic I was in immediately. I was simply in the right place, at the right time with the right mindset. The decision to race the Cape Epic turned out to be a defining part of my career.”

Q: “What were your first impressions of the event?”

A: “Impressive in every single way. Everything was simply next level compared to what I knew; the atmosphere, the route, the toughness, the highs and lows, the intensity, the South African hospitality and the amount of adventures crammed into just 8 days!”

I was simply in the right place, at the right time with the right mindset. The decision to race the Cape Epic turned out to be a defining part of my career.

Q: “Every year the route changes and the event evolves, what has been your standout Absa Cape Epic memory and why?”

A: “There are simply too many to mention!. And they are all very different ranging from glorious Stage wins to chaotic rookie attempts to fix flat tires. But speaking of evolving - the first year that the race had its own separate Pro Women’s start batch was a highlight to me as it forged the way for other events to follow.”

Q: “You’ve won with three different partners; is each event with a new partner completely different?”

A: “Yes, each event with a new partner is very different and I learned so much from racing with each one of them. Ariane taught me the structured and ‘being prepared for anything’ approach. This insight grew with me and I could take it with me as a foundation to build on all during the following partnerships. With Kate Courtney I had a pure-blooded XC racer by my side, and with Anna van der Breggen, one of the finest and most decorated road riders in the world. With Jenny Rissveds I believe I would have had a very good match on the personal side; two Scandinavian minds sharing a lot of the same views and values.”

Q: “The Absa Cape Epic places a massive emphasis on team and partner dynamics; how did you go about building the relationships with each of your partners?”

A: “Building a relationship with a new partner is very unique to me and the thing I love the most about this race format. It always started out with me thinking: ‘This is a very unique and interesting person, I would like to get to know her better.’ The combination of this attitude and with being honest and open towards the person created special relationships for me. The energy I put in, I always got back 10-fold.”

Q: “While you were racing the Absa Cape Epic, did you ever consider that you could become the most successful person to race the Absa Cape Epic?”

A: “No, I honestly didn’t. I never had that as my goal. Funnily enough I think this is exactly why I ended up winning so often. My passion and drive was mainly connected to more than the result alone. But that being said, I must admit that standing on the top step of the podium never gets old!”

Five Absa Cape Epic wins from five starts for Annika Langvad

Q: “Now that you’re retired, is there any chance you may participate in the event in a less competitive manner or even in a different capacity altogether?”

A: “I might have retired from professional racing, but not from cycling. I still love riding my bike and I still love adventures. I can’t say when, but I could see myself doing the race again someday and I would love to be involved going forward.”

Q: “How do you describe the Absa Cape Epic to people who may not have heard of the race before?”

A: “The ultimate all-in-one experience of physical and emotional challenges. Spiced up with stunning South African landscapes and hospitality.”

The ultimate all-in-one experience of physical and emotional challenges. Spiced up with stunning South African landscapes and hospitality.

Q: “Lastly, what makes the Absa Cape Epic ‘Epic’?”

A: “The name says it all. When you walk away from this race, having overcome every demand and every challenge, the memories stay with you forever because everything about this race truly is Epic.”

Annika Langvad's fifth win came alongside Anna van der Breggen, in 2019

Annika Langvad celebrating victory number four alongside her 2018 partner, Kate Courtney