Not since 2013 has Stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic dipped below the 100-kilometre mark. It is definitely no play-day though. Hard work lies ahead to harvest the rewards of the exceptional Eselfontein trails. Reaching its mountain biking nirvana is the simple part and requires riders to traverse the orchards of the Ceres Valley. After a relatively easy start to the stage, the first singletrack climb is fortuitously wider than most, actually allowing for overtaking opportunities. This is essential as the technical nature of the climb means the fittest riders may not be the fastest to the summit. Two more singletrack climbs follow, linked by technical descents that will reveal the folly of riding a hardtail.
The ascent to the stage's highest point, on the Dead Man Walking climb, is punctuated by the race's first Dimension Data Hotspot. While the singletrack that follows, back to the valley floor, provides the day's Land Rover Technical Terrain. Pipeline, as the trail is dubbed, is worth every centimetre of altitude gained. That is if you have the confidence to pin your ears back and enjoy the drop. A final loop, from the central water complex on the Eselfontein farm, takes in more scintillating singletracks including some of the oldest purpose-built mountain biking trails in the country. Then it is back through the orchards, to Ceres, to conclude the scene-setter for what will be an Absa Cape Epic where distance is traded for difficulty.
With so many fantastic, and least we neglect to mention, technical trails on the Eselfontein Farm narrowing it down was not easy. Pipeline is long, at 3 kilometres, and challenging for much of that distance. Rocks jut haphazardly from the hard-baked clay surface, requiring absolute concentration, while the sweeping bends necessitate that you carry speed at all times to avoid being caught flat.
Pipeline, as the trail is dubbed, is worth every centimetre of altitude gained. That is if you have the confidence to pin your ears back and enjoy the ride.
Riders race through the morning sun and billowing dust during the 2010 Absa Cape Epic
Team BULLS lead the group on one of Eselfontein's famed Dam Loops
Riders flying through Ceres' rocky and dusty trails during the 2010 Absa Cape Epic
Burry Stander leads Christoph Sauser during the 2010 Absa Cape Epic
Seemingly endless climbs are always a staple at the Absa Cape Epic, no matter the year