Words by: Frans Le Roux
It’s that time of year as the most anticipated mountain bike event in the world rolls around the majestic Western Cape mountains again. The 2019 ABSA Cape Epic promises to be a battle of the giants!.
2019 ROUTE: 624KM/16 650M
When the 2019 ABSA Cape Epic route was announced back in 2018, I remember the distressed faces at the press conference that day. Riders who completed the 2018 race must have laughed when they saw the stats for the upcoming event. With roughly the same distance to be covered, the figure that stood out was the added 3 000m odd meters of climbing thrown in over the duration of the race. The Cape Epic will always be tough, and the 2019 event promises to be just that.
The Prologue will return to beautiful Cape Town for the fifth time. Riders will have to safely navigate the 21km loop of Table Mountain before heading to Hermanus for the start of stages One and Two. Hermanus will kick off with a bang seeing riders tackle 112km with 2700m ascent which will take them deep into the Hemel en Aarde Valley and back. Stage Two will start in Hermanus once more but will see riders finish at the well-known Oak Valley Estate. The trails at Wildekrans will be one of the highlights as riders have to complete the brand new Wildekrans Tokoloshe singletrack climb which features over 500m of climbing in only six kilometres.
Oak Valley will play hosts for stages Three and Four and if you’ve ever done a Wines2Whales event you should recognize some of the trails. Stage Three will also see riders attempt the dreaded Groenlandberg – a mountain so brutal it’s not only the highest point of the 2019 route, but also one of the most difficult to summit. Another time trail is thrown into the mix which will see riders do a loop in of 43km at Oak Valley. All of the very best singletrack sections (like Wines2Whales Day Two) should put a huge smile on the face of even the most tired riders.
The Queen Stage (Five) sees riders leave Oak Valley Estate and head towards Stellenbosch. A 100km route
with 2850m of climbing thrown in will surely hurt the entire field as this is by far the toughest day of the race. Something odd about this stage will have to be the downhill portage of Gantouw Pass. Gantouw is an old ox wagon path which is usually tackled from the bottom during day One of Wines2Whales. As riders make their way over the Helderberg mountains they will be welcomed by some of the best singletracks Stellenbosch has to offer in the form of Mont Marie, Dornier and of course, G-Spot.
Stage Six is another loop around Stellenbosch which will see riders head towards Botmaskop. The everpopular Skyfall descent follows after which the Banhoek Valley will have to be navigated. A tough climb towards the beautiful Simonsberg Trails will include the daunting Klapmuts Kop section. If you’re a keen XC specialist the finish to stage Six should see you smiling big time!
No ABSA Cape Epic will be complete without a Val de Vie Grande Finale. The 2019 edition will be no different as riders leave Stellenbosch behind for the last time before heading to Paarl. Highlights of Stage Seven will undoubtedly include the splendid Boschendal Trails. The finish should be in sight as riders will fly along a brand new singletrack section which will take them onto the lush fields of Val de Vie.
WHO TO WATCH
A stellar women’s field will see no less than seven elite teams compete for overall glory. The favourite to claim her fifth title will be Annika Langvad as she returns with a new partner, road cycling legend Anna van der Breggen and her sights set on the top step of the podium. One of the most experienced riders and a
multiple Cape Epic winner, Ariane Lüthi will be riding a new bike along with a new Polish partner, Maja
Włoszczowska. The two other dark horse teams will have to be Silverback-Fairtree with Mariske Strauss and
Jennie Stenerhag and Team Summit with the strong German Adelheid Morath teaming up with Candice Lill.
The defending champions Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts will be lining up once again, but they should face some stiff competition from various other teams. The Swiss pairing of Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht needs no introduction while Cannondale Factory Racing’s Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini will also be vying for the top spot. Cape Epic legends such as Karl Platt and Alban Lakata will return for Team Bulls and should provide for an enticing contest at the front. Speaking of Team Bulls, they have no less than three teams at this year’s Epic which could prove a masterstroke when disaster strikes. All eyes will be on Alan Hatherly as he attempts his first Epic alongside New Zealand star Sam Gaze.
From a South African perspective, it would be amazing to see PYGA Euro Steel grab a stage podium somewhere along the way. Gert Heyns will be riding his Scott alongside the Swiss cycling champ Lars Forster and this should be an exciting team to watch. After their recent performance at the Tankwa Trek, the boys from Imbuko Giant should be the team to watch from an African jersey perspective. HB Kruger and new team mate Frans Claes won the recent PE-Plett stage race which proves they have the form to compete at the sharp end.