The Absa Cape Epic sells out in seconds and entries are in high demand. Absa Cape Epic founder Kevin Vermaak keeps a close eye on his ‘baby’ an event that has grown to establish itself as the pinnacle mountain bike stage race, known as The Untamed African Mountain Bike Race.
“Every year we think of a few things to make it bigger. To be honest in the beginning we just wanted to be the best, every year we try and push the boundaries and add new ideas.”
For Vermaak, the focus has always been on the people and their experience. It was with that in mind that the decision was taken to create the Epic Series (Swiss Epic, Pioneer in New Zealand and Absa Cape Epic) and beneath that, a series of qualifying events in Australia (Cape to Cape, Port to Port, Reef to Reef).
“I thought ‘there must be a way to extend that community 12 months of the year’ and to other countries as well. At the end of the day people that have a kindred spirit and love doing what they are doing, you should be able to create a similar challenge around the rest of the world as well.”
One rider to benefit from the Epic Series is Bjorn Tschenett from Switzerland. He is riding with good friend and countryman Bernhard Aebli at the Cape Epic, and is only here thanks to gaining a guaranteed entry at the Swiss Epic via the Lottery Draw.
“In 1996 I began with mountain bike riding and a few years later I saw the Absa Cape Epic in a magazine, and I was ‘oh, that is cool’ and dreamed of being here. But I never thought I would ride the race, so the lottery was a big victory for me. Without the lottery at the Swiss Epic, I would not be here in South Africa for the Epic.”
Bjorn was in no doubt as to which is the tougher of the two events.
“It is very hard, it is very hot and at the Swiss Epic it is not so warm. And it is very long, at the Swiss Epic we have shorter distance, but the climbs are longer. Here the climbs are very short and steep, it is not so good for Swiss guys. How tough it is makes it more special though, to get to the finish line. But the ambience and atmosphere is amazing here.”
And he hasn’t discounted a long journey to New Zealand for The Pioneer and a possible Epic Legend Medal (for completing all three Epic Series Legend Races – Absa Cape Epic, Swiss Epic and The Pioneer).
“Yes, but it is a long way. We have a mechanic in our town, always he says ‘come with me to The Pioneer. It would be a nice thing, but at the moment I don’t know.”
“There is a tremendous community amongst the mountain bikers, you can see it here at the epic. Over eight days you bond with riders you have never met before, from all around the planet. Over eight days you bond with them and are going through similar suffering, even if you can’t speak the language you understand each other.
Tschenett and his riding partner Bernhard stayed focused the task at hand during race week in their quest to conquer the Absa Cape Epic – the dream of finishing The Untamed African mountain bike race.
The Epic Series Legend Races
Absa Cape Epic, March 2019
The pinnacle of the sport and of the Epic Series. 8 days, (prologue plus 7 stages), 650km riding, 15,000m climbing. Two-person teams. The most competitive mountain bike stage race in the world.
The Pioneer, New Zealand, November 2019
6 Days, 430km riding and 15,000m climbing. Beautiful and soulful riding, a wilderness mountain bike and travel adventure and yet still competitive. Ride Beyond – Find Character – Find Stunning – Find Welcome
Swiss Epic, Switzerland, August 2019
5 Days, 350km riding and 12,000m climbing. High alpine climbs and steep descents, home of European mountain biking, quintessential Alpine scenery and competitive. Conquer the Alps.
Epic Series Qualifier Races
A pre-determined number of guaranteed entries to the Absa Cape Epic are allocated to each Epic Series event, with riders earning these guaranteed entries either through performance, or via the lottery draw.
Port to Port, New South Wales, Australia, May 2019
4 Days, 195km and 3,500m of climbing. Centres around Newcastle, with riders exploring the trails and admiring the iconic scenery in the Hunter Region
Reef to Reef, North Queensland, Australia, August 2019
4 Days, 190km and 1500m of climbing. Four days in the heart of Tropical North Queensland, start on the reef fringed Coral Sea coast and feature fast flowing single trail
Cape to Cape, Western Australia, October 2019
4 Days, 210km and 2,550m of climbing. Exhilarating forest trails, back country and coastline in the south western tip of Australia