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Join the 20-Year Celebration

This year marks the 20th edition of the Absa Cape Epic. ERNST GOUWS looks back at the event’s history and encourages residents and visitors to support the riders along the trails in Stellenbosch.

Riders during the 2023 Absa Cape Epic. Photo Sam Clark

THE INAUGURAL EDITION of the Absa Cape Epic took place in 2004, the brainchild of Kevin Vermaak, who had the vision to arrange a gruelling eight-day mountain bike race that started in Knysna and finished in Cape Town. The event was a one-of-a-kind challenge with a unique two-person team format and immediately attracted top professional riders from all over the world.

For five years the Cape Epic followed the same point-to-point route.

But Kevin and his team had the foresight to understand how mountain biking was evolving: bicycles became stronger, lighter and better adapted to handle steep and rough terrain. And riders were looking for more exciting challenges.

Riders are guaranteed some challenging weather conditions.

This led to a momentous change in the Cape Epic’s offering, from long-distance days with less than 10% technical single- track terrain to shorter but much more challenging trails. Hendrico Burger, the event’s route director explains. “Singletrack is any mountain biker’s holy grail. Our mandate now is to have between 35% and 50% singletrack on any stage and to balance the downs with the ups. It takes a special skill to ride singletrack climbs. We want to create a full test of each rider’s skills by providing singletrack descents and climbs, long steady climbs, as well as sections of flats.”

The point-to-point route changed to a cloverleaf style, allowing the organisers to offer different routes each year. They could now cherry-pick the very best of the territory and enhance the whole race experience. It also meant an improved offering for supporters and spectators, bringing the action closer to town.

Over the following 14 years, the Absa Cape Epic grew in stature and became the pinnacle mountain bike stage race on the international calendar.

2023 women winners, Kim le Court and Vera Looser. Image: Nick Muzik

Global superstars such as Germany’s Karl Platt, Denmark’s Annika Langvad and Swiss legends Christoph Sauser, Nino Schurter and Ariane Lüthi, are all multiple winners. South Africa has also produced two multiple winners in the reigning champion Matthew Beers (2021 and 2023) and the late Burry Stander (2011 and 2012). And don’t forget Hanlie Booyens and the Krugersdorp-born Namibian Mannie Heymans, who both won the inaugural Cape Epic in 2004.

FIND A GOOD SPOT RIGHT NEXT TO THE WORLD-RENOWNED G-SPOT TRAIL ABOVE DALSIG FOR SOME BREATHTAKING ACTION.

And so to 2024 and the 20th edition of this proud race. This year’s Cape Epic kicks off with the Prologue at Lourensford in Somerset West on Sunday, 17 March. After spending a few days around Tulbagh and Wellington, the race arrives in Stellenbosch on Saturday, 23 March for the penultimate sixth stage. And then, for the first time since 2006, the Grand Finale (stage seven) will also take place in Stellenbosch!

The famous G-Spot trail above Dalsig will again feature on the 2024 Epic route. Image: Sam Clark

Residents and visitors to Stellenbosch therefore have the ideal opportunity to experience the Cape Epic at close hand and to show our support for the riders. Trust me, when they get to the last two stages of this eight-day event, they can certainly do with some cheering along the route!

You’ll see lots of action on Saturday, 23 March if you head out early to Muratie wine farm. Two of that day’s water points are on the farm, where the riders will enjoy fantastic singletrack trails. Alternatively, head towards Botmaskop above Uniepark later that day and watch the action all along the challenging climb and technical descent facing the riders before they make their way to the finish line at Coetzenburg.

The final stage on Sunday, 24 March will be fantastic to follow, as the route takes the riders along the many legendary trails in Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. Spectators can then watch the field up close and personal along the Bergpad, through Eden Forest and at Mont Marie. Alternatively, find a good spot right next to the world-renowned G-Spot trail above Dalsig for some breathtaking action. Remember to head back down to Coetzenburg’s rugby fields in time to see your riders cross the finish line and enjoy the celebrations with them.

The Absa Cape Epic does wonders for South Africa’s tourism and hospitality industries and puts our beautiful natural landscapes on the world stage. Let’s celebrate the 20th edition of this event in style! V

The Epic Kids event ensures excitement for all. Image: Jeff Aylifee