From 21 to 28 March 2021 every morning at exactly 7:00 o’ clock during 8 days, the starting signal resonates through the breathtaking scenery of South Africa. 700 teams begin the next stage of the Cape Epic, which holds the title, with its 647 kilometers and 15,550 meters of altitude, of one of “the hardest mountain bike race in the world”.
The Cape Epic in South Africa is the world’s most famous mountain bike marathon. It is a privilege to be allowed to participate. The race is run in teams of two.
At the start of the race, many well-known professional bikers such as World Champion and Olympic Champion Nino Schurter will also be among us.
For the seventh time after 2009, 2010, 2013 2016, 2018 and 2019 bike2help.ch will commit to supporting children who need bicycles to go to school or require a surgery to correct a cleft lip or cleft palate (Operation Smile). In addition, the bike2help.ch team will also contribute to the protection of endangered species (The Cape Leopard Trust) and ANNA FOUNDATION (Education). With every kilometer and every turn of the handle there is a contribution towards the region, which we can experience in all its facets for approximately two weeks – our biggest motivation to finish the race successfully. At the Cape Epic, every day is a challenge for participants and material, due to sand, wind and temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius. These conditions will demand all we can give.
This is us – Alessia Nay & Björn Tschnenett. Two passionate endurance athletes who along their journey have more than just sporting goals: Participate in the Cape Epic in 2020 in the Mixed Category as well as inspire people to have a healthy lifestyle and support charities
The Cape Epic is one of the biggest , but also most beautiful challenge for any avid mountain biker and leads the team through spectacular scenery and encounters with foreign animals of the Western Cape.
Table of the Cape
Luís de Camões characterised Table Mountain as the mythological giant, Adamastor. The petrified titan provides fast and technical, at times, riding for the opening kilometres of the 2021 Absa Cape Epic, in Table Mountain National Park. Returning riders will be well briefed on what to expect; steep gradients heading both up and downhill, massive trail-side crowds and a flutter of pre-race butterflies. The Prologue features climbing from the off; through campus and the UCT XC Track and onto the dual tracks of Table Mountain National Park. The first significant challenge is the Quarry Climb. Spurred on by cheers, from trail-side fans, riders will then ascend to Dead Man’s Tree; virtually the highest point of the stage. The asphalt of Table Mountain Road provides rolling respite before the white knuckle descent of the day’s Land Rover Technical Terrain: Plum Pudding.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: Plum Pudding
Located 16 kilometres into the Prologue, the first section of Land Rover Technical Terrain has a formidable reputation. Some Cape Town riders seek it out for its dusty surface and precipitous gradient. Others avoid it at all costs following the jeep tracks downhill rather than risk its final mine-shalt like drop. Absa Cape Epic riders will have no B-line, it is Plum Pudding or humble pie.
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. After a relatively easy start to the stage, the first singletrack climb is fortuitously wider than most, actually allowing for overtaking opportunities. Two more singletrack climbs follow, including the ascent of the Dead Man Walking climb to the race’s first Dimension Data Hotspot. The singletrack from the summit is the day’s Land Rover Technical Terrain, Pipeline. A final loop, from the central water and spectator point complex on the Eselfontein farm, takes in more scintillating singletracks including some of the oldest purpose-built mountain biking trails in the country.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: Pipeline
With so many fantastic, and lest 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.
Forgive My Sins
The Witzenberg Valley is undoubtedly one of mountain biking’s most challenging playgrounds, making Stage 2 a fitting holder for the title of Queen Stage. Sheets of sandstone provide the ultimate testing ground for man, woman and of course, machine. No quarter is given by Mother Nature in this fertile valley. For those strong enough not to require one, there are rewards around every kink in the trail. First though you have to reach the fabled playground. Crossing the Ceres Valley is the first step on the journey. Then comes the Old Gydo Pass. On the Bokkeveld plateau the dual track climb gives way to singletrack. Snaking ever upward into the Witzenberg Mountains the trail becomes increasingly technical. As it starts to weave its way between sandstone outcrops the Land Rover Technical Terrain begins. It is far from the only technical section of the day’s route however. In the valley below, nearly 20 kilometres of virtually uninterrupted singletrack awaits. Only the day’s final climb brings an end to the singletrack. From the summit Table Mountain is visible on clear days, as is the stage finish, at Saronsberg. A final white-knuckle singletrack descent, along an old wagon trail, then drops from the heights of the Witzenberg to the Tulbagh Valley far below.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: Skurfberg
Carved between sandstone massifs, the final 1.5 kilometres of the climb up into the Witzenberg Valley forms the day’s Land Rover Technical Terrain. Though not as taxingly steep as the consistent gradients lower down the climb, the brutal ramps on sandstone slick rock require savage bursts of power to conquer. Brief respite is offered from ramp to ramp, so keep an eye on your teammate to ensure the elastic does not snap between you.
The Winter Summit
With two converging mountain ranges to explore, Stage 3 of the 2020 Absa Cape Epic is not short on climbing. Nestled in the nook between the Groot Winterhoek and the Witzenberg Ranges the Tulbagh Valley is not hasty to reveal its rewards. The stage begins benignly enough, until the first ever Dimension Data Hotspot sprint, down the town’s 300 year old Church Street. Thereafter the climbing begins in earnest; upwards towards the Bone Trail. Beyond, a network of brand new singletracks explores virgin territories. Well-established singletracks provide an exhilarating reward for conquering the two thirds of the day’s climbs. But one huge climb remains; Fanties Pass, arguably the toughest climb of the 2020 route. Topping out at over 20% and averaging 14% for its final 2 kilometres it will demand every ounce of energy. Below the summit the Land Rover Technical Terrain awaits on more virgin singletrack.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: Assegaaibos
Cut initially into the steep slopes of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains, Assegaaibos is purpose built for the 2020 Absa Cape Epic. Slipping through a spectacular indigenous forest and dropping though unspoilt fynbos it is sure to be loose in places. Its virgin soils have yet to be compacted by the race’s 2 600 bicycle tyres.
The Forgotten Valley
After three days with precious few free kilometres the transition stage from Saronsberg, in Tulbagh, to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Wellington campus appears on paper to be an easier day. The first 100-kilometre plus stage includes more asphalt than any other in the race. Yes, the early kilometres may tick past with unnerving ease, but once the surface begins to roughen the challenges will come thick and fast. Brutally uneven dual tracks through a private game reserve provide a sudden shock. Kluitjieskraal Climb reinforces that this is the Absa Cape Epic after all. A truly untamed section of riding follows; remote and rugged, concluded with the stage’s Land Rover Technical Terrain, Bull Run. Bainskloof Pass is by no means the most strenuous of the Cape’s iconic mountain passes; but be warned, do not burn too many matches racing up it. A final sting provided by the Wild Boar Trails’ white trail climb will catch those who have left nothing in reserve.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: Bull Run
Descending from the Zuurvlakte towards the Wolseley Valley the Land Rover Technical Terrain showcases the rockiest section of dual track on the stage. Eroded by wind, water and the hooves of seemingly feral cattle even the route partner’s vehicles will need to engage low range 4×4 to master the descent. For riders it is a matter of focus and knowing where to back-off the limit, the Bull Run is not the place to take undue risks.
The Only Way Is Up
Short and brutally steep, on exhausted legs, Stage 5 will be a major physical and psychological hurdle on the trail to Val de Vie. In the past stages like these have been dubbed play days, but there is little playful about this intense test. The climbing starts virtually instantaneously. Leaving Wellington, the only way is uphill on the lengthy Hawequa Climb. It is never steep, but rather a slow, leg-sapping grind. The descent from the summit starts on dusty dual track, before slipping into the Brooklyn Bridge singletrack. Singletrack climbs and descents blur into one vision of agony and ecstasy thereafter. Up Seven Peaks, down Cool Runnings, up Aap d’Huez into Full Monty – the day’s Land Rover Technical Terrain – and a further black diamond, black route loop. The fun, games, climbing and, in all likelihood, suffering are not quite over yet. Riders must battle home for very hard-earned rest and recovery ahead of a big weekend of riding.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: Full Monty
In 2020 the Absa Cape Epic goes all the way, taking in the complete Full Monty during Stage 5’s Land Rover Technical Terrain. Well-loved for its fast and flowing sections which give way to tight switchback corners the Full Monty is the type of trail which makes the day’s massive altitude gain worth-while.
Into The Wild
A saw tooth profile is exactly what riders do not want to see come the penultimate day of the Absa Cape Epic. Riding through a private nature reserve, the presence of zebra, eland, springbok and particularly giraffe will serve as welcome distraction from aching legs. Steep but mercifully short vineyard climbs start the day before the Wild Boar Rollercoaster provides singletrack thrills. District roads and farm dual tracks, through iconic wine farms manage to avoid any serious climbs on the way to Arc en Ciel Game. Once in the private reserve, the trail surface deteriorates sharply, demanding concentration. Upon exiting the reserve, the climbing begins in earnest. The day’s Land Rover Technical Terrain provides a strenuous climb before the Python singletrack ascent adds another telling point of reference. Then the Wild Boar Trails are all about challenging thrills. In the closing kilometres, Golden Mile deposits riders into the farmlands surrounding Wellington and allows winding dual tracks to lead them home.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: Rocky Horror Climb
There are sections of the route which will remain in riders’ memories for better reasons, but there are few which are as sure to sear into your consciousness as Rocky Horror. Land Rover Technical Terrains do not come much more technical than this. Engage granny gear and pick your line with caution; loose rocks, the size of your fist litter the 1-kilometre long climb and once a foot goes down, it’s game over for you.
The Trail to Val de Vie
Between Wellington and Val de Vie lie a final 66 kilometres of Untamed mountain biking. The Grand Finale is one last test to ensure that no finisher’s medal is handed over without the realisation being driven home that it was hard-earned. Patatskloof, Beulah and the Hawequa Climb roll neatly into one right from the off. At the summit of Hawequa, the final Dimension Data Hotspot provides a reward for the fastest to the top. Hugging the dizzyingly steep slopes of the Hawequa Mountains, the route loses hard earned altitude only to ascend again, up the Protea Climb. Undulating dual tracks tick off vital kilometres before the Freedom Struggle Climb and the Bone Rattler, which also forms the race’s final Land Rover Technical Terrain. Then, finally, onto the spectacular grounds of Val de Vie. Each Absa Cape Epic finisher will have had to earn his or her place with grit and determination. It is after-all the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race; the Absa Cape Epic; the Race That Measures All.
Land Rover Technical Terrain: Bone Rattler
A rocky dual track, dubbed the Bone Rattler, is the final section of Land Rover Technical Terrain for the 2020 Absa Cape Epic. From the top of the descent only 11 kilometres remain, but overcommit and you could spend those painfully pushing your bike on broken rims to the finish line at Val de Vie.
To date, by participating in the six previous Cape Epic, bike2help.ch was able to provide over 90 bicycles, 40 school desks and 40 school uniforms to children in the Cape region. Bike2help.ch riders will again race to make a difference supporting Anna Foundation, the Cape Leopard Trust and Operation Smile.
We also race to inspire others to have an action filled and healthy lifestyle. Follow us on our blog.