Mountain bikers are the cowboys of cycling and the Cape Epic is the world’s biggest rodeo. It’s long. It’s tough. It’s dirty. While the “untamed African MTB race” attracts top professionals like Christoph Sauser, Nino Schurter, Jane Nuessli, Florian Vogel, Sally Bigham, and Jaroslav Kulhavy, what makes the 8 day stage race so epic are the hundreds of amateur teams racing behind the pros to claim bragging rights for the rest of their life. After all, the amateurs do the exact 698kms as the professionals, which is no cake walk and I’m not just talking about the single track.
While roadies think a tandem bicycle is the quickest way to divorce, during the Epic 600 teams of two riders race together during the day and share a small tent together at night. If that isn’t enough to put the pressure on any relationship, this year a stomach bug circled the camp and took down even the strongest of riders, like professional Darren Lill (Team Cannondale Blend). Lill, who was hoping it was “just a 24 hr bug,” admitted to holding onto a pocket during stage 4 for the first time ever, just to keep up with his teammate Charles Keey. Seeing his tired and unimpressed pasty-white face crossing the finish line yesterday, anyone could have see he still wasn’t 100%.
The Epic might present challenges that can test and terminate any relationship but, as sport has the tendency to do, more often than not it bonds people together. Winning the mixed category is the husband and wife duo Erik and Ariane Kleinhans (Team RE:CM). With a formidable lead of over 2 hours by stage 6, the pair call one another their lucky charms. Carl Pasio and Nic Lamond of Team Trek Craft Cape Times, a local favourite, rode together for the first time last year and, according to Lamond, they formed such a “powerful bond that made signing up to face another eight days in the saddle together an easy decision.” It is clear the Epic has cemented these two boys in brotherhood, as Carl posted on Twitter:
Cherise Stander is another story. An accomplished professional cyclist herself, she is riding in memory of her late husband Burry Stander, an Olympian, former U23 cross country world champion and Cape Epic winner. As she crossed the line to complete stage 6, the crowd reacted like they were seeing the yellow jersey team all over again. While her Epic campaign is no doubt a way for her to heal, it became clear from the crowd’s reaction that her presence seems to help bond the community of South African cycling together. She was all smiles after the race, happy to be doing what she and her husband loved and spreading the message of his legacy for safer cycling. Claiming second in the stage for the mixed category, now that’s just a cherry on top.
While I’m ever-impressed with the wild bunch of riders who venture to tackle such a hard event, the 698km seems to be a technical detail. Overcoming fear, illness and being equally dependent on your partner for 8 solid days is an experience that requires true grit. In pure cowboy fashion, as John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”