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Cape Epic- the Tour de France of Mountain Biking

16:31 19th March 2013 By Andrew Cremin

There aren’t too many stage mountain bike races in the UK (Probably because you can cover the country in one-sitting). They are big news around the world though, with multiday races popping up all over the place. One of the most popular, The Cape Epic is taking place in South Africa right now.

Getting strafed by helicopters is optional Photo: cape-epic.com

Getting strafed by helicopters is optional
Photo: cape-epic.com


The Cape Epic has been described as the Tour de France of mountain biking by a Dutch gold medallist Olympian. That probably gives you a hint of what to expect- baguettes, blood transfusions and Lycra. Sort of.
You do get Lycra but are more likely to see IV bags filled with rehydration fluids than somebody else’s blood (although German rider Robert Mennen was lucky to escape intact after this crash this year).
We’re not sure about the baguettes either, but after a few days of hacking through the African bush we are told that anything goes food-wise.

The Cape Epic first came about in 2004, after the race organiser, Kevin Vermaak, returned from competing in the Ruta de la Conquistadors stage race in Costa Rica aiming to create a similar experience in his home country. Although the route changes every year, the concept remains the same. Riders start-off each morning on a route across virgin terrain, unused by the race in previous years.

What makes the Epic more unique is the pairs element. Only teams of two are allowed to compete and any rider not finishing within two minutes of their partner is disqualified. Any rider that doesn’t make the required 17:00 finish cut-off time is also disqualified from the race rankings but can still continue as a ‘Blue Board’ rider, allowing them to finish the ride. More than one day of missing the cut-off though and you’re out of there- banished from the race.

Another element that boosts the Cape Epic’s regard is the pro-am set-up. Amateur riders compete in the race on the same course as the professionals. Despite being an epic ride, the amateurs are actually looked after pretty well, in what is the world’s largest fully-supported multi-stage mountain bike race. Accommodation is provided in ready-built tents every night, as is breakfast and dinner, in the race village. Even bikes are washed at the end of every day’s ride by a dedicated crew. Massages are given out every evening to boot.

That’s all very well, but there is the small matter of the actual riding. Every stage of the race covers between 50 and 150km of off-road and on-road terrain, ranging from dirt tracks in vineyards to singletrack descents not to mention the more than 15000 metres of climbing over the eight days. The route changes every year, but always takes in the Western Cape region close to Cape Town and always ends at the Lourensford Wine Estate. This year

If you fancy a crack at the race entries for the race are by a public ballot, you need to be quick. There are early bird tickets available on a first come first served basis on the 25th March. The cost is a R45, 900, which works out to be just shy of £3300.

Once those tickets have gone, the remainder of public entries will go into a public ballot which closes on the 30th May 2013.



The Facts:

Name: The ABSA Cape Epic
Distance:  700 km 450 miles (approx.)
Ascent (m): Around 15000 metres
Record time: N/A
Typical/average time: The race takes place over 8 single day stages
How Hard: Score 7/10


The world’s most prestigious stage mountain bike race where amateurs can go toe-to-toe with the pros.

When to go:

The race is always run in the last week of March/first week of April. This year it takes place from the 17th-24th March.

What do I need?

Fitness is pretty essential. In addition to the usual mountain bike gear, here’s what you will need to enter the race. Although after the £3300 entry fee, a few plasters should be the last of your worries.

• Mobile telephone
• First aid kit (foil survival blanket, first aid dressings x 3, adhesive first aid plasters x 5, sun-block)
• Whistle
• 3 litres of liquid carrying capacity (hydration pack/water bottles)
• Emergency food
• Multi-tool/bike repair tools
• Bike computer and/or heart rate monitor (recommended)
• Basic consumables for your bike (brake pads, tubes, puncture repair, etc)
• Credit card• 4 x cycling outfits (at least 4 sets recommended)
• Hydration pack and seat bags
• Energy bars (lots of)
• Sunglasses


How to prepare:

To seriously consider the cape Epic you will need experience in endurance mountain bike riding. Build up experience on UK-based events before taking it on. Hey, you could always take a punt on a lottery place for 2014 and start your training in hope of getting a place.

Similar Events:

La Ruta de Los Conquistadores 2013, Costa Rica – October 24-26

The multi-stage Costa Rican mountain bike race and the inspiration for the Cape Epic.

BC Bike Race 2013, Canada – June 29 – July 6

More about technical descents than out-an-out endurance as the route heads from Whistler to Vancouver over 6 days.

TransAlps 2013 – July 13-20 

The oldest  and one of the toughest multistage mountain bike races, crossing the Alps for 680 km in six days with over 20,000 metres of ascent.

Crocodile Trophy 2013, Australia – October 19-27

The Crocodile Trophy, which has been running for 18 years, has to be one of the toughest of the stage races, and that’s without considering the chance of encountering an actual croc. The race is run over nine stages, totalling 855km, with some days well over 147km in distance and with 2,700m of climbing. There’s also the extreme heat of the tropical North Queensland to contend with.


Further info:

Cape Epic: The online home of the race with info about entry and Live timings for the 2013 race.

ABSA Cape Epic 2013: The Partnership: A short video about what it’s like to have to ride with a partner for 8 straight days.