The 19th Absa Cape Epic was characterised by aggressive racing in all categories and brutal conditions throughout the week. Every single rider who crossed the line at the Grand Finale after some 650km and nearly 16 000m of climbing has a very special place in The Book of Legends. Here is what we learned:
It’s not over until it’s over
After a week of high drama, Matt Beers and Chris Blevins galloped into Val de Vie to claim the yellow Ciovita leader jerseys. Beers and Blevins won the Cape Epic prologue in Meerendal to wear yellow on Stage 1, but a disastrous stage around Hermanus saw them finish 12th on the day and drop back to eight on GC. For most, this would’ve signaled the end of the race, but the Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne outfit tackled each stage as though it was a standalone race and went on to win four more stages. Their consistency saw them move into striking distance and they had to make up ‘only’ 1:30 on the Grand Finale – something they did in fine style.
Defending champions, Lukas Baum and Georg Egger (ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company) were also in the hunt but their title defense was cut short by a mechanical on Stage 6. The same stage put an end to Amy Wakefield and Candice Lill’s CM.com women’s category campaign. The e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo team had a seemingly insurmountable lead going into what turned into a stage for the ages with torrential weather in the Helderberg, when disaster struck and Wakefield broke a rim. The mechanical forced her to ride on a bare rim for 8km to the next tech zone, losing more than 30 minutes in the process.
Amy Wakefield is a giant
Amy Wakefield shrugged off the mechanical and bravely soldiered on, something her and partner Lill had been doing all week. If we learned anything about the two through this Cape Epic it is that they are tougher than most and, that they have the mentality to stay calm in the most hardcore of situations.
If you have been hiding under an apple tree and missed the now-famous incident: Wakefield and Lill won Stage 1 and moved into the Women’s orange leader jerseys after Wakefield suffered a serious injury, ripping her arm open after a collision with a tree. With no medics nearby, Wakefield tended to the wound as best she could with what the pair had available. “I could see muscle and fat in the gash, but didn’t see any blood, so I just taped it up and got back on the bike,” said Wakefield.
“I actually asked Amy if she wanted to abandon the race,” said Lill. “It was really bad, but Amy is so tough. She just took my duct tape, wrapped it around her bicep and carried on.” Wakefield had surgery overnight and returned the following morning to bravely don Orange and ride on. The pair got stronger throughout the week but their campaign for an overall win was scuttled by the mechanical.
The lead bikers are unsung heroes
The Malle Moto category (it’s now called Original by Motul, but we like the old name) at the annual Dakar Rally is reserved for the toughest of the tough. The rules are simple: do everything yourself. Ditch the private chef, pitch your own tent, fix your own bike, tend your own wounds. The malle bit isn’t a reference to the need to be slightly crazy to take this on, rather it is from the French for box or trunk, which was the only piece of luggage early competitors were allowed to bring. We digress…
Kirsten Landman is a South African off-road motorbike legend, a status cemented by her glorious finish in this mad category in 2023 – the only woman to attempt it in one of the toughest Dakars in decades. And, she was at the Absa Cape Epic, leading the legends of mountain biking through some of the toughest trails the race has ever offered, in weather conditions bordering on impossible.
While riding ‘lead’ might sound like a chilled cruise on the 300 cc, it is a crucial job reserved for the best moto riders. “We are actually quite busy. I go out with Gideon (Joubert) and Greg (Miller) and we lead the elite men, riding the whole route (we’ve got the best job I think) 500m to a kilometre ahead of them,” Landman says. “We make sure there is nothing in the track, we spend a lot of time clearing trees and branches, especially in the weather we have been having. We put up extra markers if they are too far apart, and make sure all the markers are in place and pointing the right way. On the district roads, we help clear traffic and pedestrians – we are the first thing people see of the race, so often we start the process of the marshalls making it super safe for the riders.”
To survive the pinnacle of the Epic Series you need to know how to ride in the wet
The 19th Absa Cape Epic provided some of the most radical conditions yet for the race, with gale force winds and torrential rain battering the riders on various stages. Stage 6 around Lourensford Wine Estate takes the (mud) cake however. All 82 kilometres and 2 300 metres of climbing took place within the boundaries of the estate. The course crossed over itself as it skirted the estate dams with many of the roads having turned to torrents. It was one of those stages that will be talked about for years to come, with many experienced campaigners and pros calling it their ‘toughest day on the bike, ever.’
According to Chris Blevins the key to success in the wet was to stay smooth and stay upright on the bike. “It was just brutal out there. We had the right tyres on but it’s so difficult to race in those conditions. It was so muddy and going down the singletrack was incredibly slow.”
The Amateurs are a competitive bunch
With new categories being added throughout the field in 2023, non-UCI riders got to rev their engines and get a chance to stand on the daily Cape Epic podium, wear leaders jerseys and spray bubbly at Val de Vie. It was beautiful to see. The racing in the NTT Masters was fierce and great to watch, but arguably the most competitive category outside of the UCI men’s and women’s races was in the new Amateur category. With a Grand Finale victory Oli ‘Pinner’ Munnik and Rogan Smart (Signal Racing) notched up a second stage win for the week and put big smiles on the Signal Racing outfit’s Saffa dials. Chileans Felipe and Cristobal Sandoval (Sandomac) got another podium spot on the day and overall leaders, Australian Mitchell Docker and his American teammate Ian Boswell (Digger and the Doughboy), rounded out the podium on the day.
These results did not affect the overall standings. Boswell and Docker, former professional road riders, won the first ever white jerseys for the Amateur category with a time of 30:43.52. Second overall two-time stage winners Munnik and Smart and Australian brothers Hayden and Oliver James (James Brothers).
“What a great finish to an amazing event,” said Boswell at the finish. “It such a beautiful day and nice routes that I kind of forgot the craziness of the previous days.”
For a full recap, catch our updates here. We can’t wait to see what the 20th edition dishes up in 2024.
Docker added: “All you want from a race, no matter the category, is to have some good competition and to challenge each other. And that is what we got.”