Breaking Down The Cape Epic Queen Stage with Comments From South Africa’s Best Riders

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Bike Events & Racing, Bike, Bike Course Previews, Featured, Sports

The 2024 Absa Cape Epic’s route is one of the toughest ever. This is what its Queen Stage has in store.

“The 2024 Cape Epic route is a bit of a stormer! It’s going to be insane. A pretty wild Epic. It will be tough. Absolutely brutal. Full-on racing from Stage 1. A proper test to man and machine. A gnarly one”. These are the words used by Southern Africa’s best mountain bikers to describe the 2024 Absa Cape Epic Route, and they are not wrong. At 617 km with 16 500 m of vertical ascent and descent, this year’s route is making a statement.

Imbuko Big 5 2024 Course Overview And Preview
The Cliffhanger climbs up towards the clouds. Ready your legs. Wellington isn’t going to go easy on you. (c) retroyspective

“There’s a lot of single track and trail riding, there aren’t many open district roads for the transition stages, and a lot of the stages are back-loaded with some really hard climbs ! Every year okes are pretty excited from the start so I think they have done a great job designing the course on where it will split up. The route is going to keep everyone honest and the strongest guy is going to win, there isn’t much slip opportunities or room for tactics because of all the trails.”

Marco Joubert

Packing in a walloping 3000m of climbing into an 88 km Stage in the Hawequa mountains surrounding Wellington, Stage 4 of the 2024 Absa Cape Epic is a brute. Its vertical gain rate is 34 metres per kilometre which is notably above the 27 m/km rate of the overall route. 

Breaking Down The Cape Epic Queen Stage
Not a lot of this route is on flat ground. Expect hard work.

“The Wellington Queen Stage is one that I have come to know and love. However, it comes after 4 days of extremely tough racing, so we certainly won’t be doing it on fresh legs. It’s a beautiful and iconic day on the bike and I really hope we get to enjoy it! I think it could be quite a decisive day, at a point in the race where everyone is on the limit.”

Candice Lill

Some 18% of the total 16 500 metres climbed in the eight days will be done on Stage 4 but only 14% of the overall distance is covered. That means one thing, it will be steep. The Queen Stage borrows a lot of the route from the infamous Imbuko Big 5 MTB Challenge that takes place a month prior to the start of the Epic. The Imbuko Big 5 is an event that we know intimately and so are well poised to break down the Queen Stage route and give you some insight into the challenge that lies ahead for the brave soldiers taking on the 2024 Absa Cape Epic. If you’re one of them reading this, good luck out there!

“Cape Epic always puts the Queen Stage in the middle of the race. It’s always from Stage 3 onwards and that’s when the real Epic starts because then the fatigue has started to set in + there’s a bit of sleep deprivation and all of that stuff. I think the Queen Stage comes in at the perfect time in the race this year”

Marco Joubert

2024 Cape Epic Queen Stage Route Overview

The 2024 Cape Epic Queen Stage can be broken down into five climbs, much like the Imbuko Big 5. Those climbs are Patatskloof, Beulah, Hawequa, 7 Peaks and the Cliffhanger.

Breaking Down The Cape Epic Queen Stage
Wellington’s Queen Stage Route Profile


The Patatskloof climb is a long gravel road climb that takes in about 300m of elevation gain before the route delivers some rocky traversing and big undulations on its way across and down to Imbuko Wines. The terrain is loose gravel that can catch riders out on many of the fast or steep jeep track segments so they’ll need to keep their wits about them. There will be plenty of room for overtaking in the first half of the stage with the majority of the singletrack sections being found in the later half.

“For sure we do our strategy planning and for this stage in particular you really want to be closer towards the front early on to avoid the yoyo effect in the trails. That’s pretty much the recipe all round and everyone is looking to do that, so no easy way to move up. The sooner you can settle into your rhythm the more efficient you can be.”

Arno du Toit
Breaking Down The Cape Epic Queen Stage With Comments From South Africa’s Best Riders
Pataskloof kicks off with a steep gravel road that drives right up the slopes of the Hawequa mountains. It will be a harsh wake-up call.

Beulah / Buffet Olives

Doing a U-turn at Imbuko Wines the route climbs up to the Beulah Retreat Centre on its second notable climb of the day. This segment of the route, and the following ‘bump’ called Buffet Olives, is the only part not borrowed from the Imbuko Big 5. While these climbs look less imposing on the route profile, riders will need to prepare to make use of that 52-tooth cog and cling to their handlebars as the gradients ramp up. Staying on top of their hydration and fuelling will be crucial early on in the stage before the busy single tracks reduce the opportunities to get nutrition in.

“It’s a super tough day on the bike so we will have to manage ourselves well throughout the week up until the Queen Stage to make sure that we are ready to take it on as best we can.”

Danielle Strydom


Roughly 35 km into the route begins the Hawequa climb. A 700m vertical ascent followed by a 400m vertical singletrack descent. The climb is entirely made up of farm and forest roads. This means there is a lot of room to contest for positions on the climb but ruts and rocks do abound. The road is in relatively good condition but the riders will still have some rocky sections to fight their way through and earn the descent. The climb tops out just underneath the Du Toits Kloof Pass where there is a brief moment to soak in the views along the top contour before plunging down back to the Hawequa Scout’s Hall.

“There are not many ‘free km’s’ in any of the stages. It’s a route where us riders and our equipment will be tested to the max. I personally think that each stage is hard enough for the terrain to dictate where the splits in the racing will happen. As a racer, there is a lot you need to think about in terms of tactics, fueling, communication, avoiding technical mistakes that lead to mechanicals. In the end, in order to win, you need to be the strongest as well as making sure to get all of these things right, with a dash of luck thrown in too.”

Candice Lill

The Hawequa Trail is a fast singletrack descent with some technical corners that get especially loose towards the bottom (due to loose gravel over hard ground). Elevation is lost quickly on this one all the way down to the Brooklyn Bridge crossing over the Dasbos Rivier. A short climb out the other side of the valley leads into a bench-cut single track that traverses along to the base of the 7 Peaks climb. Overtaking room is limited and the Seven Peaks climb could be one of the more decisive of the race in terms of getting in first to manage the pace or attack so expect some nervous energy here from the racers as they jostle for position.

“It is going to be a hard day in the saddle, up and down the whole time, no time to recover. The descents will keep you busy”

Johan van Zyl

7 Peaks

Next up is the 7 Peaks climb. Pure singletrack up and likewise down on the Cool Runnings trails, overtaking isn’t going to be happening very easily here. Riders will be greeted by a couple of rocky sections near the top before a gradual contour becomes a thrilling descent down to the valley floor. Cool Runnings is fairly steep and certainly loose. Proactive braking will be a smart move here! Towards the bottom of the descent a little kicker climb sneaks up on the riders and puts them onto the last part of the Cool Runnings trail. It’s a 400 m vertical ascent up, 450 m dropped on the way down!

Imbuko Big Five Mtb Challenge
Cool Runnings is a fast and loose trail if ever there was one.

“The riding in Wellington is sick and we now know a lot of the locals who will certainly be supporting us on the day and we want to give our best for them, and the whole of South Africa. It’s always special being a South African team doing the Epic as there are a lot of international riders but hopefully we’ll take the fight to them and put on a good show! Our team definitely has an advantage over the rest as we’re based in Wellington, we know the route like the back of our hands.”

Marco Joubert


The final word will be had by the Cliffhanger climb. 3 trails, Aap d’Huez, DNF, and finally the Cliffhanger itself will take riders up to the highest point of the day at 1000 masl. Each switchback-infested trail is separated by a short section of forest road of which the last segment, between DNF and the Cliffhanger trail, is likely to be where the race-deciding attacks take place (if not sooner). From here on it is pure singletrack until the riders are across Bainskloof Pass at the bottom of a huge 800m vertical descent and going full gas to the finish line at CPUT Wellington.

How To Ride The Cliffhanger Trail At Imbuko Big 5 Skills
The Cliffhanger is unlike any other trail you’ll ride in South Africa!

“Pacing will be crucial in the queen stage. With 3000 m of climbing in 88 km, there is no hiding in the bunch and also no soft pedalling. The downhills are no free ride either. It might be awesome single trails but the whole body will be working, so also no real recovery here!”

Vera Looser

At the top of this final ascent lies the Cliffhanger switchback descent, deemed the ‘Toyota Tough’ segment for the stage. It is a series of incredibly tight switchbacks that lead into one of the longest descents you’ll ever ride on your mountain bike. The summit is an incredible place to stop and take in the scenes under the peak of Geelbekskop (to your right if looking down the descent), not many get to witness them! For some top tips on how to ride the crazy switchbacks, check out the video below.

How to ride the switchbacks of the Cliffhanger

How to Ride the Switchbacks of the Cliffhanger

It’s one of those days where you need to have a plan and a pacing strategy, and stick to it. It can be difficult when you are at the front end of the racing, but you need to be able to finish this day strong in order to be fast over the stage. So it will be a mixture of seeing how the racing is going and executing our race plan. And of course, good communication and teamwork. I think the other stages might have more targeted and decisive ‘attack’ points, whereas this stage is best ridden just on the balance point between being fast and blowing up. It’s a fine line.”

Candice Lill

Check out all of the course previews from the Imbuko Big 5 Route here to get a feel for the terrain and trails that make up this huge day on the bike. You can also watch the Cape Epic Stage 4 Toyota Tough video below.

Cape Epic Queen Stage Toyota Tough Section

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