When people ask Alistair Schorn whether he has done the Cape Epic, he always says no. But, after being present at the recent 2018 route launch and gala dinner, his answer may soon change. Enjoy this instalment of Confessions of a Weekend Warrior.
Since moving back to South Africa and getting back into mountain biking, I haven’t, for a variety of reasons, participated in the Cape Epic.
As the event’s popularity (and price tag) have increased over the years, it has become less appealing to me, especially when compared to the ever-increasing number of stage race options here and abroad.
Recently, however, In the Bunch were invited by Land Rover to the route launch and gala dinner and I was seconded to represent them.
Being present at all the festivities, I was able to get a real sense of the appeal that surrounds this mountain bike race.
Firstly, the challenge presented by the Epic is real, whether you’re a professional at the sharp end or a backmarker chasing the cut-off time.
This was evident by the reactions of the attendees when the route was revealed.
It starts off with a prologue on Table Mountain before four successive stages of more than 100km apiece, each with around 2 000m of vertical ascent. These are followed by a time-trial, the first since 2010, and two shorter but equally challenging stages of 76 and 70km.
Adding to the challenge is the terrain, which includes plenty of rocks, sand, heat, technical climbs and descents. All of this will thoroughly test the conditioning and equipment of participants.
The second aspect that stood out for me was the sense of community that exists among those who have completed the race and evidently a big reason why they return. They are rewarded through initiatives such as the Amabubesi programme and the book of legends.
Another element that’s clearly part of the event’s DNA, is innovation.
Following the introduction of equal prize money for the women in 2014 and a dedicated start batch for UCI-ranked females this year, organisers have continued to break new ground. An African women’s category, named after legend Hannele Steyn, will be introduced next year.
The final aspect that struck me was the commitment of the companies and individuals involved in the organisation.
We know events like these don’t happen without the support of sponsors, partners and service providers and this seems especially pertinent as the race grows from a single event in SA into an international series along the lines of Ironman.
There remain some aspects that can be further developed (an entry and qualification process based on a mountain biking track record rather than on corporate invites and financial means comes to mind), but what’s certain is that its position at the top of the pile is hard-earned and well-deserved.
Based on my experience, it appears that a rethink regarding the appeal and desirability of participating might be in order. So, who knows, maybe at some point, I’ll also be able to answer yes to the quintessential South African mountain biking question.
Alistair Schorn has been racing bikes since the mid-80s – before most of today’s mountain bike pros were born. He bought his first mountain bike in 1992, but only took up stage racing after coming back from overseas in 2004. In early 2014, he was bitten by the singlespeed bug, which is still firmly entrenched in his system. His favourite places to ride include Mpumalanga and the Berg (definitely not on a singlespeed though!). As an escape from his day job as an economist, Alistair moonlights as a writer for publications such as In the Bunch.