The 20-year-old, who made his move to the luminescent and white-coloured outfit in July last year, stepped up to the plate a day before the eight-stage race started – and ended up excelling.
Illness broke up PYGA’s formidable starting pair of Matthys Beukes and Philip Buys who seemed set to make history with a second consecutive African jersey finish and an overall win in the race, often labelled the “Tour de France of mountain-biking”.
However, Buys had to withdraw from the Epic two days before it started. So, at very late notice, Jessop was called upon to fill the gap and partner Beukes in what would be his first ever Epic.
“When Ruan [Lochner, the team manager] phoned me [the day before the race] I was both really excited and scared,” Jessop told In the Bunch.
“Matthys is so strong; he is probably the strongest marathon rider in the country at the moment. It was scary knowing I had to ride to his standard.”
What made matters more testing for Jessop – aside from his inexperience and under-preparation – was that he had to overcome slight illness heading into the race.
“I was also sick before the race,” he said. “Philip [Buys] and I actually went to the doctor together, but he was sicker than me. I was placed on an antibiotic course and finished it the night before the prologue.
“I was forced to take two days off and only rode a bit on the day before [the prologue]. It was not the ideal preparation.
“For the whole race I battled with congestion. It was a tough race, but I am glad I did not contract any viruses.
“I had one crash on the first stage, but luckily it was nothing serious, just bruises and a torn kit.”
Jessop’s nerves took their toll in the prologue of the Epic, but their team dynamic managed to balance things out.
“Given his experience, Matthys immediately picked up where I was and he knew how we could work together.
“He was able to read the routes and the situations very well. He would set the pace, which helped [me].”
The pair were unable to take hold of the red African jersey after the prologue, with their chances hindered when Beukes broke his rear wheel with five kilometres to go.
At that point Jessop said they were deemed the underdogs. As the race wore on though, they managed to regain their composure.
“There was one stage where I went to the front in an attempt to close the gap to the leading group and he [Beukes] said, ‘no, just sit back and recover, because they are going to sit up soon’.
“Five kilometres later they all sat up and we just cruised over to them. I feel like he was probably one of the best partners to race with under the circumstances. He was a fantastic mentor.”
The pair jumped into the red jersey after stage four and managed to hold onto their tight lead over ASG-Ellsworth’s HB Kruger and Stuart Marais and NAD Pro’s Matt Beers and Nico Bell until the final finish at Val de Vie.
“It was really good to win the African jersey when it was so tight. The jersey swopped hands three times,” Jessop said.
Today Jessop is set to take part in the second SA MTB Cup Series event at the Thaba Trails in Johannesburg.