In March this year, a number of intrepid riders took on the Absa Cape Epic for Qhubeka. The annual eight-day MTB race, which includes a time-trial prologue, takes riders across 700km and roughly 15 000m of climbing. The route changes every year and all riders must enter as a two-rider team. The Absa Cape Epic is the largest full-service mountain bike stage race in the world.
This year’s event proved especially tough, with a heat wave to contend with as well as the ever-tough Epic route itself. Nevertheless, our Qhubeka teams soldiered on. Here are some of their thoughts on the 2017 Absa Cape Epic:
Luke Maga and Frans Snyman
Luke’s original partner had to drop out before the Epic, so Frans bravely agreed to take his place on very short notice and without much training. sadly, the heatwave took its toll on him after an incredibly tough first stage, and he was forced to drop out of the race on the third day. Nevertheless, we salute his bravery and sense of adventure, and we hope to see him conquer the Epic in the future.
“It was a true honour to be a part of this organisation and have the chance to wear the Qhubeka name for the eight days,” Frnas says. “I need to thank you for the brief but wow opportunity to be part of the Qhubeka difference! As a first-timer, the event was mind-blowing. Since I hadn’t really had time to prepare myself mentally and physically I went into the Epic without any expectations. Nevertheless, the experience was way above what I could ever have imagined.
“By far the toughest for me was to admit defeat on day three due to circumstances beyond my control. I see myself as someone that finishes what I start. When I was laying under the trees waiting for the medics, I couldn’t help but feel that I failed all of the kids that look up to Qhubeka, thinking about the hardship they have to endure and still they have the determination to keep on going to school.
“During the time I was part of the race, the positive comments and encouragement from bystanders for Qhubeka made me feel proud and strong. I believe there is definitely a difference in how spectators react towards you riding for and organization like Qhubeka than riding for yourself.
“The best part for me was the Prologue!And outside of the competition itself, it was definitely the handing over of the bikes at the school in Kylemore!
“I will put in all the effort needed to be able to give it another try in 2018. I need to be able to finish this quest and might then have a better perspective than now.”
Luke adds, “It was such a privilege to be a part of Qhubeka Team – a foundation where you can see the results of where the money is being spent.
“The event was the height of my cycling career. An eight-day stage race in the untamed Africa – it was certainly above expectations. The countryside that we travelled through was stunning and should make you appreciate what we have.
“The first two days both challenged mind and body with the heat. They were tough stages when you got out there – both technically and in distance – however, I believe the toughest aspect was ensuring you put enough training in the months leading up into the event to be ready for whatever comes at you.
“I am not sure if I could narrow down my best experience to just one part, as wearing the Qhubeka kit on training rides and people asking questions or complimenting on the organisation and how they have seen bikes or communication of what Qhubeka have done was a part the journey that made me go that extra mile. In the event, certainly crossing the finish line was a high level of self-achievement, however, I believe it was about the support that was given throughout the eight days, whether it was before the event, at water points, seeing family, or at the finish to share experiences. Challenges like the Cape Epic are there to test your endurance, but for me the best part wasn’t about the what, it was more about the why and this was to help people be mobilised on bikes. This was the best part of the competition.
“Riding for Qhubeka certainly gave me the drive not to fail or let anyone down and when things got tough, to dig deeper as you are not riding for yourself to complete a stage, or climb a hill – you are riding for the people that will benefit from being mobilised on bikes.”
Rikus Visser and Neil Swarts
“For me the event was much tougher than expected,” admits Neil Swarts, who rode with Rikus Visser. “Everybody says that the Epic is extreme, but nothing can prepare you for your first Epic experience. Looking back though, it was an amazing adventure and truly a bucket list event that any cyclist should attempt should the opportunity arise. It was such a privilege to ride the Epic with Rikus. To receive support and encouragement from your partner is vital when you are having a bad day (or three) to help you get through these challenges.”
Rikus echoed his partner’s sentiments: “As Neil said, the Epic is an experience and adventure that starts with the preparation (which includes the training and races leading up to the Epic), and includes the event itself and afterwards absorbing what just happened and getting back into your normal everyday routine again. For me, what makes the Epic the experience it is, was not as much the toughness thereof, as you expect it to be (and it is), but those unexpected issues such as mechanicals, weather conditions, etc. on top of the toughness of the race. Then it becomes important that you and your partner get along well and have a good relationship to make the experience truly memorable, which for me we had and resulted in the Epic meeting all my expectations and more.”
“The best part of competing in the Epic was the support Rikus and I received from friends and family,” Neil says. “We were so privileged that all our supporters followed every stage and tracked our progress on the website or smartphone apps, sending congratulatory messages after every stage. One also does earn the rite of passage as an ex-roadie, to being a proper mountainbiker after completing the Epic.”
Laurent and Bernard Hanique
Laurent and Bernard are brothers from France who raced for Qhubeka because they believe that bicycles change lives.
“We believe this because bicycles changed our lives,” Laurent explains. “Even if we bike for leisure and pleasure, biking brought us closer, sharing the same goals and same passion, and that is important between brothers.”
They note that despite the tough decision to have to give up after three days of racing, the event still exceeded their expectations. They cite the weather conditions as the toughest aspect of competing. “We were probably not enough prepared for that (we will be next time).”
The best part, in the brothers’ opinion, was the preparation, the training, the excitement as the prologue began and their pride in being a part of it. “Taking part for Qhubeka has been an additional motivation for us. We were also very proud to wear Qhubeka colours,” Laurent says.
The brothers set out to raise €5 000 and have exceeded their target, raising a total of €5 157.
Charles Swart and Sean Maguire
Charles and Sean rode for Qhubeka in the Grand Masters category (both riders are over the age of 50). It was Charles’s second Epic and Sean’s first. Sean has always wanted to ride the event, so he jumped at the chance when Charles asked him to partner him. The two rode as Team Qhubeka Bermuda.
“As this was my second Epic I had some knowledge of what to expect,” says Charles. “It totally lived up to my expectations and beyond. The toughest day was post stage 5, with a fever and rigors and not being sure if I would start the Queen stage on the Saturday… Luckily I did, and the rest is history. The best part this year was being part of a bigger goal – not just finishing The Epic but doing it for an amazing charity – Qhubeka!”
Successful event with great support
Gaylene Campbell, Qhubeka’s events manager, thanked all the teams involved for their support of Qhubeka, an official charity partner of the event.
“Thank you also to DigiOutsource and Team Betway for their generous donation of R10 000 at the Epic,” she says.
Gaylene notes that the race organisers allocated a few entries to development teams supported by BMT cycling (Chris Norton), and although they had other sponsors, they became close to the Qhubeka crew in the race villages. “They did amazingly and grew stronger every day as their confidence grew,” she says.
Gaylene and the Dimension Data crew worked side by side to ensure the Qhubeka teams were well supported throughout the race.
Thank you to everyone who helped make the 2017 Absa Cape Epic a success!