Absa Cape Epic 2017: meet our riders (part 1)

In just under a month’s time the Absa Cape Epic 2017 is set to start. Running from 19 to 26 March 2017, the eight-day MTB event attracts top contenders from the country and around the globe. Qhubeka is once again one of the official charities for the event and, as in previous years, we have some wonderful people taking part on our behalf and we’d like to start introducing them to you… Meet our first two teams:

Rikus Visser and Neil Swarts

Rikus and Neil are both from South Africa’s Western Cape province.

Neil has been riding since he was 13 and this year is his first Epic. “I’m a roadie, but started doing more mountain biking for the past four years. Rikus invited me to do a couple of 3-day MTB stage races with him and after gelling well in those, we decided to tackle the Cape Epic in 2017.  I am an attorney, so I have to do early morning rides to fit in with my working hours.”

Rikus is an accountant. He completed his first epic in 2016 with his wife and is looking forward to this year’s event. “The whole family cycle, including my two daughters,” he says. “I’m most excited about the build-up and training towards the Epic. What will be interesting is the various routes and trails that we are going to experience, as large parts of the routes are not normally accessible to the general public. What makes me nervous is expecting that the route surface at places are going to be tough to negotiate, and then obviously riding up Groenlandberg on the second last day of the Epic.”

Neil says the Epic is a bucket list event for any cyclist, so he is excited to take part and experience the buzz surrounding the event for himself. “I am nervous of how my body will react after eight days of extreme riding / racing,” he admits.

Why are the passionate about riding? “Cycling is such a beautiful sport, combining nature, speed, friends and good coffee on most rides,” says Neil. “You can socialise and meet new people on the bike and if you need to be alone, there is no better way to clear your head than a solo ride.”

Rikus agrees on the social side of cycling. “I also enjoy the fact that you get to ride and see places you would otherwise not be able to see,” he says.

Both men are supporting Qhubeka because it combines their love of cycling with a way to make a difference in the lives of others by providing people with transport, and therefore opportunities.


Francois Duminy and Luke Maga

Francois hails from South Africa, while Luke is originally from Australia, but now also lives in South Africa.

Francois has been an avid sports enthusiast his entire life, participating in everything from weight training to mixed martial arts (MMA) and athletics (he received National Colours in Athletics during his high school years). He grew up in Worcester in South Africa’s Western Cape province, and did his first one-day cycle race there.

“In August 2014, I was persuaded by friends to start MTB riding and within three months I was entered for the FNB Wines to Whales MTB race,” he says. “Needless to say, I was not prepared for the technicalities and challenges of stage racing at the time. I did, however, enjoy the challenge and the beauty of the area and promised myself I would do it again. Since then there have been many races, highs, lows and a learning curve that far exceeds that of any other sport I have competed in before.”

Francois says he was generously offered his spot in the Epic by Luke. His first reaction was, “You do realize this is the Epic?”

Nevertheless, he is excited to take part.

Luke says he first encountered the Epic while he was on a plane and got to watch parts of the 2015 event. “I was truly inspired with the determination, challenge and excitement participants seem to have had during the eight days,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘One day I would like to do this.'”

He lived in Hong Kong for six years, where he took up road cycling and competing in Iron Man events. When he had an opportunity to move to South Africa, he knew he would take up MTB riding too.

“The day that we landed I went straight to BMT in Stellenbosch,” he says. “I was in the mountains later that afternoon and after that I was hooked – not only with the rush you get on the single tracks, but also by the beauty this country has to offer.”

A month later, he was talking to Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka Team Principal, Doug Ryder, about how exciting the sport of MTB cycling is and how he would like to ride the Epic one day. Doug said there might be a spot available if Luke were interested, and five months down the line, Luke is preparing to ride his dream event.

“I was never one to do things lightly – it’s all or nothing,’ he says, adding that he’s been watching the videos of the route and previous Cape Epic trailers, and all the emotion it brings to people. “It still makes me shiver.”

When he got his entry, his first phone call was to Francois, to ask him to be his partner. “Given his passion for the sport, as well knowing it was also a dream of his to participate, it made sense to me to ask him,” says Luke. “After a few messages back and forth asking weather I was serious, he gladly agreed. We rode together in Wines to Whales and trained hard. We won’t be on the podium at the Epic, however I know that as partners we will have each other’s backs.”

Francois says he finds Luke “drive, dedicated and sincere”. “He’s always looking out for our best interests when training or racing. He is the complete package,” he says.

Both men are excited by the challenge that lies ahead.

“The Epic is a mighty challenge that should be respected,” says Francois. “Even with sufficient preparation and total commitment, it will take a heroic effort to complete. I have proven myself in the heat of battle many times and I certainly will not be riding the Epic with the idea of proving anything, especially to myself. It is about the race, the great athletes that have gone before and the courage of mere weekend warriors to push themselves to their limits. I once saw a movie about the late Steve Prefontaine (Without Limits) and his coach said something that stuck with me: ‘The object of a race is not to win, it is to test the limits of the human heart.’ I think that, more than anything for me, is the story of the Epic. It is a small piece of immortality.”

Luke is quite pragmatic. “For this event there are only two words that sum up what you need: DISCIPLINE and PATIENCE. Not my strengths,” he admits. “The training has been long, tough, emotional and stressful, however I am so excited and know that I’m privileged to be riding the 2017 ABSA Cape Epic for Qhubeka – a dream come true and a charity that really gives back with actual tangible benefits. There is not any other sport in the world where you can live a dream and ride a course / conditions the same as professionals. We will give it our all and leave nothing out there, however this race needs respect. You only earn your bragging rights when you cross the line after Stage 7.”

Luke says the support of his wife, Rebecca, and daughter, Annika, is pivotal. “Without their support, trust and being part of this dream, none of this would be possible,” he says. “Their support will drive me to climb the highest mountains when the legs don’t want to, to ride the fastest single tracks and to dig deep till the end.”

Why  Qhubeka? “It’s simple,” says Francois. “Most of us experience the greatest feeling in the world on a bicycle the first time we take the corner at the end of the street and when for the first time we are not in sight of what is familiar and safe anymore. There is an exhilarating feeling of adventure and freedom. I wanted to be a part of that, to give someone not a bicycle made of components but freedom, opportunity and new possibility. This is the essence and the basic right a human being should feel free to experience. I think the Qhubeka initiative is a wonderful step in sharing this hope and providing a chance for people to experience freedom and the chance to dream of a bright future.”

“We will ride proud for Qhubeka,” agrees Luke. “It’s a fantastic charity that changes lives, an organisation that gives back and one that you can see benefits of in the local community. I have seen firsthand the changes that it makes, smiles on the faces and the bikes that roll down the roads – bicycles do change lives. Until we enter the battle field on 19 March, we will keep training for our aspirations of raising money for Qhubeka and also look forward to being able to gloat and say we have completed the 2017 ABSA Cape Epic for the benefit of putting people on bikes.”