3 April 2007
After eight challenging days, Teams Bulls’ Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm won the toughest and most competitive Absa Cape Epic yet at the weekend. The most widely televised mountain biking event in the world, the race drew a world class field of over 1 000 competitors from 42 countries to take on the picturesque but torturous 900 kilometre route.
The German duo’s winning time of 33 three hours, eight minutes and 0.7 seconds, was just three minutes ahead of their closest competitors, Roel Paulissen of Belgium and Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark, riding as Team Cannondale-Vredestein 1, who tried everything to turn the tables on the last stretch.
“This is absolutely unbelievable,” Platt said. “Winning the Absa Cape Epic again after 2004, with such a competitive world-class field at the start, simply blows me away. I want to thank everyone who cheered for us and who believed in us.
“The crowds along the way were rooting for us today, shouting ‘go Bulls, go!’ Words cannot express what this victory means to us.”
On the final day of the race, Cannondale-Vredestein 1’s Roel Paulissen and Jakob Fugslang showed aggression from the start by attacking the leaders several times as they tried to break away. However, the Bulls proved their strength by immediately closing every gap.
“We tried everything today,” reckoned Paulissen, “but we couldn’t leave them behind. They were too strong.”
Two stage wins
Third place was taken by the Dutch duo of Bart Brentjens and Rudi van Houts – Team Dolphin Mountainbike – who seemed to find their stride in the second half of the race, securing two out of the eight stage wins.
The final stage of the Epic was won in a sprint finish by Swiss Team Texner-Stoeckli’s Thomas Zahnd and Sandro Spaeth in a time of three hours, 24 minutes and 51.3 seconds.
“We’ve been trying for the past three years to win a stage at this race,” Spaeth said. “The fact that it worked out this year, especially in the final stage with the best riders ever, is awesome.”
Best African Team
The Best African Team in the race was Raleigh MTN Energade 1, made up of the South African pairing of Kevin Evans and Brandon Stewart. They completed the eight stages in a total time of 35 hours, three minutes and 38.8 seconds, to finish in seventh position overall.
“The moment I crossed the finish line wasn’t as emotional as finishing third overall with Silvio Wieltschnig two years ago, but I am very proud of our overall position in this year’s race,” Evans said.
“Before the start, we said a top 10 position would be great and now we are in the top seven. My most memorable moment this year was when we spent nearly 80 kilometres, all by ourselves, in the front. The field wasn’t coming close and it was like a rollercoaster of emotions – uncertainty, excitement, anxiety, anticipation, and disappointment in the end.”
Evans was particularly proud of his father, course designer Leon Evans who, each year, plans the spectacular and challenging route of the eight day race.
“When you are out there riding and know how much work goes into creating the route . speaking to land owners, acquiring permission from nature conservationists to cross the land, seeking alternative routes in case of bad weather conditions, it really makes you proud to know that your father has done all of that,” Evans said.
“Most people riding this race have actually no idea how much work is done to create the route, and because I know it, it makes riding it even more special. But I also have moments when I curse him,” he quipped.
The Masters, Mixed and Ladies races were all taken by South Africans, with Andrew McLean and Damian Booth of Cycle Lab taking the Masters title. Yolande Speedy and Paul Cordes of IMC/Mongoose won the Mixed classification by over 17 minutes, while Anke Moore and Yolande de Villiers of Team Duravit took the ladies top position with a four-hour and 20-minute lead.
“I would have been perfectly satisfied just winning this race, but Yolande wanted to push for a top 20 position overall,” Moore said. “We came close once or twice, but it meant that I had to extend my limits every single day. I’m glad it’s over now because for me this was the toughest Absa Cape Epic ever.”
Stage eight took the physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted riders through 80 kilometres of exquisite Winelands territory, with a total climb of 1 285 metres.
After following the Palmiet River, riders passed through the apple orchards of Elgin and Grabouw, working their way to the summit of Sir Lowry’s Pass, where they were forced to carry their bikes down a slippery one-kilometre descent over the historic national heritage site of the Voortrekkers ox wagon trail.
A sea of red vuvuzelas
In Lourensford, thousands of supporters welcomed the winning riders and over 1 000 proud finishers. The crowd, dotted with a sea of red vuvuzelas, saw the 2007 Absa Cape Epic come to a festive end. Many riders were overwhelmed by emotions when they crossed the long-awaited finish line and received the coveted finisher T-shirt and medal.
Those competing simply to try and overcome the challenge had some stories to tell after completing the event.
After a tough start, with Englishman Andrew Jackson suffering from flu and his compatriot Rory Suckling having knee problems, team Start Slow seemed to find their stride towards the end of the race, coming in at eight hours per stage instead of their anticipated 10 hours.
Having trained in the rain, ice and snow in the UK, the two proud Absa Cape Epic finishers found the training for the race almost as difficult as the race itself.
‘It’s a great privilege’
“The organisation has been fantastic and everyone we’ve met has been really welcoming. We bump into the pro riders in the camp. It’s a great privilege to race with them as the route is designed to test them,” explained Suckling.
When asked whether they would be back next year, the duo’s response was an exhausted one, explaining that they will possibly need a few months to decide.
Father-daughter Team Peens from South Africa, were convinced that the race was easier this year than last year. “I crashed and got stitches on the first day last year,” said Ingrid Peens. “My dad convinced me to do it again and I’m really glad he did.
“I’m vegetarian, so it’s salad and veggies for me every day. But the food has been great, very healthy and I found plenty to eat.”
Ingrid’s father, Cedric Peens, commented: “We did well on the first day, and the second day and the third day. But I don’t think I’ll do this again. If I do, I will ride with an old man and not with my daughter.”
Out of the 603 teams that started in Knysna, 468 completed all eight torturous stages; 278 Men’s, 125 Masters, 52 Mixed and 13 Ladies Teams crossed the finish line in Lourensford, resulting in a finishers’ rate of 77.6 percent.
Only 15.7 percent of the total number of riders dropped out of the race as 81 Absa Cape Epic participants whose team partners pulled out continued to ride and became proud finishers.
The logistical planning for the event was a daunting task, brilliantly carried out by the organizers. For example, half a ton of bacon, 20 boxes of bananas, 40 boxes of potatoes, 200 litres of milk, and 1 000 portions of Jungle Oats were used for breakfasts. It’s not for nothing that the Absa Cape Epic was declared the 2005 Platinum Winner of the SA Logistics Achiever Award. And since that time matters have become even more extreme.
From the daily packing and unpacking of the entire race village, to feeding over a thousand hungry riders and over 400 crew and volunteers, to running an international media centre, filming and editing daily TV highlights packages, not to mention the small detail of running the race itself, Absa Cape Epic team members pulled out what seemed like 48-hour days.
The TV crew alone was 35-strong, including, among others, seven cameramen, three journalists, five editors, one scriptwriter and two producers, using a helicopter, seven cameras, two production trucks, and four motorbikes. Daily highlights packages were churned out and distributed internationally, securing the Absa Cape Epic’s spot as most televised mountain bike event in the world.
Adidas International joined Absa as the primary sponsors of the 2007 event and Axel Burkhardt, the head of Adidas Global Sports Marketing for Olympic Sports, Cycling and Outdoors, was delighted with the success of the race.
“I am thrilled to see how this race has grown and developed in the past four years,” he said. “Not only in terms of race organisation or international coverage, but also in terms of the route.
“I told Kevin (Evans) four years ago that I would love to see one stage finish right at the sea, where you see mountain bikers riding along the beach on the sand. I could just envisage the photos.
“Unique imagery is so important to promote this race and South Africa internationally. This year we had this particular finish line set up in Kleinmond and it was mind-blowing,” explained Axel, who believed the 2007 edition of the race was the best Absa Cape Epic yet.