Old and new Epic Legends reflect on remarkable week at Absa Cape Epic

Five riders who’d already achieved Epic Legend status and two newly minted Epic Legends crossed the line on stage 7, the Grand Finale, at Val de Vie Estate, and looked back on an incredible eight days, not just of racing but also personal memories – moments that will define their lives.

Minter Barnard. Photo: Sportograf

Australian-based South African Minter Barnard is the joint-first Epic Legend ever (with Haley van Leeuwen) and is back again for more at the Absa Cape Epic this year, having last ridden the Absa Cape Epic in 2011.

“It was an opportunity to come and ride. A friend of mine asked me late January – early February to come and ride with him, he needed a partner. And I am from South Africa so any excuse to come to South Africa!

“It was a fairly late decision to come and race, I haven’t done my 12 weeks that I should have done. I struggle to back off, I ride the same whether I have prepared 4 weeks or 12 weeks!”

Barnard is riding with good mate Luke Beuchat from Sydney in team Velosure, “it is our first race together. But I think in nearly every Epic race I have done it with a different partner, and they are all still mates so that is a good thing! My mates say I am breaking my riding partners, but no, Luke was really strong, he only weighs 60 kilos, he is hard to keep up with on those hills.”

Reflecting on this year’s event, “it is like something money can’t buy, it is an experience. I always see it as a paid holiday. But you need to keep your family happy so if you want to come you need to start groveling a year ahead, make sure that is in your planning!”

Peter Felber. Photo: Sportograf

Peter Felber achieved Epic Legend status by completing The Pioneer (New Zealand) in 2018, after 3 finishes at the Swiss Epic (Switzerland) and finished his fifth Absa Cape Epic.

“There is nothing like the Epic eh, nothing! The riding here, there is nothing like it, Swiss Epic is cool and technical, New Zealand is lovely with the scenery and the people, but there is nothing like the Cape Epic. The finish line is a moment for tears every time, for big and small boys I guess! My partner Mario was super super strong, we have been singing every day on the trails, half Austrian, half Swiss – I think that says it all. I will be back next year for sure, if all goes well.”

Enrico Theuns. Photo: Sportograf

Fellow Epic Legend Enrico Theuns could not hold back the tears at the finish after rolling across the line at Val de Vie Estate with Sander van den Born.

“It is great, I can’t describe that, it is a great feeling to get that with my partner, it makes me cry again. It is still that special feeling, for coming back, the emotions of the last 10km. I am almost 54 but still I start crying. There is more yes, I will see you again definitely!”

David Wright. Photo: Sportograf

Invited by his partner shortly before registration, aptly naming his team Eleventh Hour, David Wright came into the race aiming for his fifth finish. The South African participated in his first Absa Cape Epic in 2012 and last year he was unable to complete the course, “this is much less forgiving, more brutal than The Pioneer and the Swiss Epic, yet with just as majestic views and terrain… it’s the one that never gets easier!”

Joining the previous eight Epic Legend medal recipients were two more riders from this year’s Absa Cape Epic, both New Zealanders, with Alexander Donaldson and Kylie Burrows completing the Epic Series Legend Race ‘treble’.

Alexander Donaldson. Photo: Sportograf

“This is amazing, what an awesome mountain bike race,” said Donaldson. “To get here and see the manicured lawns and riding through the vineyards, it is just an Epic event to use a cliché. This week has gone so quick, I did one Instagram post and here we are one week later.”

Donaldson now holds the record for completing all three Epic Series Legend Races within the shortest time – six months. 19 days, 1379km and 44624m of climbing – a lot of racing miles in those legs!

With his partner retiring from the race with a broken shoulder, Donaldson was left to continue alone. “The priority when Gavin was injured was to make sure he was okay and then get to the finish. Bike racing is bike racing, there is no point racing for 80th, we are here to enjoy it and if I can get an Absa Cape Epic medal as a result, that is the cherry on top. Hopefully will be back again next year – Gavin my team mate is now really gunning to finish it.”

Kylie Burrows. Photo: Sportograf

Kylie Burrows has not only taken on and conquered some of the world’s toughest mountain bike stage races, but in the process has come through a battle with breast cancer that put her riding on hold for 18th months, there was nothing going to keep the Kiwi and her Aussie riding partner Sarah Kaehler from the finish line today though, coming home over an hour inside the stage cut off of seven hours.

“Yes, I have a very special medal now, thank god I got to the line, that was the main thing today, stay on to the finish and get that medal!

“Mentally it was really tough, but we were lucky again with the guys riding around us, they were cheering us on and supporting us. The last three days especially for me it was a mental game more than physical.”

Absa Cape Epic founder Kevin Vermaak is riding the event for the second time with Andrew Hunt, and spoke of how the Epic Series concept came about.

“At the end of the day there is no one specific style of mountain biking. It is a degree of toughness to the route and the whole experience and the nature of the two-person teams. South African terrain and trails are pretty special and all over the world you have amazing mountain bike trails and fans, you get the right ingredients together you can create a pretty special mountain bike experience and grow a global community of like-minded mountain bikers.”

With the Absa Cape Epic selling out each year in seconds, Epic Series Qualifier Races like the Pioneer, Swiss Epic and Australian events Cape to Cape, Reef to Reef and Port to Port offer the chance at a guaranteed entry.

“We have always had this challenge, 16 years ago we sold out in three days and the next year in five hours. We have looked at a lottery and everyone has said ‘look at qualification’, but we never had the optimum method. Now we have the Epic Series and it allows us to expand the community and if by joining that community in New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia or anywhere, athletes can enjoy a world-class rider experience and also have a greater chance to be able to ride the pinnacle of the Epic Series, the Absa Cape Epic.”