It was celebrations for all who crossed the line today in Queenstown, New Zealand as 505 riders collected their The Pioneer 2018 finisher’s medals after 6 days and 424km of challenging trails in the Southern Alps. Tim Hammond (RSA) and Haley van Leeuwen (NZL) had even more to celebrate, becoming the first to complete all three Epic Series Legend Races in one calendar year – the Swiss Epic, The Pioneer and the pinnacle of the Epic Series – the Absa Cape Epic. Joining them as one of only three riders to have ever achieved this was Chak Shing Cheng (HKG).
“That’s a lot of racing kilometres in the legs this year!” said a tired but satisfied Hammond at The Pioneer’s final awards ceremony. He was to take multiple trips to the stage: once to be awarded his Epic Legend Medal and also for his second place on general classification. A top 20 finisher at the 2018 Absa Cape Epic, Hammond is an experienced mountain bike stage race campaigner (and member of the Amabubesi Club having completed three untamed African editions). “The Pioneer sent us to some of the most remote, exposed and scenic trails I’ve ever found myself on and doing all three events back-to-back can only be described as a true mountain bikers dream!”
Haley van Leeuwen was also the first rider to receive the Epic Legend Medal when she finished the 2018 Swiss Epic. She completed her first The Pioneer in 2017 and is a local. Partnering with husband Johnny, The Pioneer route is virtually in their backyard, “I felt apprehensive at the start, I don’t know why – we know all the trails! We had a couple of dark moments and the Queen stage was one of the toughest we’ve ever done. But we pulled through and I got on ‘the Johnny train’ and we brought it home.”
Former Hong Kong champion Chak Shing Cheng reflected on the year’s experience. “As a rider, I gained a lot insights into multi-day stage race, especially different racing styles in multiple continents. The Absa Cape Epic is definitely the toughest as it’s the longest in days and distance. Between the Absa Cape Epic and Swiss Epic, the terrain is so different – the wild nature of South Africa compared to the steep descents and rocky trails among the Alps and glaciers. The Pioneer to me is sort of a mix of the other two!”
The Epic Series honoured six more intrepid athletes at the final awards ceremony – each earning the coveted Epic Legend Medal, having just completed all three of these full-length, week-long races. Joining Tim Hammond (RSA) and Chak Shing Cheng (HKG) were Alan Gordon (RSA), Peter Felber (CZE), David Wright (RSA) and Enrico Theuns (NED). “These adventurous, determined and skilled riders can all consider themselves exceptional athletes – complete mountain bikers,” said Kevin Vermaak, founder of the Absa Cape Epic and CEO of Epic Series.
The next Epic Series Legend Race on the calendar is none other than the Absa Cape Epic. Expect to see more of these special riders up on stage to receive the coveted Epic Legend Medal at the end of raceweek at Val de Vie in March 2019.