If the women of the Absa Cape Epic were a pride of lions, Hannele Steyn would be the matriarch. The Last Lioness has eighteen finishes to her name. As well as an overall victory, in 2005; after her elite triathlon career, which saw her claim the World Championships title in New Zealand, in 1994. Long before equal prize money and matched UCI points, Steyn was blazing a trail on her mountain bike. Racing alongside men, often listing her results by overall and in the women’s competition; to compare herself against everyone, regardless of their sex.
Mari Rabie was similarly motivated by racing against men. Or boys rather. As a junior, the double Olympian, was often the only girl on the start line of mountain bike races. “I raced against the boys,” she’s fond of recounting. “Because there weren’t any girls in my age group. Seeing how women’s cycling in general and mountain biking in particular has grown since then is amazing.”
Two women at the forefront of that growth in the Absa Cape Epic were Annika Langvad and Ariane Lüthi. Lüthi won two mixed category races alongside her then husband, Erik Kleinhans. Then, ahead of the 2014 edition, when equal prize money and UCI points were awarded for the first time, the Swiss star went in search of a teammate with whom to race alongside. Her search brought her to then double marathon World Champion, Langvad. Together Langvad and Lüthi dominated the next three editions of the Absa Cape Epic, before the Dane took a break from racing to complete her dentistry degree in 2017. She returned in 2018 and 2019 to win her fourth and fifth titles, drawing level with Karl Platt and Christoph Sauser as the most decorated elite riders in the race’s history. Lüthi, meanwhile, added two further podium finishes to her palmarès, which of course boasts three women’s titles and two mixed category wins.
Lüthi is also one of the most vocal advocates for women’s racing and a great supporter of young athletes. In 2021 she went out of her way to encourage Andisiwe Skeyi and Refilwe Mogorosi. When the young women from the Exxaro/Pepto team were struggling towards the end of the race the words of wisdom and motivation Lüthi and her 2021 teammate, Robyn de Groot, provided kept Skeyi and Mogorosi in the race.
“Everyone we had spoken to before the race, and even on the stage, had said this day would be easier; but it was definitely hard on the legs,” Mogorosi recalled of the final stage in 2021. “I remember pushing up an ‘easy’ climb, and my partner Andisiwe saying, ‘Come on, Reff!’ I think I was about to cry, and almost gave up on the race. But I thought of the invite I’d got for dinner from Ariane Lüthi that morning. I had promised her I would finish the Absa Cape Epic. I couldn’t go to dinner after withdrawing on the final stage! The prospect of a dinner with one of my heroes brought my legs to life; and on we rode, until we reached the fields of Val de Vie.”
Remofilwe Moeketsi and Buhle Beauty Nontobeko Ngobese have taken their riding to new heights in 2022. After completing their second Absa Cape Epic together the Absa Stadio #SheUntamed team set their sights on the SPAR Swiss Epic. During Women’s Month they will be racing in the Alps, taking on five tough stages of incredible racing in Switzerland’s south eastern Graubünden canton.
Among all the epic women one stands out in 2022. Never one to make a fuss, Adéle Niemand Zeelie deserves a special mention. The former Proteas netballer has become an ever-present in the Absa Cape Epic in the last five years, showing exceptional patience and humour as she partnered Marius Hurter through some very long days on the bike. In 2021 Niemand Zeelie was diagnosed with breast cancer and she started treatment after the 2022 Absa Cape Epic. Please join us in wishing her well for her treatments, as the entire mountain bike community is undoubtedly eager to see Niemand Zeelie back on her bike, nursing Hurter through stage races.
Tag(s): Absa Cape Epic