For the 2023 race the Absa Cape Epic has introduced the Great Grand Masters category. It provides riders over the age of 60 with a jersey to contest. Yet the oldest team ever to take part would both have been eligible for the category for over a decade. Meet The Young Ones, Johan Bezuidenhout (70) and Fred van Zyl (75).
Self-styled as The Young Ones, Johan Bezuidenhout and Fred van Zyl are the Greatest of Grand Masters in the 2023 race. Between them they have 18 Absa Cape Epic finishes on their combined palmarès. The younger partner, Bezuidenhout, is 70 and has notched up an astounding 16 Untamed finisher medals. Van Zyl, five years his partner’s senior, has two finishes to his name; the most recent dating back to 2018.
“I am undaunted at my age by the Absa Cape Epic because I first and foremost love mountain biking,” Van Zyl emphasised. “This is an incredible event challenging my strength, fitness and the soundness of mind. The secret for me is that if you keep fit, train hard and look after your body you can complete the Absa Cape Epic, regardless of your age. My friend, Bez [Johan Bezuidenhout] is also my inspiration. To do the race with him is a great honour. I feel very privileged to be able to ride with someone who has 16 Absa Cape Epics to his name.”
“I must admit, I’m also motivated by the goal of finishing as the oldest ever Absa Cape Epic rider,” he smiled.
“All you need is good health, a supportive life partner and a special friend to ride with,” Bezuidenhout smiled. “I keep coming back to the race, having ridden every edition since 2006, because somehow there is always another good friend that wants to spend a special week on the bike with me. I count myself very fortunate.”
It goes without saying that a great deal has changed in the race and in mountain biking in general since Bezuidenhout’s first Absa Cape Epic, 17 years ago. “The race villages are at another level and the riders are far more skilled, with much better equipment,” he highlighted. “The journey from Knysna to Cape Town was special, but staying at two or three places – rather than seven – also has a charm about it. Thanks to spending multiple nights in the same race village, so much more is now available to the riders. From bike washes to mechanics, massages and of course the amazing food. In the early days we sourced a lot of that for ourselves.”
Bezuidenhout has also notched up a war story or two over the years. “In 2007 I broke my collarbone on the second last stage,” he recalled. “The support of my riding partner in getting to the finish was very special. I completed five editions with that partner, five with my son and two with a school friend. Those races were all particularly amazing. The things you endure and experience during an Absa Cape Epic ensures that I have life time bonds with each of my seven partners from the sixteen events I’ve ridden in.”
Explaining how the partnership came about Van Zyl illuminated. “Bez and I met in the build-up to the 2018 Absa Cape Epic. At the time he was 65 and I was 70. We decided then that when we turn 70 and 75, respectively, we should do it as a team. So, 2023 is the year.
“I did my first Absa Training Camp in 2018 and met Fred there,” Bezuidenhout confirmed. “We rode together on one of the days and immediately struck up a friendship. He was doing his second Absa Cape Epic and said that when I turned 70, he would like to ride with me. True to his word, he contacted me when I turned 70 and we immediately agreed to ride together! Fred [van Zyl] is a multiple South African champion in different sports and it a great honour for me to spend time with him. We both feel very privileged to be able to do such an event at 70+ and will certainly look after each other.”
As the event has grown and matured so have the athletes taking part. With more riders over the age of 60 racing the Absa Cape Epic than ever before, the race instituted the Great Grand Masters category for 2023 onwards . Yet Bezuidenhout and Van Zyl are not getting drawn into the competition. “We have categorically said that we will not be racing!” Bezuidenhout laughed. “However, in 2012 I came third in the Grand Masters category, with my school friend, when we were both over 60. So, lets see…”
Van Zyl was more bullish: “I’m excited about the new Great Grand Masters category! I feel we can still give the 60+ guys a run for their money!”
The pair are an inspiration for mountain bikers of all ages, showing what is possible if one maintains good health and fitness. “Mountain biking has taught me to be humble, patient, to endure and to enjoy every moment,” Van Zyl philosophised. “I am so grateful for my health!"
Adding more practical advice, his partner, Bezuidenhout, concluded: “Remain humble and respectful of all around you. Your support team, partner, the other riders and especially the trail! Keep learning to ride your bike better. You can never have too much skill. Enjoy a bottle of good red wine each evening on the race. Keeping a balance is important if you want to enjoy each moment throughout your life!”