The Absa Cape Epic pays its fifth visit to Hermanus, on the Overberg’s coast, in 2023. Among the town’s many attractions – which include its award-winning cool climate wines, beautiful mountains and world-class land-based whale watching – are exceptional mountain bike trails. Singletracks enough for two full days of Untamed racing.
In 2023 the Absa Cape Epic will spend three nights in Hermanus. Following the Prologue teams will transfer south from Meerendal to the largest town in the Overberg and then spend Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night at Hermanus High School. Stages 1 and 2 explore the singletracks of the Hemel en Aarde Valley and Stanford, respectively, providing fresh and demanding terrain for The Race That Measures All.
The town of Hermanus itself is well-worth a visit, with or without a mountain bike. Famed for the world’s best land-based whale watching, Hermanus is a mecca for local and international visitors. From June to late October Southern Right whales make their way into the sheltered waters of Walker Bay to breed and calve and they can be clearly seen from the cliff-top paths and viewpoints which trace the coastline.
Whale watching tours are also conducted from the New Harbour, which provides and even closer view of these behemoths, who grow to 14 metres long and can weigh 23 tons. Further down the coast, in Gansbaai, shark cage diving operations and dolphin viewing trips provide less sedate thrills. Walker Bay also offers surfing, sea kayaking and fishing opportunities for the nautically inclined.
Image by Hermanus Tourism
Inland, the Kleinrivier Mountains which extend right down to the ocean create a unique microclimate. The cool waters of the Atlantic produce seasonal mists which billow up the Hemel en Aarde Valley and across the Kleinrivier Lagoon towards Stanford. This ensures that the region is ideal for cool climate wines. Some of South Africa’s best pinot noirs are cultivated in the Hemel en Aarde Valley, right alongside the trails which will make for a testing Stage 1.
Wineries like Creation, Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, La Vierge and Attaraxia are all worth a visit without a mountain bike, even if they also provide trails for the 2023 Absa Cape Epic. On the eastern side of Hermanus the Kleinrivier snakes into a broad lagoon through below the Akkadisberg Pass. Near the headwaters of the lagoon lies Stanford, a village transposed straight out of the English countryside and surrounded by more famous wine estates.
Stanford Hills, Sir Robert Stanford and the Birkenhead Brewery are excellent places to while away an afternoon, taking in the fresh country air and sampling the local delicacies. Arguably one needs to earn the right to put your feet up though. So, taking a bike to Hermanus is a must in order to pre-ride some of the trails before the Absa Cape Epic.
Like many of South Africa’s trail networks the singletracks of the Hemel en Aarde and Stanford are open to be ridden year-round. One need only purchase a permit from the Hermanus Wine Village or Beloftebos farm to access the trails. Doing so will help riders prepare for the first two marathon stages of the 2023 race and familiarise themselves with the terroir of the region. Given the harshness of the conditions which prevailed during Stage 1, on both previous visits to Hermanus, in 2017 and 2019; failing to prepare by trial riding could prove a significant error in judgement.