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[Absa Cape Epic]

Knights in White Lycra

By Absa Cape Epic, 03/23/23, 2:45AM HST


Mitch and Ian tackle The Untamed African MTB Race

Leading the newly-introduced Amateur classification as we crunch through the halfway mark of the Absa Cape Epic is the beaming former-pro pairing of Ian Boswell and Mitch Docker.

For the fabulously-moustachioed Docker, this first bite at the Absa Cape Epic apple follows on from participations in his native-Australian Epic Series events, Cape to Cape, and Reef to Reef. “I didn’t think it was going to be this hard! But it's going well, I mean, Ian and I in the leader jerseys; we didn't expect that we would be leading the race. We're just here to ride.”

Billed as the pinnacle of the Epic Series, does the Absa Cape Epic live up to that? “I thought it was going to be a little bit harder, but I mean this is like 10 times harder. The distance, it's like 100k every day, so it's just so long, so hard. Those other events I did were 50k, which were hard, but you never got a deep fatigue. Here you get to 50k and you are already tired. And then you still have 50k to go.”

Boswell, who won the legendary Unbound 200 gravel race in 2021, agrees on the brutality of the Absa Cape Epic. “It’s been really challenging. I have not spent much time on on my mountain bike before coming here. So now I’m getting the callouses on my hands, and my forearms are finally starting to like cramp up. It’s really hard.”

It’s not just the riding that has made an impression on the American. “People look at Unbound and, like, ‘Oh, this is a big event’. But the infrastructure here and everything, that goes with it, all the tents and everything moving, you know, a couple times throughout the week, it's really impressive. And they make it such an easy experience for the rider. Once you've figured out your basic logistics, it's simple. Next thing, you’re 100km from where you started and everything’s here. It’s the same at the dining hall, and you’ve got mechanics working on bikes, it's really five-star.”

You can’t talk to an Unbound winner without sharing some local pride in Matt Beers, who burst onto the US gravel scene last year. How much kudos does winning the Absa Cape Epic carry in that world? “I haven’t followed mountain biking that much, but we definitely knew who Matt was when he came over, because he had won this race. And, you know, as the gravel scene continues to grow that side there’s a confluence of athletes, from the road like me or from MTB like Matt. I rode with him in Gravel Loco last year before he crashed, and he is a very strong rider.”

“It’s actually cool how we all come from different racing backgrounds and we all enjoy the competition. There’s that spirit at the Epic, too. Guys getting on with what they do, and loving what they do. Now that I have actually ridden it, I have a better understanding of why Matt is up there at the front with us. The gravel scene lets us all show off our strengths, maybe the road riders are faster and more tactical, work on their drafting and energy saving, but when it gets really hard the mountain bikers have better skills and a different strength.”

What is the lasting memory, so far, from The Untamed African Mountain Bike Race? For Boswell, it’s opened his eyes to a branch of bike racing he previously had little interest in. “It’s kind of got me looking at maybe doing more events like this. The racing is great, but it’s also the scenery and the community you just don’t find on the road or gravel. It’s so different. On the road, you have to think all the time, plan, save energy, draft. Here, you go when you feel strong and just run with it.”

Docker echoes the adventure side of this new cycling direction, after decades of fully-focused road pro, but with a twist. “I went for a walk around Hermanus, that first town we stayed at and it was so beautiful. I phoned my wife and told her we must come and live here.” He was joking, of course. Maybe.