The KTM 300s that herald the arrival of the Absa Cape Epic are piloted by some of the most skilful riders on the planet. One of the 2023 gang, however, is next-level.
The Malle Moto category (it’s now called Original by Motul, but we like the old name) at the annual Dakar Rally is reserved for the toughest of the tough. The rules are simple: do everything yourself. Ditch the private chef, pitch your own tent, fix your own bike, tend your own wounds. The malle bit isn’t a reference to the need to be slightly crazy to take this on, rather it is from the French for box or trunk, which was the only piece of luggage early competitors were allowed to bring. We digress…
Kirsten Landman is a South African off-road motorbike legend, a status cemented by her glorious finish in this mad category in 2023 - the only woman to attempt it in one of the toughest Dakars in decades. And, here she is, leading the legends of mountain biking through some of the toughest trails the Absa Cape Epic has ever offered, in weather conditions bordering on impossible.
“I got a call randomly from Greg Miller, one of the lead bikers, whom I haven’t spoken to in like 10 years. ‘What are you doing on these dates, do you want to be a lead bike with us at the Absa Cape Epic?’ “Hell, yes! I’m big into two-wheel sports, I follow mountain biking and I follow the mountain biking girls and I’ve always watched the Epic on tv, now I am part of it. And it is a special treat to ride all these sweet trails motorbikes are never allowed on.”
Lead bike sounds like a chilled day while the skinny guys and girls play. “We are actually quite busy. I go out with Gideon [Joubert] and Greg and we lead the elite men, riding the whole route (we’ve got the best job I think) 500m to a kilometre ahead of them. We make sure there is nothing in the track, we spend a lot of time clearing trees and branches, especially in the weather we have been having. We put up extra markers if they are too far apart, and make sure all the markers are in place and pointing the right way. On the district roads, we help clear traffic and pedestrians - we are the first thing people see of the race, so often we start the process of the marshals making it super safe for the riders.”
Is the Absa Cape Epic even comparable to Dakar, in any way? “Sure, it is. Last night I was walking around the bivouac, as they would call it at Dakar. The support crews and the teams all working on the bikes and the setup, into the night. Just like Dakar, but a lot quieter. The same passion - there’s just not engines revving and tools being clanked.”
How does preparing for a stage at the Absa Cape Epic - you have had some gnarly weather days this year - compared to, say, Roof of Africa? “Make sure there’s fuel in the bike, the chain is lubed. Make sure it is clean - I hate riding a dirty bike, and there are cameras everywhere so it has to look good! My kit is sorted out the night before, water in the Camelbak and I have enough tape for route marking. Are the goggles clean? Have I made sure the batteries in all our comms units - the walkie-talkie things - are fully charged? That’s about it. It’s not like I’m going to burning big calories, so it’s making sure the bike and kit are ok. It’s a lot more relaxed - we aren’t at race pace - so there is less to think about and prepare for. But it’s been an eye-opener to what it takes to do the Absa Cape Epic - the fitness and the spirit you need to do this is impressive.
“The biggest thing for me was to see the pace of the guys, to see how fast they are. We’re on motorbikes, and sure we aren’t riding race pace, but we aren’t going slow. I had quite a cool experience in the singletrack on Wednesday. I thought I was about a kilometre ahead, and I stopped to put up an extra marker. As I got going, I looked over my shoulder and they were right there. I dropped the hammer, full race pace for five minutes - tight singletrack, tight berms, jumps - it wasn’t quite a flat terrain, but it wasn’t fully downhill either, and when I looked again, thinking ‘phew, I’ve gapped them!’, there they were; it’s been really cool to see the pace and the talent and the speed, and how consistent they are.”
Has Landman had enough of a taste of the Absa Cape Epic to be tempted to ride it? “Haha - so, Reinette Geldenhuys messaged me on Insta when she saw I was lead bike, and the offer is in… I do ride normal bicycles for fitness, on the road and mountain bike, but obviously not like this. We talked about skinny guys in lycra earlier… we are riding with a full-face helmet, knee braces, boots… all the protective gear. I would need to learn how to ride that fast without worrying about how little protective stuff you have on a bicycle. I’ve got some decent skill coming off the motorbikes, but yoh … Anyway, she seems organised and keen. So there is a chance you will see me on the start line at Epic next year.”
“Lead moto might still be a better option, if I am honest. It’s been a helluva jol. Lots of fun.”