2013 Absa Cape Epic: Full report - Bike Magic

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2013 Absa Cape Epic: Full report

Words: Rachel Fenton
Photos: Various

9 people have now finished all 10 editions of the Cape Epic. In doing this they have ridden more than 7000km and climbed Mount Everest 20 times from sea level. For these 9 hardy souls perhaps it should be “10 years unhinged” rather than “10 years untamed”. For the rest of us mere mortals finishing once might very well prove enough.

Sauser and Kulhavy on their gold bikes – Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

As well as being the 10th edition of the Cape Epic this will also be remembered as the Burry Stander memorial edition. After Burry was killed out training on the road in South Africa in early January 2013 the Epic began mourning its most successful home-grown winner.

The Specialized 360Life-Songo teams were renamed Burry Stander-Songo and Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy quickly drafted in to ride with Christoph Sauser in an attempt to retain the title Sauser and Stander won last year. Stander’s family also threw themselves wholeheartedly into the event with brother Duane and wife Cherise teaming up to ride in the mixed pairs and Burry’s dad Charles with other brother Charl. All the family wore Burry’s South African champion’s kit in his honour and were instantly recognisable in the peloton.

Cherise and Duane Stander – Photo by Kelvin Trautman/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Duane and Cherise had some great rides including second place on one stage. After the stage Cherise tweeted “Wow what a day…2nd on the stage-on this day 6 years ago Burry asked me to be his girlfriend.” All were clearly very emotional about being involved in the event.

The Pros

Sauser and Kulhavy were just one of a number of teams in the thick of the action in 2013. Team Bulls, the traditional rivals of Specialized were there in force with 3 teams. 4 times winner Karl Platt was no doubt hoping that sheer number of Team Bulls riders would stop Sauser’s win tally increasing to equal his. Topeak Ergon were very quickly out of the race due to a marauding animal that ran straight into Robert Mennen’s front wheel. The resulting crash was a Youtube video hit and Mennen retired with a broken collarbone. This wasn’t the only incident. Several of the teams went off course early in the week. First Sauser and Kulhavy missed a turn on Stage 3. Hermida, during his daily after dinner speech said it was because “Jaro (Kulhavy) is like a train, it takes him a kilometre to stop”. Then Team Bulls went off course following Stage 5 route markings during Stage 4. This larger excursion led to an official appeal, the result of which was the award of extra time to the affected teams but which was diplomatically chosen not to affect the overall standings too much.

Sand… – Photo by Greg Beadle/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Two teams of XC specialists were also in the mix. First timers Manual Fumic and Marco Aurelio Fontana, riding for Cannondale, were by far the fastest baggies and Camelbaks in the field. Both keen to ‘style it up’ as much as possible, Fontana’s antics led to a discussion between the commissaires as to whether it was illegal to wheelie though the tech zone. The more serious Scott-Swisspower team of World Champion Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel were probably the least consistent of the top teams. They seemed to have a complete meltdown on Stage 4, only to come 2nd on Stage 5! Apparently Vogel was suffering after a crash in the prologue where he did some damage to his knee.

Despite the yellow jersey changing hands a number of times during the course of the race, the Burry Stander- Songo Team ultimately prevailed. Their success clearly meant a huge amount to both Sauser and Kulhavy as they took home the Burry Stander trophy awarded in honour of their teammate.

The women’s race was equally eventful. Top favourites Topeak Ergon (Sally Bigham and Milena Landtwing) and Wheeler-IXS (Esther Suss and Jane Nuessli) were both out within first few days due to stomach problems. Whilst clearly unfortunate this did enable others into the mix including much under-rated Brit Cath Williamson and South African Yolande Speedy riding as Team Energas. Both Williamson and Speedy also had their share of accidents. Cath cut her arm badly, needing stitches, and Speedy rode the last stage with a broken collarbone and ribs. Even with these difficulties they managed to keep the lead, walking away with the trophy and numerous hard woman points. Second placed ladies team, Pragma Volcan, including the only woman to complete all previous Cape Epic races Hanlie Booyens, was also struck by disaster before the race even started. Sharon Laws (British road race champion) and Hanlie were the female winners of the first ever Epic and one of only 8 original teams returning for the anniversary edition. Unfortunately Sharon was taken out in a crash in the Cape Argus road race the week prior to the event and was seriously injured, fracturing her spine. Ischen Stopforth was drafted in at the last minute to replace her and they did incredibly well to remain incident free and take second place.

Women’s winners – Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

In the Mixed category Eric and Arianne Kleinhans were dominant for the second year in a row. But Duane and Cherise Stander received a significant amount of attention and made the stage podium twice. The Masters category was dominated by names from MTB history including Bart Brentjens (Olympic champ in 1996) and Nico Pfitzenmaier the great man of the Cape Epic and top X-Terra racer. For the first year ever there was also a Grand Masters category and Barty Bucher, previous winner of the mixed category (with Esther Suss) and 5th time attendee seems an appropriate first winner with teammate Heinz Zoerveg. Finally, we cannot forget the African jersey category, awarded to the top all-African team. In 2013 this went to Scott Factory Racing South Africa riders Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes. The Cape Epic has always done a tremendous amount for African cycling and continues to provide funding, support and opportunity for up and coming African racers including the Rwandan 2012 Olympian Adrien Niyonshuti.

The bikes

If 2012 was the year of the 29er hardtail at the Cape Epic, this year was the year of the full suspension 29er. Team Bulls were riding fullys for the first time ever and even the petite Sally Bigham was on a new small Canyon 29er full suspension. Sauser and Kulhavy were on custom painted gold Specialized in honour of Kulhavy’s Olympic gold medal. After the event these were auctioned off, raising 265,000 Rand (around £26,000) for the Songo.info charity.

The people

Whilst the UCI points and prizes on offer attract the top riders in the world to race the Cape Epic there are others enticed by the challenge. Celebrity spotting was a fun pastime in the peloton if you ever had the energy. There were famous cyclists from the past including mountain bike legend Tom Ritchey (cause of the now infamous quote “who is that guy who looks like Tom Ritchey?”) and Triple Crown winner Stephen Roche (read his report of the race here).

Then there was Songo Fipaza. Whilst he is little known outside Africa, his charity has been made famous by Burry Stander, Christoph Sauser and Specialized. When Stander and Sauser came together to first race the Epic in 2008 they rode for different trade teams, since Epic teams must wear the same jersey they adopted Songo.info as a way of both riding together and supporting a good cause. The Songo.info organisation takes kids from the Khayamandi Township near Cape Town and trains them to ride mountain bikes in the hope that some of them will be able to race themselves out of poverty. In the days before the Epic this year many of the pros raced at Khayamandi to help to raise funds for the charity and continue Songo’s good work. He was permanently smiling during the race, even when his young teammate was dancing away from him up the hills.

Exxaro development rider in the singletrack – Photo by Kelvin Trautman/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Other sportsmen included a team of South African Olympic rowers and Alain Prost of Formula 1 fame. Alain was remarkably far forward for a man in his late 50s and the rowers managed to ride themselves up to the A pen by the end of the race. Then there was the biggest hair at the Cape Epic, sported by Welsh Rugby player Colin Charvis. He was amazing, finishing close to the time cut off most days, and spending a total of 61 hours and 14 minutes in the saddle over the 8 days.

The Brits

Brits were spread throughout the field. At the end of the prologue there was a GB woman in all of the top 3 teams and in the men’s field top Brit was Will Hayter riding for Marathonmtb.com. After he lost his teammate to a stomach bug he continued to ride at the front in the ‘outcast’ jersey reserved for UCI category racers without partners. Further down the field were the ‘world famous team Salty Balls’ who are apparently stalwarts of the event, well known by the commentators.

The route

The 2013 route will be remembered for two things – sand and singletrack. The sand on stage 1 was pretty awful with upwards of 6km of trail resembling completely unrideable dunes. Even the top riders had to get off and walk. By complete contrast stage 5 included 22km of glorious singletrack. Anyone who has raced mountain bike marathons will know that there is necessarily a lot of double track and even some tarmac. For the course designer Dr Evil to have found enough singletrack for one quarter of the mileage in one stage was pretty impressive. Dr Evil designs a different route every year for the Cape Epic so you can never know completely what you are going to get and it is nigh on impossible to do it justice by description. Anyone who is interested should take a look at the Cape Epic Youtube channel where there are daily highlights videos from this year’s race.

Fontana with another ‘outrageous’ wheelie – Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

The Absa Cape Epic is a special event in a truly amazing place. I would recommend it to anyone. It’s not easy, but then things that are rewarding rarely are. During the 8 days of the event you go through every emotion with your partner and your bike will be dragged over things it’s never seen before. But at the end of it all, when you cross the finish line the sense of achievement is like nothing else.

Final results


1) Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy – Burry Stander-Songo
2) Karl Platt and Urs Huber – Team Bulls
3) Thomas Dietsch and Tim Bohme – Team Bulls 2


1) Yolande Speedy and Catherine Williamson – Team Energas
2) Hanlie Booyens and Ischen Stopforth – Team Pragma Volcan Ladies
3) Sara Mertens and Laura Turpijn – C-Bear


1) Erik Kleinhans and Arianne Kleinhans – RE:CM
2) Peta Mullens and Jarrod Moroni – Target TREK – Moronis Bikes
3) Johan Labuschagne and Yolandè De Villiers- Exxaro Cycle Lab 1


1) Nico Pfitzenmaier and Abraao Azevedo – Bridge
2) Bart Brentjens and Robert Sim – Superior-Brentjens 2
3) Neil Bradford and Tim Osrin – HCL/Harvest Foundation 1

Grand Master

1) Bärti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg – Songo.info
2) Paul Furbank and Chris Brand – Genesis Capital
3) Izak Visagie and Peter Stopforth – Cape Style Wines


FInish line proposal in the mixed cat – Photo by Greg Beadle/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS


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