I was fortunate enough to ride the Absa Cape Epic stage race in South Africa last year, the demanding nature of the event, the terrain and the heat, were immediately noticeable, as was the dropout rate.
It was high. The heat and effects of dehydration were the key reasons, though mechanical failures were also high on the list. So I wasn’t that surprised when I read on the Cape Argus today that more than 100 riders have dropped out of the event so far.
1200 competitors took to the start line of stage one last Sunday but already 109 have succumbed to the battering the event dishes out, with injury, exhaustion, or dehydration leading to many throwing in the towel. It just serves to underline what a taxing event it is, and that anyone even a little underprepared will pay the ultimate price: not reaching the finish.
The course is one of the toughest that we have ridden, and for 2011 it’s reported to be even more demanding on bikes and riders. The route, which changes significantly each year, is designed by Leon Evans, better known as Dr Evil, admits his mission is ensure riders don’t have an easy time.
“This year there are shorter stages compared to the years before,” he says, “so I had to make the actual route more intensive. It’s very important that this race is challenging as that’s why the cyclists enter. And they say that every year.”
He says that he does not necessarily try and make each year’s route more difficult than the previous ones. “But I have to make sure the route lives up to the reputation that the Absa Cape Epic has developed, which is that it’s the most challenging mountain bike stage race in the world.”
According to Evans, today’s (Stage 3) race is the most challenging stage of this year’s Cape Epic. “It will take the cyclists the longest to complete as it’s rocky and bumpy. No matter how badly the participants will want to pick up speed, they won’t be able to. This stage requires slow riding and technical skill.”
Evans says that it takes him about 11 months (on and off) to design the route. “Three weeks before the race the route is finalised. It’s a back and forth process; just when you think you have your route sorted something changes or something comes up. The organisers decide on the locations and I start from there.
“Most of the time they tell me where they want the route to start and finish and if there are any specific places they want to go to. I then start looking at my options to come up with something. Designing the route isn’t a problem; it’s finding the land owners that are sometimes difficult. Many of the owners don’t stay on the properties that we would like to make a part of Absa Cape Epic history.”