SCARY, VERY SCARY!
Shortly after concluding our registration for the 2017 event, the organisers of the ABSA Cape Epic indicated that they’d like to announce Sibusiso’s participation to the press at their annual Route Launch function in October.
The function was to comprise an official press briefing in the morning, followed by a gala dinner that same evening, both held at the Tsogo Sun Cape Sun in the Cape Town CBD.
Aside from the fact we knew they’d be interviewing Sibusiso, I didn’t know what to expect when I got on an early morning flight on Wednesday.
After some coffee and snacks outside the briefing room, the relatively small contingent of people were ushered into a room where veteran sports personality and commentator Gerald de Kock took to the stage and took us through proceedings.
After a brief description of what the word Untamed (the theme of the Epic) means, we were shown a very emotive and gees-inducing video clip called The Untamed African MTB race, a must watch that gives one a great idea of what the race is about.
This was then followed by the official route launch, also communicated via a very professional and emotive video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9K2MwBYZpnw
My summary of the route for 2017 with relatively little knowledge of previous years:
A big sukkel – no less difficult than any previous year, just different.
The 8 days will have us covering 691km with 15,400 metres of climbing
The first 2 days operate out of Hermanus, a venue they haven’t visited for many years which is quite exciting, with the other camps being Greyton and Elgin.
The race finishes for the first time in the swanky new Val de Vie estate nestled in the Paarl-Franschoek valley which should make for a great finishing day and at which I plan to drink a lot of beer – so get ready for me Val de Vie.
Sibs was the first of the interviewees, handling himself with aplomb as always and entertaining the press with the perfect blend of experience and humour and very professionally thanking Emperor Asset Management for sponsoring his ride.
He was followed by Hanele Steyn, one of only 4 remaining people, referred to as the Lions, who have ridden in every single Cape Epic to date (13 in total), which is a monstrous achievement. She had a very sweet nature and spoke passionately about what an amazing race the Epic is. Gerald de Kock then announced that the race had commissioned a very special prize / award sculpture that will be given to the last standing Lion that completes the most Epics which he then had Hanele unveil for the first time. When he asked her if she thought it would end up on her mantelpiece, she joked that she didn’t have one, but would certainly now consider changing that.
Ariane Kleinhans, a 5-time category winner of the race then ran through a few of her thoughts on the new route before the mornings event was concluded.
The gala dinner began with a very impressive and delicious array of drinks and canapes outside the main room, where a cacophony of excited voices fought a two-man band for auditory supremacy.
After not noticing them initially, the odd celebrity sportsman soon became recognisable among the crowd. I bumped into ex-Proteas player and coach Gary Kirsten ( only known to me because his wife is a good friend of my sister), who was chatting to ex-Springbok flyhalf and World Cup winner Joel Stransky. Other important sports bods like swimmer Ryk Neethling and ex-Springbok captain John Smit soon were also soon noticed in the crowd.
At about 19h30 we were ushered into the dinner hall where MC Ryan O’Connor kicked things off with a welcome.
The formalities for the evening took quite a long time and there was repetition from the mornings event with the same interviews being conducted with Sibs and Ariane but there were a few other very interesting interviews which I enjoyed thoroughly and tried to soak up like a sponge.
What struck me most at that dinner, was the magnitude of the event. I suppose it’s not referred to as the ‘Tour de France of Mountain biking’ for nothing, but until you really get up close to the event and it isn’t immediately apparent just what a big deal it is.
Some of the facts / things that stuck with me:
- What a prestigious international event the Epic is – Founder Kevin Vermaak has just recently (a few months back) sold the company to the massive global Iron Man sporting brand which in turn was purchased last year by Wanda Sports Holding, a large Chinese conglomerate looking to grow Mountain biking as a mass participation sport in the world. Among a host of other very good Mountain biking events held around the world, they chose the Epic to spearhead this MTB division and Kevin will play an instrumental role in growing that. That achievement there is testimony to what a top-notch event it is.
- Development – a few years ago, in conjunction with Exxaro, the Epic introduced a development category in which development riders from around the country could come and compete. On the night, they announced the inclusion of a further 3 academies from around the country that will all send riders to compete. Martin Dreyer, the head of one of these academies in KZN told a moving story of a young cycling enthusiast on a reasonably shoddy bike that jumped onto the back of a pack of riders as they rode through one rural area and continued to follow them at pace for 40kms, until asking them to stop because he was lost and wasn’t sure how he’d get home. Thanks to the program awarding Martin two free places in the race, that very same young enthusiast will line up at the start in 2017.
- Celebrity – the event seems to attract sporting celebrities both locally and internationally. John Smit, Joel Stransky, Gary Kirsten, Jeremy Thompson, John Slade will all be returning next year to do the race again, in Joel Stransky’s case for the 8th time. While not competing in next year’s event, other notable sports personalities at the dinner included Ryk Neethling, SA trail running supremo’s Ryan Sandes and Christiaan Greyling amongst others.
- Big name sponsors – ABSA has been the headline sponsor for many years. Woolworths have just renewed their sponsorship deal for a further 3 years and Tsogo Sun have stepped in as official accommodation partner with Land Rover as a vehicle and route partner and one or two smaller sports brands also sponsoring the event. Such big corporate involvement, while necessary for an event of this magnitude, can often kill its unique essence. But the Epic seems to avoid that by taking particular care over many of the little things it does as highlighted in the example in the point below.
- Professionalism and attention to detail – My brother and mates that have completed an Epic event have all commented on what a completely different level the event is run at to anything they have competed in, and the route launch was no different. But while the professional element is critically important, it is nicely counter-balanced by a level of care and attention to detail that is perfectly encapsulated in the 3 course meal that was served to us on the night.
- Not content to just serve up any old meal, the Cape Epic exec met up with some Tsogo Sun chefs and Semeliers to try and create a dining experience that would match the spirit of the Epic. In so doing, the chefs were driven over the new route by Land Rover and stopped off at restaurants and Padstals in the surrounding areas to explore the local cuisine and plan a special 3 course meal for the gala dinner.
- The result of this meticulous attention to detail was an amazing 3 course meal, with paired wines (and port for desert) as follows:
- Hermanus Abalone Carpaccio
- Matured Overberg Lamb rump with a Hay Smoked Lamb Cheek Croquette (which was DELICIOUS)
- Stupidly big chocolate mousse forest creation with all sorts of other sweet things served on a 1 x 3 metre pan.
- Amazing cheese board
At the conclusion of the event, I felt extremely privileged to be registered for next year’s event, very thankful to Emperor Asset Management in supporting my and Sibusiso’s effort and incredibly excited about the 5.5 odd months of hard work, training and preparation that lies ahead.