2013 Route Launch Week Wrapup
The room was packed full of journalists, dignitaries and celebrities as master of ceremonies Dan Nicholl took up the mic. “This function has quickly taken on the importance of an occasion like the naming of a Rugby World Cup squad.” On Tuesday, 30 October, at lunchtime, it was the official 2013 Absa Cape Epic Route Launch in Cape Town. This was to be the first of three events, each unveiling the route, which would take 1200 intrepid riders, crew, spectators and TV viewers on a 700km journey through the Western Cape.
Before the 2012 race had even started, there was speculation as to where the following year’s 10th edition of the event would be going. To commemorate its auspicious entry into double figures, many believed the race would return to the Garden Route. Others were convinced that George would host a race village. Nicholl joked that riders would perhaps need their passports handy, with Windhoek as next year’s start town, or even Robben Island – via a submerged tunnel. All would be put to rest right after Vermaak had presented his keynote speech.
Absa Cape Epic Founder, Kevin Vermaak, introducing the 2013 route
At the gala dinner held the following evening at Johannesburg’s Urban Tree, Vermaak remarked on his relief that this day had finally arrived – now people would finally stop asking him if the race was starting in Knysna. On the R1million prize purse, the largest payday in mountain bike stage racing history, he was clear that this would not be just a once-off bonus on the 10th Birthday celebration. Acknowledging that a pro-golfer “may not get out of bed for a million bucks”, he hopes the event will be a catalyst in growing the relatively young sport of mountain biking – “Rome was not built in a day.”
He spoke about the new Grand Masters category for next year, introducing it to the race for the first time next year in response the growing number of CEOs, captains of industry and highly competitive riders in this age group, who are taking on the Absa Cape Epic. For 2013, it looks likely to be the third largest category. Riders of 50 years or older may compete, which means that some of the early winners of the masters category (for riders over 40), could be contenders for line honours again. In the spirit of rewarding endeavour, Vermaak also announced the introducing of a special prize for the highest placed team who’ve slept every night in the tented village (most of the top riders opt for mobile homes or guest houses).
Guests at the 2013 Absa Cape Epic Route Launch Gala
The level of luxury available in the race villages has seen some impressive refinements over the years (with 2012 seeing the Absa Business Class Lounge, free Wi-Fi by Telkom Business, Oakley’s eyewear service, the Woolworths Recovery Zone and their gourmet coffee to name just a few) especially since these are lavish amenities that you might not normally expect in and around the more remote race villages. Vermaak added, “We also have a ninth stage in the race for next year. But it’s a stage of the race in which your partners can also join. The Stage N9NE Official After Party will take place at The Grand on the Beach at the V&A Waterfront on the Sunday night after the Grand Finale at Lourensford. I can promise that it will be a party worthy of the 10th Anniversary of the Absa Cape Epic.”
With a stellar line-up of riders for 2013, the field will be the most competitive that the race has ever seen. Reigning world champion and overall World Cup winner Nino Schurter from Switzerland is due to compete, as are the other two riders standing on the podium at the 2012 world championships – the Fluckiger brothers, also from Switzerland. With the Olympic silver and bronze medallists confirmed as starters, it’s entirely possible that the race could also host Olympic gold medallist Jaroslav Kulhavy, provided that he doesn’t sign with a road racing team for 2013. Of course, defending champions Christoph Sauser and our own Burry Stander will be at the start, as well as a new-look Team Bulls. Six riders are signed up, lead by the record four-time winner Karl Platt with his new partner Urs Huber from Switzerland. One half of the 2012 runner-up team, David George, remarked that while the level is always high at the race, in this coming edition the talent runs deep. With many world-class riders wanting to race the Absa Cape Epic, the gaps between the first ten places overall are likely to be the smallest ever.
Dan Nicholl chatting to South African riders Burry Stander + David George
Building on the considerable momentum of the Exxaro Mountain Bike Academy program, there are more than 20 Exxaro development teams entered into the race for next year, up from 12 this year. The race has always placed a strong emphasis on development, and Vermaak cites one of his proudest moments of 2012 as that of Azukile Simayile and Sipho Madolo being interviewed on the finish line, in their native language Xhosa, proudly wearing their Exxaro leaders’ jerseys.
Without giving away too much, before the lights dimmed and the AV system revealed the 2013 course, Vermaak intimated that the race will follow a completely new route into Lourensford. Hinting that there would be no compulsory portage (Gantouw Pass), he did assure the audience however that the view from the top would be matched, if not bettered by the vista in the new approach on the final stage. In his final words in front of the nearly 300 dinner guests, “In theory, looking at the numbers, this is not the toughest route in the history of the Absa Cape Epic. But we said that about 2012, and then came the scorching heat, gale-force winds, rain, hail and the freezing temperatures...”
It was soon time to press play and the video screens glowed with dramatic graphics highlighting milestones in the event’s 10-year history and then the crucial details all the riders had been waiting for – the start towns, the distances, the climbing data and the maps of each stage of the 2013 race. Watch the route launch video and read all about the route what the riders can expect to contend with in March next year.
Team Absa 2013 on stage during the Gala
Continuing with proceedings, Dan Nicholl then had the pleasure of introducing Team Absa 2013 – a group of celebrities who’ve taken up the challenge of the Absa Cape Epic, riding for charity. Lead by veteran Absa Cape Epic campaigner Ernst Viljoen, 12 riders will participate in the 2013 event. Team members present included rugby legends Corne Krige and Tiaan Strauss, actress and model Vanessa Haywood, Top Billing presenter Janez Vermeiren and TV personality Michael Mol. For every stage that each of them finishes, Absa will donate R1 500 to their chosen cause. If every team member completes all eight stages, that totals R128 000!
Even with 135 days to go, every one of the 2013 participants looked nervous, particularly of stage 5. With almost 3 000m of climbing riders will have scaled half of that by the 35km mark. With the stage in the latter half of the race, they’ll be already feeling the effects of the first five days of racing. Strauss, who is riding for The Big Tree Foundation to raise funds for uniforms and books for South African learners, concedes that he doesn’t have the build for climbing, “but I’m working hard on that build!” Krige, who’ll be Strauss’ partner for the race remarked, “It’s my birthday right in the middle of it all, but I think I’ll have wait till afterwards to celebrate.”