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These Hyenas Won't Bite

While the spotted hyena spends much of its time tracking weaker animals in pursuit of a quick and easy snack, the Absa Cape Epic hyenas represent the complete antithesis of their feral counterparts. In the Untamed they’re responsible for bringing up the rear and ensuring the safety and well-being of all participants. Since their introduction in 2013, just four individuals have worn the brown hyena jersey, namely Sean and Liesbet Kristafor and more recently, Robert Vogel and Richard McMartin. For these individuals there is no medal or finish line fanfare. Instead, they quietly roll out of sight after every stage only to return the following day to do it all over again – a task that usually involves roughly 10 hours in the saddle. As race sweeps their role is paramount to the successful execution of each and every Absa Cape Epic.


Richard McMartin 2017 - 2019

How closely do you work with the VOC on event?
We're in radio communications and tracked by the route team in the VOC. We're their eyes and ears over sections of singletrack that are unreachable for the support vehicles.

Have you ever had a mechanical out there as a Hyena? If so what is the protocol – do you have to stay together, or can the other Hyena proceed.
We've been lucky. Other than a snapped chain we haven't had much bike admin. If a struggling rider falls far behind and is in danger of missing a cut-off, we will separate and one of us will ride ahead to the next team on the road. We both have radios to stay in communication with each other.

When the chips are down, how do you go about motivating and encouraging those who look like they’re on their last legs?
A water point always improves the spirits. Food, drink, music and cheering volunteers (they do such a great job!) is a great marker to aim for. Breaking the day down into short segments helps to ease the mental challenge of long 100km+ days.



Rob Vogel 2017 - 2019

Have any riders managed a second wind as a result of encouraging them along the route?
Oh yes! I remember a female rider from Iceland that I rode with for close to 80km. She had lost her partner during the Prologue and when I found her along the route, she was pale and close to vomiting. We literally hit the reset button and cycled to the next water point as our first goal. She never complained, just kept pedalling and said 'okay' whenever I gave her some route information. She perked up noticeably after having some real food at the water point and found her mojo again. She didn't finish last on the stage and we did not see her at the back of the field again. She got her medal and didn't finish last.

From what you’ve seen and witnessed as a Hyena, do you have any advice for future Absa Cape Epic participants?
Make sure you've trained properly. Don't rely on gels to get you through the stages. Eat proper food and keep gels for emergencies only. Eat something every 45 minutes and don't rely only on the water points. They may seem close together on the route profile but in reality they can be hours apart. Know your bike and learn to fix punctures, use a CO2 inflator (yes, many Absa Cape Epic riders have them but can't use them), break and repair a chain and know how to convert to single speed. When your partner has a bad day, don't get upset. It may be your turn tomorrow. If your bum gets sore, go to the Bum Clinic! Start the race slowly and don't kill yourself on Stage 1. Your body will adapt to the race and after Stage 4, you'll start feeling better. Ride smart and you'll make up a lot of places on the GC. If you're fit, you'll recover faster.

Will we ever see you back on the start line as a competitor?
My friends laugh at me when I say I'm done with the Absa Cape Epic. I have participated in every one since 2011 and said I was done after three, after four, after five. You see the pattern? I'll be turning 50 on my third stint as a Hyena, which takes me to 9 Cape Epics in total. While three might not count as official finishes, they count for me. It seems inevitable that I go for number 10!



Liesbet and Sean Kristafor 2013 - 2016

Not making cut-off can be a brutal experience for a rider. How do you keep your emotions out of the way of business?
The Absa Cape Epic has high standards and is UCI accredited. And therefore the rules are the rules (and are very clear). Besides that, the rules around cut-off times are extremely fair, in that they take adverse and unexpected conditions into account. 

How different is it experiencing the Absa Cape Epic from this angle?
Very different. In many ways it's more enjoyable (which is why I kept doing it). Firstly you get to look around and actually experience the countryside we traverse, as well as the participants in the race around you. And because you are not inwardly focused, you can simply enjoy the vibe and camaraderie. As a Hyena, this also gives you full exposure to the amazing team that works 'behind the scenes', and this adds so many more dimensions to the race. We are more aware of the whole picture, and all the drama and kindness that is happening throughout the whole experience. And yes the riding can be slow, but not necessarily. It can be technical or there might be mechanical issues with faster riders - this usually means standing and waiting. This plays on repeat quite a bit.

You must get to see some crazy things from the back. Any memorable experiences?
Amazing teamwork and bonds between team members, the stoic silences and awkward vibes when things are not going so well, the lone rider who every day would deliberately fall back because he liked riding with us. The numerous times we raced in just making the cut-off with a team and experiencing their bravery, determination, and tearful joy straight after crossing the line. The weird mornings where teams keep coming back to the start (mechanical issues), the fright and panic on some people’s faces when we come up behind them and they realise they are last. And then there are the long-suffering marshals that do a happy dance when they see us (as they can finally pack up for the day)!


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