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Epic Survivors

2019-12-05

The Absa Cape Epic is the pinnacle of the Epic Series. A global group of mountain bike events which challenge riders to conquer testing but rewarding routes in Europe, Australasia and Africa. Each event boasts a formidable line-up of Elite riders, but further back in the field there are avid mountain bikers who had to overcome incredible odds, just to start the race. They are the Epic Survivors, and these are their stories.

Elmar Sprink hails from Germany, a nation renowned for producing world-class cyclists and athletes in general. In 2010, Elmar suffered cardiac arrest, but was fortunately brought back to life. After 2 years of being more in hospitals than out of them, his doctors told him he had a day to live. He defied the odds and survived until the 9th of June 2012 - the very day he received a donor heart. "After my heart transplantation in 2012; I have finished over 100 endurance events including six full IRONMAN, 14 IRONMAN 70.3 and the Transalpine Run, an eight-day trail running stage race" he revealed. "I raced the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona in 2014 and became the first person to ever complete Kona with a donor heart, and in 2017 & 2019 I won the gold medal at the World Transplant Games in Malaga and Newcastle.“

In 2020 Sprink will start the Absa Cape Epic off the back of one of his best athletic years yet. "In 2019 I qualified at the IRONMAN 70.3 in SA for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Nice and five days after that race I raced again securing a personal best in the Dubai IRONMAN 70.3," Sprink said.

Another pair of riders looking to join the Amabubesi Finisher Club are Yacoob and Abdullah Jaffar. The South African brothers were set to attempt to finish their third Absa Cape Epic in 2019 when disaster struck. Yacoob explains: "My brother and I were entered to participate in the 2019 Absa Cape Epic. He was hit by an (alleged) drunk driver a few weeks before the event and suffered severe injuries. Due to his injuries, we had to withdraw from the event, but the Absa Cape Epic team was kind enough to allow us to defer the entry to 2020. While my brother still hasn't fully recovered, we are keen to tackle the event in 2020 and complete our third Absa Cape Epic together."

The presence in South Africa of big game and the option to include a post-race safari to see the country's wildlife is one of the draw-cards to international riders. Australia's Colin Brown may be convinced to go on a Big Five safari but he certainly will not be shark cage diving during his African adventure. "It will take too long to elaborate too much, suffice to say that I lost three fingers in a shark attack while surfing fifteen years ago" he explained. "The loss of those three fingers restricts my paddling, when surfing, but also gear changing and braking capabilities on the bike. I haven't had a big stack yet though. My riding partner, Nick, says it's perhaps because I don't go hard enough," Brown joked.

While Brown's lost digits were not of his choosing, Hector Ayuso's losses have been more intentional. "I was overweight for many years and lived a sedentary life, sitting in front of a laptop carrying about one-hundred and fifteen kilograms around," the Spanish first-time Absa Cape Epic entrant confided. "One day I decided to do something about it, so with the help of good nutrition and a personal trainer I lost forty-five kilograms in six months. Since then I haven't stopped and I challenge myself as a source of inspiration, to myself and others. In just one year I became a finisher of an Ultraman race, in Florida. Now, just over six months after I bought my first mountain bike, I will hopefully become a finisher of the best and most challenging MTB race in the world: the Absa Cape Epic!"

Many mountain bikers discover the sport from other ultra-endurance pursuits. IRONMAN triathlons have already been mentioned by one Epic Survivor, while marathons are also a common stepping stone into mountain biking. Bart Meganck is one such runner turned cyclist, though his switch was enforced by a disease affecting the peripheral nerves in his feet, causing weakness, numbness, and burning pain. "I suffer from polyneuropathy in my feet," the Belgian said. "Walking, as a result, became very difficult for me, which is very frustrating for a former long-distance runner. But I still can cycle and every moment on the bike is a gift. I hope we don't have to walk too much on the 2020 Absa Cape Epic route."

It is not just physical or health obstacles which are overcome by riders taking on the Absa Cape Epic. Johan Rodríguez was forced to flee his native Venezuela and, despite not being able to practice law in his new home nation, is forging a new life for himself. "I am a lawyer and I was never good at sports" he pointed out. "But after leaving Venezuela, my country of origin due to the current situation, I had to work in a bicycle shop and there I started to fall in love with bicycles. I learnt and improved on every ride, and soon I was ready for new challenges. I even started to compete and achieve results in amateur categories. Then I entered tougher races, like La Ruta de Los Conquistadores where I really tested my mind and body. Now I came to graduate to a fully-fledged mountain biker, in the Absa Cape Epic."

The Cancer Association of South Africa and their Cansa Active fund-raising campaign have long been a charity partner of the Absa Cape Epic. Virtually every year there is an inspirational story to be told of a rider who overcame cancer to take part in the race that measures all. In 2020 that rider is Peter Robb. "I have had multiple cancer bouts and want to show other victims of the same diseases (melanoma, especially in South Africa where wearing sunscreen is critical) that you don't stop because of these unforeseen challenges, you keep going," the Absa Cape Epic debutant stated. "Cancer affects one physically and socially and having had it hit two close family members too I know this all too well. I want to inspire people to fight back and make the most of their lives" Robb concluded, showcasing the Epic Survivors persevering spirit.

The 2020 Absa Cape Epic begins on 15 March 2020 and these Epic Survivors will need to safely navigate their way through 647 kilometres and scale 15 550 metres of climbing to claim their spot in the Book of Legend.

 

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