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Race Rewind: 2008 Absa Cape Epic


In 2008, the route for the Absa Cape Epic stretched over a whopping 966 kilometres – the longest ever. This was the last time the overnight camps shifted every day, and the format was already beginning to change. Participants now started their journey with a 17-kilometre time trial in the Pezula estate outside Knysna, but some things had not changed. Over their 9 days of riding between the Garden Route and the finish in Somerset West, the riders would gain 18 829 vertical metres.

Stage 2 of the 2008 Absa Cape Epic 

Stage 1 stormed straight into the forests above Knysna as the riders gained the first 600 of a total of 3 091 meters over just 20 kilometres on their way to the Saasveld forestry school in George, 123 kilometres away. Stage 2 had a relatively civilized start via the Outeniqua mountains on the beautiful Montagu Pass, but virtually every other detail of this 135-kilometre journey into the Klein Karoo was dwarfed by Gamkaberg, looming just beyond the 100-kilometre mark. Cut-off for the day was an hour longer than usual and the cyclists battled sweltering heat, loose steps of shale rock and prickly vegetation on the 10-kilometre ascent, only to encounter slippery almond-shaped pebbles on the descent! 

The 133-kilometre ride to Riversdale came not a day too soon for some of the broken bodies waiting to start Stage 3. That day cyclists could tick the Rooiberg and Garcia passes off their bucket lists, but the gradients were mild and even some of the mid-fielders spotted wild animals while trying to stay upright on twisty tracks midway through the ride.

A relatively short 121-kilometre route between Riversdale and Swellendam awaited participants on Stage 4, but it was April Fool’s day. The 2 620 metres of climbing were nowhere near done after the big rollers among the dairy farms and a relatively short loop through the Grootvadersbosch. Above Swellendam, the short, steep climbs again took no prisoners.

Riders during Stage 6 of the 2008 Absa Cape Epic 

Bredasdorp and the camp on day 6 was only 1 819 metres of climbing away, but the cutoff time was extended for good reason. The ocean vistas, wildlife and steep sandy dunes of the De Hoop nature reserve were an early treat, but there would be rather a lot of hot, stubby harvested fields, corrugations and strong wind before the riders saw Bredasdorp at the 146 kilometre mark.

Stage 6 ran over a 130-kilometre route to Hermanus on the Atlantic ocean. There were nearly three thousand metres of climbing to be done, but after the bleak scenery of the previous day the riders enjoyed some rare mountain fynbos and rock formations as they scaled a rough 14-kilometre climb through the Salmonsdam nature reserve before an enjoyable drop down to the vineyards on the way to the village of Stanford, with some short, steep ridges to scale before they arrived at the old harbour in Hermanus where the race village waited. 

Stage 7 was another big climbing day (1 985 metres over just 91 kilometres) and although the riders expected rocks, sand and steep climbs in the Babilonstoring and Lebanon nature reserves, they learned that refined products like the Hamilton Russel, Paul Cluver and Oak Valley wines came from vineyards that left them no less bathed in sweat and dust.

Riders wait to begin the ride to Lourensford 

From the overnight camp on the Oak Valley estate and the village of Elgin they could almost smell the finish at the Lourensford wine estate, just 68 kilometres away, but as usual it was not an easy ride. More steep slopes covered in vineyards led them to the rugged slopes of the Nuweberg over almost 1 760 metres of climbing before the respectful portage down the historic Gamtou pass and the squirmy gravel along a railway line. Then it was time to empty the energy tank and dice each other one last time to the finish line.

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