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About the Last Lions

Since its launch in 2004 the Absa Cape Epic has traversed a staggering 12 126km of untamed terrain spread across 129 stages, including 11 Prologues and two mid-race time-trials. Riders who took part in every edition would have negotiated an acrophobic 251 967m of vertical ascent. Think about that for a moment…

Astonishingly, four people have completed all 16 Absa Cape Epics: Craig Beech, John Gale, Mike Nixon and Hannele Steyn. On 28 February 2004, all four of them were among the 550 riders that gathered in the dawn light of Knysna ready to embark on a ride into the unknown. They’ve been regulars ever since and have witnessed the race grow and evolve into the world-class event it is today – the pinnacle of mountain bike staging racing.

As the years roll by the Fabulous Four will eventually whittle down until there’s only one left standing – the Last Lion.

 

The four riders who have finished all 16 events to date have:

* traversed 12 126km of route in total since 2004;
* gained 251967m in total vertical ascent (climbing) since 2004;
* completed 129 stages (including Prologues);
* participated in three time-trials (2011, 2018 and 2019);
* completed the longest stage ever in 2008. That year’s Stage 5 was 146km and took riders from Swellendam to Bredasdorp;
* experienced both the Knysna to Cape Town routes and, from 2009, the modern version where some stages start and finish in the same town;
* taken part in the race with the most ascent: 2008’s 18529m;
* taken part in the longest race: 2008’s 966km.

 

 

The Last Lion Trophy

Dylan Lewis has created a work that captures the noble majesty and regal bearing of the king of Africa’s big cats for the Last Lion trophy. His sculpture, which will be presented to the last rider to have finished every Absa Cape Epic, exudes the respect and strength that the competitors and the lion have in common, celebrating their legendary status.

Lewis has forged a reputation as one of the foremost figures in contemporary sculpture. Born into a family of artists, he followed the path of his father, Robin, himself a renowned South African sculptor. He is one of a select group of living artists who have had more than one solo auction at Christie’s in London. Lewis takes wildlife as his inspiration, and has focussed on the cat in his work, imbuing his bronze sculptures with power and movement, using texture to represent Africa’s primeval, rugged and beautiful landscapes and the ancient, unforgettable rhythms of the continent. His sculptures work on an abstract as well as physical level.

For the Last Lion, Lewis has sculpted a lion lying on a rock as he looks across the plains, king of all he surveys.

 

Craig Beech

Profession: Conservationist in Somerset West
What keeps you coming back to the Absa Cape Epic? It has now become a little bit of a habit. Due to work travel I don’t get the opportunity to do many races in the calendar year, so I try pin down one or two each year, in which to participate. I definitely favour the longer stage events, and the Absa Cape Epic is often described as the toughest in the world, and I appreciate the challenge. I also like to spend our end of year break on the bike, often cycling through the Karoo. The year’s travels are similar to how a bear would treat its summer, I find I am scurried around, all the while building up the ‘winter storage’, and then the time comes at the end of the year to pin things down, use the lard and burn the calories.”
When do you think you will stop doing the Epic? “When I am no longer capable.” 

 

Hannele Steyn

Profession: Geneticist/Microbiologist from Knysna
What keeps you coming back to the Absa Cape Epic: “I love the race and it became my favourite race experience from the very first one when I had no clue what to expect or what multi day racing was all about. As a professional racing for Adidas International that was also the sponsor of the Cape Epic, it was just one of the planned races on my calendar, but after I retired form professional racing in 2007, I had done four already and wanted to get to five at least. Each year after that I was fortunate enough to get a sponsor and then it became a challenge to get to number 10. If you have done 10, you must either stop or again carry on till the next big number.”
When do you think you will stop doing the Epic? While I love it and because this race is such a challenge, I will try and do it until something outside of my power stops me.” 

 

John Gale

Profession: Chartered Accountant from Cape Town
What does it take to finish the Absa Cape Epic: A whole year of luck in training and being lucky enough with health, work and personal life to be at the start line. Eight consecutive days of luck on the bike.  Not picking up an injury, not dehydrating, not getting sunstroke, not breaking the bike. It needs a lot of luck. Each year the field is stronger, faster, better equipped and better prepared.”
Why do you keep on coming back for more: “I have the tiger by the tail, like Baloo; he has to come back to feel that the other end has teeth. The first stage is always the most difficult.  After eight days of training I am ready for the later stages.”

 

Mike Nixon

Profession: Commercial Property Developer in Cape Town 
What keeps you coming back to the Absa Cape Epic? “The Tour de France of mountain biking on your doorstep.  How can you resist.”
When do you think you will stop doing the Epic? “After so many years my wonderful wife has got used to the solitude from December to March.  So when she wants me back I will stop.”
And given that you have summited Mount Everest, which Absa Cape Epic climbs do you remember over the years as being the toughest? “None is tougher than Groenlandberg (in Grabouw).”

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