Pics Zoon Cronje and Mark Sampson of Sportzpics
Enjoyment at the Absa Cape Epic comes through preparation and taking no shortcuts for Gary Kirsten, the former South African cricketer, who will take part in Africa’s Untamed African MTB Race for the third time in 2018.
Kirsten, who will be one of the famous sports stars and celebrities riding for Team Land Rover, has been doing most of his training on Table Mountain, where the Cape Epic will start with a Prologue on 18 March. The 20km of the opening day of the race will see participants climb 600-metres in just 20km, taking in the lung-busting climb to Dead Man’s Tree.
“I certainly know every riding trail that exists on Table Mountain but I’m not sure that will help on race day,” said Kirsten. “There are some fairly steep sections but I can't think of a better place to start the Absa Cape Epic in 2018. It’s an iconic African landmark.”
The Absa Cape Epic last visited Table Mountain in 2015, and this, the 15th edition of the race, will take the riders along 658km of some of the Western Cape’s most beautiful and challenging terrain, with 13 530m of climbing, including four consecutive days of over 100km. Kirsten is a relative newcomer to the sport, having only begun mountain biking three years ago. With his team sponsoring the Land Rover Technical Terrain sections; where riders’ skills, capability and composure will be tested on tricky descents or challenging single-track , of which the first is the steep descent down Plum Pudding, the former opening batsman has been getting in some skills training, working on his cornering and descending. Even though this will be his third Epic, he has been taking nothing for granted.
“There are no short cuts to getting oneself prepared enough to enjoy the event, which is my goal. My training will not change much, I love getting onto the mountain as regularly as possible. I try do between eight to 10 hours of riding a week, with at least two weekend multi-stage races included in my training for the Absa Cape Epic. It’s about getting time in the saddle and doing as much climbing as I can find. I have not done any gym training, but try and go for a run every now and then. I do think running helps when you have limited time,” smiled Kirsten.
Kirsten, who guided India to victory in the 2011 World Cup, was regarded as patient, calm and wise, imparting advice when it was most needed. His advice to first-time riders of the Epic was the same that he received before he made his debut.
“My best advice based on my experience would be to ride as regularly as you can, even if it is not long distance. Train the hills wherever you can find them. Try find the balance between a normal existence and training, you don’t have to be obsessive about it,” said Kirsten. “Like I said, I really want to enjoy it and become part of the Amabubesi club.”
Kirsten and his Cape Epic partner and friend, Roddy van Breda, will take part in stage races in the Western Cape as part of their build-up, a vital part of establishing a riding partnership to see them through the eight days.
John Smit, the former Springbok captain who is also part of Team Land Rover, believed that balance was the key to successful training for the Cape Epic. This will be Smit’s fifth Absa Cape Epic, a journey he began in 2014 with the race becoming an integral part of life. “As a professional sportsman, you have the daily routine and the buzz of training and playing matches, and a lot of us miss that when we retire,” said Smit. “As a rugby player, you have strength in your legs and body, and stamina to see you through a match, but this is different training, a new challenge. That’s what sport should be – a new challenge all the time, and the Epic gives us that.”
About Absa Cape Epic
The Absa Cape Epic is the world’s premier mountain bike stage race. The route changes every year, leading aspiring amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world through roughly 700km of unspoilt scenery and 15 000m of accumulated climbing, over some of the most magnificent mountain passes in Western Cape in South Africa. The Absa Cape Epic is the most televised mountain bike stage race in the world and the only eight-day mountain bike stage race classed as hors catégorie by the Union Cycliste Interationale (UCI). This official UCI status makes it a highlight on the professional racer's calendar. The Absa Cape Epic also attracts aspiring amateur riders wanting to test themselves against the best. It is a full-service race, meaning that everything is taken care of from the start - all riders need to think about is riding.