The nineteenth edition of the Absa Cape Epic drew to an end on Sunday at Val de Vie Estate in Paar, South Africa. It was excitement all the way to the finish line as one of the best mountain bike stage races in the world came to its dramatic conclusion.
The 2023 Cape Epic had begun the previous Sunday with the prologue and as always had drawn some of the biggest names in mountain bike racing. The following seven stages promised intense cross-country mountain bike racing and it didn't disappoint with riders facing everything from driving rain to unrideable mud and at times, climbs and descents resembling fast-flowing rivers.
For fans on the ground and armchair viewers watching at home, it provided the most intense and epic racing in what had to be one of the most demanding editions of the Cape Epic in its illustrious history.
While all levels of mountain bikers can compete at the Cape Epic, it was the male, female pairs and mixed category that captivated the global audience's imagination, as pro riders battled it out through the South African wilderness for the right to pull on the winner's jerseys in each category. Read on to find out how the final day of racing panned out.
Ninety second turnaround for Beers and Blevins
In the men's pairs race of the Cape Epic, it would be previous winner Matt Beers and his new teammate Christopher Blevins racing for Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne who would take the win in dramatic style. Having started the final day of racing ninety seconds behind the overall leaders, Nino Schurter, who was chasing a hat-trick of wins and his Scott-SRAM MTB Racing teammate Andri Frischknecht.
However, the South African and American combination would turn the tables on Schurter and Frischknecht with a blistering attack early in the final stage.
The general classification move came when Beers and Blevins rode away from Schurter and Frischknecht on the early climb out of Lourensford, and they would finish second behind 2022 winners Georg Egger and Lukas Baum from Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company, which would be enough for the Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne teammates to take the overall win in the Cape Epic.
Blevins spoke of his thrill of the win, “We knew from last night that there was only one way to win today, and that was to go for it right from the start, we train so hard for these races and went through so much this week, it’s very special and satisfying when it all comes together like it did today."
Beers added “It was a great win, not just the ride today, but the entire week. We had to come from a dark place after battling on Stage 1 and I think that just shows how strong our partnership is and how much we believe in each other. We both helped each other this week. There was so much crowd support out there for us, I think we rode that last stage on pure adrenaline. I am completely spent now.”
Beers is now a two-time Cape Epic champion and now heads to the Life Time Grand Prix, the seven-race off-road series in the US. With Blevins now heading to Europe to race World Cup short track and XCO.
No losing for Looser and Le Court
In the women's race, Vera Looser and Kim Le Court from Team Efficient Infiniti Insurance would take the overall win. The Namibian and Mauritius teammates finished second on the last stage behind Greete Steinburg and Monica Martinez from Team Cannondale Vas Arabay, which was more than enough to keep their GC rivals of Amy Wakefield and Candice Lill from Team e-FORT.net-SeattleCoffeeCo at bay.
The drama had come the previous day with Amy Wakefield suffering an upper arm gash and overnight surgery, she and Lill had held the lead in the women's overall since Stage One but with Looser and Le Court closing the gap with their back-to-back victories on Stages Four and Five, they eventually relinquished the GC as the Team Efficient Infiniti Insurance pair took a third victory in Stage Six and the overall lead.
In addition to being hurt, Wakefield and Lill had lost more than 30 minutes due to a broken rim early in Stage Six, and they finished more than 32 minutes behind Looser and Le Court overall, but they still had a comfortable advantage of more than 11 minutes over the NinetyOne-songo-Specialized team of Sofia Gomez Villafane and Katerina Nash and that would give them the second place finish overall.
A very happy Le Court spoke after the finish, “We had a reasonable time gap this morning, so we knew we just had to ride well and stay consistent. We were happy to let Cannondale Vas Arabay do the work at the front. We did say to them ‘if you guys do the work you can have the glory of the stage win and we’ll have the glory of the overall win’.”
Looser added “This is such an amazing feeling, it’s been a long hard week and we had to dig deep, but we made it. I think we need a week or two to let it sink in!”
An unexpected cruise for Orbea Factory
What began as an experience of discovery and adventure ended with a huge win as Orbea Factory Racing made its debut in the mixed pair race, with the Spanish-Belgian combination of Ibon Zugasti and Alice Pirard. The Team Orbea Factory Racing duo dominated the mixed event from the start after finishing fourth in the prologue and finishing second in Stage One and Two, and they went on to win four of the five remaining stages.
As they crossed the finish line of the seventh and final stage in the lead, Ibon Zugasti and his teammate Alice Pirard had time to savor their success in the general classification winning by a whopping 40 minutes from the South African duo of Riaan Weideman and Samantha Sanders.
The win for Alice Pirard is unprecedented, as she becomes the first Belgian rider to win at Cape Epic. The multiple Belgian marathon champion spoke after the race, "The week has been incredible, epic, that's the word! We finished the last three days in a great way, it's an unforgettable experience."
Without doubt, the Cape Epic delivered yet another thrilling edition, quite possibly the most demanding yet with all the riders coping admirably with some at times biblical conditions. Feeling inspired? Check out our best mountain bike events, races, and routes for 2023, or enter the lottery for next year's Cape Epic at www.cape-epic.com.