You can keep your Tour de France and your Volta a Catalunya; we’re over here enjoying our new favourite stage race, the hot and brutally tough Absa Cape Epic.

Specialized put in epic performance at Cape Epic

 

You can keep your Tour de France and your Volta a Catalunya; we’re over here enjoying our new favourite stage race, revelling in the relentless attrition of the swelteringly hot and brutally tough Absa Cape Epic. What’s made it even easier to enjoy this year has been the huge success of Specialized supported riders.

 

 

Throughout the eight-day race, the Investec Songo Specialized teams dominated in both the men’s and women’s categories, both composed of one experienced Cape Epic campaigner matched up with a debutant. Three-time winner Jaroslav Kulhavy was joined by accomplished American climber Howard Grotts, and Kate Courtney – another American – helped Annika Langvad to her fourth victory from as many attempts.

What is the Cape Epic?

The Cape Epic is an annual mountain bike stage race held during March in South Africa that has been classified as hors catégorie (beyond categorisation) by the UCI. Launched in 2004, the Cape Epic often covers more than 700km over eight days with a short prologue and seven stages of varying difficulty and terrain. Competitors race in pairs and both riders must finish each stage if they are to proceed. They work together to not just finish the whole race in the shortest possible time, but also chasing after stage wins with the added complication of the Land Rover Technical Terrain sections along the way.

The 2018 race got going with a 20km prologue starting and finishing at the University of Cape Town including a viciously sharp climb and an eye-wateringly quick descent. Stages 1 to 4 all exceeded 100km with around 2,000m of climbing over the rugged, dusty and sun-baked terrain. The time trial on stage 5 was flat out, but far from flat. At just 39km, it was one of the shortest stages of the whole event, but with 1,430m of elevation gain, it was a brutal challenge pitting riders in a frantic race against the clock. The final two stages were mercifully short compared to the first half of the week, but with as much climbing as the longest day, they were far from an easy task. On stage 7, the competitors were climbing from the gun. At the top of the Protea climb, the finish line would have been visible to the riders, but it was not just a pootle home. There was still a calf-crunching ascent to the top of the bone-rattler of a Land Rover Technical Terrain section; the toughest and most gnarly descent of the whole race.

How they won

Langvad and Courtney started winning from the prologue and just kept winning stage after stage so that by the final day they had opened up a 46-minute lead over second place. That meant they could ride the sketchy final stage safely with a comfortable cushion, allowing others to compete for the last finish line of the race. It was an emphatic overall victory and there was no doubt all along that it would be the Investec-Songo-Specialized team wrapped in orange by the end of the week.

 

 

The men, on the other hand, played the long game, finishing consistently through the first few stages which enabled them to pull on the yellow jerseys at the end of stage 3. With the added oomph of dirt-speckled yellow on their shoulders, Kulhavy and Grotts finally grabbed a win of their own on the stage 5 time trial, using their combined power and climbing prowess to devastating effect. Still buzzing from their victory the day before, the formidable pair battled their way to win stage 6 after a first hour that was animated by a volley of attacks from all quarters. Going into the final stage to Val de Vie, the Investec Songo Specialized pair had to protect an 8-minute lead so needed to be vigilant from start to finish. After a steady and watchful day out, they did in fact manage to add an extra minute and a half to their overall lead as the stage’s action saw a reshuffle of the minor standings.

 

 

The bikes

 

All four winning riders were racing the Specialized S-Works Epic FSR for the optimum combination of climbing agility and descending control. In the suspension at front and back, the Epic incorporates the Specialized Brain technology which isolates rider input from bumps on the ground, effectively adapting to the terrain beneath its wheels. So, it is a full suspension bike only when it needs to be, turning itself into something close to a hardtail on the flat and smooth terrain.

Check out the S-Works Epic FSR in action on stage 7 of the Cape Epic:

 

 

MEN'S EPIC COMP CARBON


SAVE 20%
NOW £2800.00
WAS £3500.00

WOMEN'S S-WORKS EPIC


OUR PRICE £8500.00

MEN'S EPIC EXPERT


OUR PRICE £4800.00

If you think the Epic sounds like the bike for you but you’re going to be riding less variable terrain on which acceleration and raw speed are your priorities, then the Epic Hardtail might be your ideal companion. Also available in various different component packages and not missing out on the pioneering Brain technology in the front fork, this is one purebred racer of a mountain bike.

MEN'S EPIC HARDTAIL EXPERT


SAVE 20%
NOW £3040.00
WAS £3800.00

If the Absa Cape Epic hasn’t got your heart pumping in anticipation for next year’s event already, we don’t know what will. It’s already shaping up to be a corker with Langvad surely returning to try to make it five in a row, and Kulhavy now going after fellow Specialized rider Christoph Sauser’s record of four wins. If you fancy a piece of the action yourself but can’t quite make it as far as South Africa, you can still enjoy what the Epic has to offer a little bit closer to home.

 

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