The 2018 Absa Cape Epic route was launched in Sandton, Johannesburg on Tuesday. It will start on the slopes of Table Mountain and end at Val de Vie in Paarl eight days later. In our opinion, it’s definitely a return to the Cape Epic of old. Here’s why…

By Sean Badenhorst
Riders ascend a climb overlooking Lebanon during stage 5 of the 2017 ABSA Cape Epic.
Photo: Dino Lloyd/Tread MTB


Before we get into the 2018 route analysis, let’s just have a little refresh of what happened at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. The 2017 race was dominated by specialist XCO racers, with the Cannondale Factory Racing pair of Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avencini winning the prologue and then extending their lead during the next four days. Then on Stage 5 they lost their lead to the SCOTT SRAM team of Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann, who went on to win the race overall.

If you recall, excessive heat on Stage 1 gave the Hermanus hospital its own significant capacity challenge and saw the event organisers reduce Stage 2 from the planned 102km to finish at the second Waterpoint at a distance of just 62km. In hindsight, it was this decision that helped swing the race in the favour of the XCO racers as the average distance for the first four days ended up being just 66.75km, shorter than most South African one-day marathons. This compared to the daily average of 90.5km from the first four days in the previous five years (2012-2016), saw a significantly shorter, faster first half.

Claus from Denmark cools down after just making the cutoff before his partner at the finish of stage 1 at Hermanus.
Photo: Dino Lloyd/Tread MTB


By half way through the 2017 Cape Epic – days-wise – the XCO guys were smiling and the marathon specialists were wondering what had happened…

Before the route launch this year, there was speculation that the route would once again be short and sharp to attract as many of the international XCO racers that will compete at the opening round of the 2018 UCI XCO World Cup in Stellenbosch, just the weekend before the start of the Cape Epic.

But when the 2018 route reveal video rolled, it became evident that the organisers had – in our opinion sensibly – decided to go back to the race’s roots, with stages of 110km, 110km, 122km and 111km following the 20km Prologue. That’s obviously five successive 100km-plus days and an average of 90.5km for the first four days, exactly the same as the first four-days average from 2012-2016.

World and Olympic Champion Nino Schurter takes a moment to recompose (Scott SRAM Racing) at the finish of stage 1 at Hermanus.
Photo: Dino Lloyd/Tread MTB


The Cape Epic built its reputation of being one of the toughest endurance sporting events in the world based on three things: long distance, challenging terrain and extreme climate (mostly heat and dust). It’s undoubtedly gone back to the event’s ‘holy trinity’ with those five successive long stages and is sure to appeal to the Cape Epic loyalists for whom the distance is a big attraction.

The insertion of time trial stage on Day 6 (Stage 5) also changes the complexion of the race somewhat from the past few years. This, combined with the shortish final two days over 76km and 70km respectively means the average daily distance for the second half (Days 5-8) is 74km. Yes, relatively short, but incorporate the 7 230m of accumulated ascent in those 296km (2.44% average) and your challenge switches from endurance to strength (in a weary state)…

At 658km, the total distance of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic is the third shortest in the race’s 15-year history (2017 was 651km and 2016 was 654km). With 13530m of vertical ascent, the 2018 edition share’s ninth spot with the 2011 edition in terms of average gradient percentage (2.05%). So it’s not the longest, nor is it the steepest.


But what we can say, and this was emphasised by top South African, Max Knox, at the route launch, is that the rugged-dial of the route for the first half is rather close to the Cape Epic’s maximum…

“The terrain around Robertson and Worcester is rocky, thorny and rough. Those stages will be as much a test of equipment as they will be of the rider,” said Knox, who finished fourth overall with Kansai Plascon teammate, Leo Paez, at the 2017 edition.

From left Leo Paez and Max Knox (Team Kansai Plascon) during stage 5 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Oak Valley, South Africa on the 20th March 2017.
Photo by Dino Lloyd/TreadMTB


“Riding lightweight tyres and other gear will be a big risk in the first half. Once you reach Wellington at the end of Day 5, the terrain is much smoother and more predictable, but the likelihood of losing time to a mechanical is undoubtedly much higher in the first half,” confirmed Knox.




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