If you’re running around at the Absa Cape Epic screaming “the Germans are coming, the Germans are coming”, you’re too late. The Germans are here in numbers with almost 50 teams from Germany who took part in the most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world.
There were also a few more Germans working at the Cape Epic through a unique initiative with renowned bicycle component manufacturer SRAM.
Martin Kirchner, MTB Sports Marketing Europe for SRAM, devised a competition where dealers of SRAM products in Germany and the rest of Europe could win the chance to work at the Cape Epic (and enjoy a holiday in the Western Cape afterwards).
“We lack world cup level experienced mechanics in South Africa,” says Kirchner, “but there are lots around Europe who have worked on big races. We bring ourselves over, so we thought we could find some mechanics from our dealer base to come and work out here too. We sent out the ‘job’ description with a line saying ‘have you got what it takes’.” It seems that SRAM, and SRAM mechanics, certainly do.
The competition was a success, with one of the winners, Germany’s Axel Winterhalter, saying it’s always been a dream to ride or work at the Epic. “It’s been really good so far,” says Winterhalter. “I love coming to Cape Town, so I couldn’t waste the opportunity when I saw the SRAM competition. I’ve worked on the Epic now, so maybe next year I’ll have to ride.”
SRAM has been involved in the race for a few years supporting the professional teams, but 2015 has seen them come on board as the exclusive mechanical partner to the Cape Epic.
At every one of the three water points on every Stage of the race, SRAM is providing mechanical assistance and neutral race support to elite riders and amateurs alike. In the race village they are also servicing bikes free of charge that are fitted with SRAM, Avid, Truvativ, Rock Shox or Quarq components. Their motto at the Epic, particularly out on the route, is “to make a plan”.
“All riders are here to finish,” says Winterhalter, “and you can see that when they come to the mechanical zones they have that ‘can you help me’ look in their eyes. We see it as our job to get them home.”
“The race is very unpredictable,” adds Kirchner. “You never know what can happen and you can’t tell what parts you need. But now we have a very experienced team.”
In a way, the work of the bike mechanics parallels that of the riders. The conditions are tough, the days are long, but everyone is here because the want to be here. “We enjoy our time at the Epic,” says Kirchner. “It’s hard work, but it’s a great environment to be in. Most of the team is from Europe too, so it’s also great to be in the sun.”
Kirchner and Winterhalter both say that working at the Epic is comparable to similar stage races in Europe and that the biggest challenge is being away from the comfort zone of their own workshop.
“Everything we have seen here we have seen before,” says Kirchner, “It’s just a different environment and you’re also not in your own workshop. You have to deal with the surroundings, which makes it harder to fix bikes.”
Sometimes the job of mechanical race support can be a case of hurry up and wait, with mechanics doing little for a few hours, but then working at full speed and on a flurry of bikes in a matter of minutes. “That’s what makes it great. And when you get the riders back on the bike, they are very appreciative. You really feel like you’re part of the race.”
Source: Cape Epic Media
TREAD editorial note: Not all the images are SRAM specific, but also provide a visual context to the kind of technical support provided alongside SRAM at the ABSA Cape Epic