When I look back, it seems the main reason I haven’t yet done the Cape Pioneer mountain bike stage race, is timing. One of South Africa’s most loved stage races has been re-launched and the 2024 edition from 1-5 October, is on my to-do list. Here are nine reasons why. Plus, a special invitation to join me…

By Sean Badenhorst | Images: ZCMC Media

My first mountain bike stage race was the 2004 edition of the Sabie Xperience – a four-day race in the beautiful Lowveld region of Mpumalanga. It was the launch edition. In 2005 I completed my first Cape Epic. It was the second edition of that race. For the next 15 years or so, I entered and completed mountain bike stage races regularly. Partly for work, but mostly because I thoroughly enjoy riding mountain bikes in different parts of South Africa.

At one point (around 2015) there were more than 60 mountain bike stage races in South Africa! These events were the foundation of the mountain bike market, which was flourishing at the time. Most stage races are two-rider team format events. I have had several partners to tackle these multi-day challenges with. Each of them bringing their own character and soul and making each experience memorable.

In 2020, when the South African government implemented its restrictions in reaction to the Covid-19 virus, mountain bike events were forced to cancel or postpone. It was a crushing blow to an industry that was already starting to see race entry numbers drop.

The more established stage races survived and have been gradually rebuilding since 2023, the first year without any government restrictions.  In typical South African manner, the organisers have had to be creative. My generation (I was born in 1970) has become stage-race weary (we have done most of them, multiple times) and the newest generation isn’t yet sold on testing their endurance day after day.

Dryland Event Management, who own the Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer, presented by Biogen, launched this event in 2008, at the peak of stage-race popularity. It was originally a seven-day race, which for most, means more than a week away if you consider a travel day on either side.

Late in 2023, they relaunched what was called the Cape Pioneer Trek as a shorter, five-day race and dropped the word ‘Trek’ from the title. They also moved the date back to early October from early September, a dryer, warmer period in the region.

It took a while, but I needed to paint a back story. So, here are the nine reasons I have entered the 2024 Cape Pioneer:

I haven’t done it before: The first few editions didn’t appeal to me because the organisers tried to make it harder than the Absa Cape Epic. But once they honed the stages to become races and not survival tests, it piqued my interest. I actually trained for two months for the 2020 edition, but it was cancelled before I could enter. This year, I will finally get to experience the Cape Pioneer.

It has a Solo category: While I do enjoy team-format stage racing, I like that I can ride the Cape Pioneer at my own pace. I’m sort of refinding my stage-race spirit and I’d like to tackle this particular event without the pressure – and admin – that comes with a partner.

The stages are just right: There’s quite a lot of climbing for the distance of each stage. This appeals to me because although I’m not strong climber, I prefer shorter, more interesting stages than long, dull stages that just add distance for the sake of it.

I’m considering entering the 2025 Absa Cape Epic: Having completed two editions of the Cape Epic, I’m considering completing my third next year. But there’s no way I will start the Cape Epic if I’m not in the right condition with the right mindset and I feel completing the Cape Pioneer five months before will give me the best platform from which to make that final decision.

It will motivate me to train through winter: I live in Johannesburg at an altitude of 1600 metres, where winters are generally mild, by global standards. But it can be easy to ride less through winter here because by global standards, I am getting soft! Time to harden up again! Nothing motivates me to train consistently more than the thought of suffering in a race.

The location: I have done a few races in the Knysna and Plett region, but I have never done a race in the Karoo. Much of the Cape Pioneer takes place in the Karoo and I am quite excited to do some pedalling with race-purpose on those roads and trails.

The Swartberg Pass: As far as I am aware the only mountain bike stage race with a mountain top finish is the Cape Pioneer. In 2014 I was covering the Cape Pioneer as a writer and I watched this stage in awe. The drive up the gravel road mountain pass was engaging. I look forward to riding up it this year!

My wife has entered too: Inspired by the women she has met or encountered during her years of growing women’s mountain biking through various roles, my wife Joanne, has decided she needs a tough challenge. Having completed a few three-day stage races, she decided to up the ante and tackle the five-day Cape Pioneer this year. We’ll be doing some of our training together, which is quite convenient. We will also be able to motivate each other when needed!

It’s organised by Dryland: Dryland Event Management is one of the best endurance sports event companies in South Africa and, likely, the world. The company’s owners get personally stuck into each event with passion and commitment that’s tangible. They also go to great lengths to make sure everyone feels like a VIP.


If you have read to this point, I consider you in my circle, even if we haven’t met – yet. If you’re keen to join me and enter the 2024 Cape Pioneer too, send an email to me at sean@treadmtb.co.za and I will add you to my TREAD Cape Pioneer Crew, where I have secured a special entry discount. This needs to be done before 15 June 2024 though, so don’t delay. I will also add you to the TREAD Cape Pioneer Crew WhatsApp Group so we can share preparation plans, advice and training rides where possible.

Not sure what the Cape Pioneer is? Check out the race website here.