The Cape Epic

Men and women struggle over rugged but beautiful terrain. Photo © Cape Town Tourism

In climbing jargon, an “epic” is defined as “an ordinary climb rendered difficult by a dangerous combination of weather, injuries, darkness, or other adverse factors” (thanks, Wikipedia). Put the word “Cape” in front of that, add 1200 mountain bikes racing over rough terrain for many days and nights … starting to see where this is going?

Mountain bike riders train for the eight-day stage race with the same sort of single-mindedness road cyclists need to train for races like the Tour de France. Like the Tour de France, the Cape Epic is internationally recognised as one of the world’s biggest stage races. Winning an Epic is a notch pro mountain bike riders dream of carving in their handlebars.

In March 2012 the world’s best mountain bike cyclists will pit themselves against each other over nearly 800km of some of the most remote areas of the Western Cape. The chase takes riders through wild landscapes and unforgiving terrain. Most riders hope simply to finish the race. Only a handful of elite riders can glide up to the start on Day One with any hope of climbing the podium at the end and thus entering the international mountain biking hall of fame.

The Cape Epic is a notorioulsy tough mountain bike race. Photo © Cape Town Tourism

In 2012, both local and international mountain biking enthusiasts will be taking on the demanding eight-day mountain bike adventure of 781km with 16 300m of climbing from Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanvilla to Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West.

The 2012 route, which changes significantly each year, will lead 1 200 cyclists through vast distances of virgin territory, previously untouched by the race. With its challenging and exhilarating landscapes, the stage locations of Meerendal, Robertson, Caledon  and Oak Valley (Elgin Valley) await the most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world, before riders again finish at the Lourensford Wine Estate as has been tradition for the past six years.

As they train in the months leading up to March 2012, nothing can truly prepare entrants for the week of dust and blood and pain that lies ahead. In this race, even the toughest rider can expect to “bonk” (bike-speak for exhaustion). That’s when bikes are seen abandoned beside the single track while the rider huddles nearby, cradling his or her helmeted head, often weeping with fatigue.

The Cape Epic hurts. And then it hurts again. And again. For hundreds and hundreds of kilometres. This is world-class, big-time, not-for-sissies mountain bike racing.

Tell someone who has finished an Epic that you rode the Argus and they may look faintly amused. Say, “I finished the Epic,” and they may just buy you a drink.

Visit the Cape Epic's media site at