Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
“Our original route designer, a.k.a. Dr Evil, once said that the day a former roadie wins the Epic, is the day he retires. So far so good.”—Kevin Vermaak
PELOTON/ Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
Looking for his next professional challenge, South African Kevin Vermaak decided to take on a physical challenge, the 2002 La Ruta de los Conquistadors, a multi-day mountain bike race in Costa Rica. Vermaak was inspired. The event was an amazing experience, but he felt he could improve the entire experience for riders. He began working on the Cape Epic as soon as he returned home.
The Cape Epic held its first edition in 2004, eight days of cross-country mountain bike racing across the Western Cape of South Africa. It sold out in three days and featured riders from 25 countries. The race is so challenging and covers such remote territory it was decided it should be competed by two- man teams, never allowed to be more than two minutes apart.
The Cape Epic has since built a reputation as one of the sport’s greatest mountain bike races. It is also the world’s most watched MTB race, with a bigger audience than the UCI World Cup series. The top off-road pros race at the sharp end of the field, while other teams simply want to get both riders to the finish line of the final stage within the time limit.
Last March’s event covered 654 kilometers and climbed more than 15,000 meters over eight days on fire roads, technical climbs, rocky descents and some of the smoothest, flowing single-track ever made. It is brutally hard for pros and amateurs alike. Completing the Cape Epic, alongside a teammate, is nothing short of life changing.
We asked Vermaak how hard is too hard? “We measure whether we got it right or not if the attrition rate is between 10 and 15 percent every year,” he said. “We don’t want everyone to finish since that would mean the medal is a little too easy to earn, and we also don’t want it to be so hard that folks feel they have no chance of finishing.”
The real ace up Vermaak’s sleeve is what he calls “luxurious survival.” The stages of the Cape Epic can be so hard that every need is taken care of off the bike. Cross the finish line and you hand off your bike to the bike-wash crew, are handed a wet, cool towel as you step into the recovery zone to relax, drink a recovery shake, eat and reload. Everything at the rider’s village is top notch: your tent is set up, the food is tasty and plentiful, Wi-Fi is quick and the usual bane of the racer’s existence, the porta-potties, are literally four-star spotless.
2017 Absa Cape Epic: 19–26 March; cape-epic.com