While some might say that marathon stage races around the world have got a little softer… few would suggest that about the ABSA Cape Epic.
After the Prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate the riders, crew and supporters will transfer to Hermanus for the first major camp of the race in the coastal town since 2008. In the intervening years the area has been turned into something of a mountain biking mecca, with a network of trails snaking across the nearby hills and valleys. A week later the event will finish for the first time at the renowned Val de Vie Estate near Franschhoek.
“It is going to be a special ride this year,” said race director Kati Csak. “The riding around Hermanus is a lot of fun – with some tough climbs – and the new Grand Finale venue at Val de Vie is going to be spectacular. As always, the route will test both the skills and the stamina of the riders.”
The 2017 route will take riders through 691 km of Western Cape countryside and up a lot of hills, about 15400m of climbing all told.
Stage by stage for the 2017 ABSA Cape Epic
Prologue – Meerendal Wine Estate – 26km, 750m climbing
The Prologue route includes spectacular views of some world famous landmarks – across Table Bay to the iconic Table Mountain, with Robben Island nestled in the sparkling sea in the foreground. But riders will not be afforded much opportunity to enjoy them: the best viewing point follows a lung-busting climb up Meerendal’s notorious Stairway to Heaven to the top of the Dorstberg. All that hard work takes place in the opening sequences of the Prologue and is followed by some testing ups and downs on Hoogekraal’s highly regarded trails before turning back to Meerendal via some steep vineyards, dairy fields and a burst of singletrack.
Stage 1: Hermanus-Hermanus – Distance: 101km – 2 300m climbing
Hermanus is traditionally associated with whales and wine, but it is increasingly becoming a place where mountain bikers can enjoy their sport on the ever-growing local trail network. The 2017 Absa Cape Epic’s opening stage will give riders a sample of all that is best about the beautiful seaside town and its surrounds. Soon after the start the route heads up Rotary Way and along the spine of the mountain before dipping down into the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Then it is up the Nine One One Climb and some ups and downs along the flanks and stunning wine farms of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Once they have reached Tesselaarsdal they will confront the rugged climb and descent known as the Haarkappers Roete – named after the barber who regularly walked over the Klein River Mountains in the 1950s to cut hair in Stanford. From the bottom of the tricky descent the route turns back towards Hermanus and riders will finish the day with a fun spin along the town’s urban assault mountain biking section.
Stage 2: Hermanus-Greyton – Distance: 102km – 2 350m climbing
Stage 2 takes riders north to a new race village in quaint Greyton, with some fierce climbs along the way. Before long riders will get acquainted with the day’s biggest challenge: Shaw’s Pass. It is only four kilometres but gains more than 220m in altitude and on one section the gradient kicks up more than 20%. Later they will confront some other testing climbs either side of the Caledon Kloof and in the mountains looming above Greyton. There will, however, be relief during the day with some stunning singletrack sections through beautiful fynbos. And finally riders will cross the day’s last ridge and drop down to the race village at Elandskloof. Bird lovers will enjoy sightings of elegant Blue Cranes – South Africa’s national bird – along the route as it heads inland.
Stage 3: Greyton-Greyton – Distance: 78km – 1 650m climbing
After two rugged days riders will get to enjoy a shorter stage and the mountain biking delights of Greyton. After a country meander that takes riders through nearby Bereaville and Genadendal, it is straight into a series of climbs including Mad Dog Bite, Zig Zag and the UFO – the latter so named because of the strange UFO-like building perched on the hilltop. But what goes up must go down, which means some thrilling descents and great, rugged singletrack. Be warned though: the trails are rugged and many a sharp rock lies in wait.
Stage 4: Greyton-Elgin – Distance: 112km – 2 150m climbing
The transition between two of the Western Cape’s most sought after holiday getaways takes riders on many ups and downs, and a burst of singletrack. It is rolling hills from the moment you leave Greyton and riders will approach one particular climb with apprehension: it’s called Pumping Legs for good reason, and as you approach it seems like the road heads up straight into the sky. Later they will cut through the Klipheuwel-Dassiefontein Wind Energy Facility near Caledon, where they can marvel at the 100m high wind turbines with their 58m blades. On the way to the new race village at Oak Valley they will head up the old Houw Hoek Pass (constructed in 1904 and also known as the River Pass because it follows the course of the Jakkals River).
Stage 5: Elgin-Elgin – Distance: 84km – Altitude gain: 2 100m
There’s always a fun day at the Absa Cape Epic, and barring bad weather this should be it. First there are a few climbs to negotiate, including the legendary Nuweberg from the east side. A couple more climbs and tricky descents as the course weaves across the hills above Grabouw and then riders will be in singletrack heaven. They will do most of the A-to-Z trail network above the Elgin/Grabouw Country Club and around the Eikenhof Dam and then enjoy the renowned trails on Paul Cluver Estate and Oak Valley as they head back to the race village.
Stage 6: Elgin-Elgin – Distance: 103km – 2 750m climbing
When veterans of the Absa Cape Epic were asked about the toughest climb ever in the event their response was unanimous: Groenlandberg. In 2017 the route returns to the rugged track which rises more than 600m along nine kilometres of rocky, sandy climbing – the average gradient is seven percent but one or two sections tilt up more than 20%.
That confrontation with the race’s most notorious climb comes 20km into the route’s Queen Stage. Then it is more rocky trail across the back of the Groenlandberg, another tough climb, a bump or two and then under the N2. Now it is time to explore the south side of the Grabouw district. Riders will loop through the Kogelberg Nature Reserve – one of 400 unique biosphere reserves in the world – and private farmland before heading back under the N2 via Lebanon’s flowing singletrack.
Stage 7: Elgin-Val de Vie – Distance: 85km – 1 350m climbing
In 2017 the Absa Cape Epic finishes for the first time at Val de Vie and its renowned polo fields – the fourth host for the Grand Finale in the race’s 14 editions. After leaving Oak Valley the finish is just 85km away and the riders have the least climbing to do on any day of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. They will, however, be well advised to keep some energy in hand for the climb up the Franschhoek Pass after about 40km. That seven kilometre haul rises nearly 400m, marking the last major climb of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. Then it is through some twists and turns around Franschhoek and finally the Grand Finale finish line – and the much sought after finisher’s shirt – awaits at Val de Vie.