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Kiwis look back on toughest mountain bike race in the world

The Absa Cape Epic is without question the pinnacle in mountain bike stage racing, the event that sits at the top of the Cape Epic Series and is aspired to by riders all over the world. Known as the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race, untamed in the sense that you cannot control it, you cannot dominate it and you most certainly cannot underestimate how tough the 650km of riding and 15,000m of climbing in a variety of weather conditions will be.

This past eight days though has seen a number of New Zealanders add this amazing event to their CV’s, with two of them joining an exclusive club (only ten riders worldwide including this year) of those to have ridden all three Epic Series events – the Pioneer in New Zealand, the Swiss Epic in Switzerland, and now the Epic in Africa.

Shaun Portegys and Tim O’Leary arrived in Africa as Grand Master Championship at the Pioneer, and can look back on a hugely successful week, finishing 6th on the General Classification, their podium hopes dashed by an hour of delays due to machinal issues earlier in the week.

The Central Otago combination riding as Team Progressive Livestock were hugely proud of what has been an amazing and tough week.

“I can’t believe the start to the week we had, the first three days were just amazing, it was beyond our dreams to be on the podium with the superstars and legends of mountain bike riding, in particular Bart (1996 Olympic gold medalist Bart Brentjens), it is hard to believe a couple of guys from New Zealand were mixing it in that company,” said Portegys.

“It is a tough week, you just have to keep going, it is harder than the Pioneer, it is a tough ride,” said O’Leary. “It was dry, dusty, and hot for the last few days. It is however a great achievement, that is what we are here for, it will sink in over the next few days.”

Portegys urges other riders to start training and get their entries in for the Pioneer and perhaps follow their pathway through to the Absa Cape Epic.

“If you can knock the Pioneer off that is a great starting point and then maybe come to the Olympics of mountain bike stage racing here at the Cape Epic.”

Alexander Donaldson went through highs and lows to earn his EPIC LEGEND medal, the UK based Kiwi lost his riding partner to a serious shoulder injury mid-week and becomes one of just ten riders to have completed the Pioneer, Swiss Epic and now the Cape Epic.

“This is amazing, what an awesome mountain bike race. To get here and see the manicured lawns and riding through the vineyards, it is just an Epic event to use a cliché. This week has gone so quick, I did one Instagram post and here we are one week later.

“The priority when Gavin was injured was to make sure he was okay and then get to the finish. Bike racing is bike racing, there is no point racing for 80th, we are here to enjoy it and if I can get an EPIC medal as a result, that is the cherry on top.”

Kylie Burrows just continues to amaze, not only did she become the tenth member of the EPIC LEGENDS club with completion of the Swiss Epic, Pioneer and now Cape Epic, she has also come through a battle with breast cancer that took her away from riding for 18th months.

Burrows was a mix of exhausted and elated when crossing the line with over an hour to spare from the cut-off time on today’s final stage, with riding partner Sarah Kaehler (AUS), in the Cable Logging Geraldine team.

“Yes, I am going to have a very special medal, thank god I got to the line, that was the main thing today, stay on to the finish and get that medal!”

“Mentally it was really tough, but we were lucky again with the guys riding around us, they were cheering us on and supporting us. The last three days especially for me it was a mental game more than physical.

Burrows is already thinking of her next event though.

“I guess we will have a week off and then get into training for The Pioneer, let’s move on to that one!”

Aussie Kaehler said her job today was to keep Burrows focused, especially on the dangerous descents.

“My job today was to control the pace on the descents and at times because at this stage of the race you are just mentally fatigued, we love the descents but it was so churned it was like powder and you can’t see the rocks and I said to Kylie ‘just back off’, we need to get to the end.”

Peter Craig is these days based in Cairns, but proudly wore the New Zealand flag as he rode the eight days with good mate Mark Knowles (AUS) in team Seeded Wheels.

“It has been such a hectic eight days and I have to say without my partner Mark, it would have been so much harder, we have had an absolute ball. It is the longest mountain bike race I have ever done, it was tough,” said Peter.

“You need to do the training, have a strong mindset and focus on the end game. We are now looking forward to the Pioneer back in New Zealand later in the year, we will be there with bells on.”

Riders can experience the same thrill and challenge at the Absa Cape Epic 2020, with guaranteed entries up for grabs at the 2019 Pioneer, to be held 1st to the 6th December. Category winners and lottery winners earn guaranteed starts at the Cape Epic, enter now for the 2019 Pioneer at www.thepioneer.co.nz


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