Is the Absa Cape Epic the world’s most arduous multi-day stage race? The answer to that question is a simple and emphatic yes. Ask any one of the 1,200 racers in 600 two-person teams, or the thousands of support crew staff, the medics, the marshals, or the event’s route director Dr Evil, and all will reply that this ninth iteration of the Absa Cape Epic was the toughest such race yet.
Who can argue with figures? A total of 781km over eight days with climbing twice that of the height of the world’s highest peak, Mt Everest, at over 16,000m? Overall winners, category winners and amateur MTBers battled for mere seconds and minutes in this year’s edition, and impressively this field of racers was also the most competitive and determined yet as only 12 percent of entrants retired from the race… Also for the 2012 Absa Cape Epic, the world’s biggest bicycle manufacturers were represented by their win-hungry professional racers and supported by armies of mechanics with tons of spare parts including skunk-works trick bits added to factory race-prepared bikes. With camera flashes, video cameras and microphones poking into the faces of the world’s elite racers (made up of former marathon world champions, Olympic gold medal XCO winners, UCI World MTB XCO champions and national champions the world over), the ambiance at the race village before and after each day’s action was palpable. From the first pedal stroke to the last, every ounce of energy was poured out from the racer tucked in behind the handlebar. There was no quarter given: racing was fast, fierce and fearless.
Enter the underdogs. Two professional teams, two aims and with shared one desire. Team FedGroup – ITEC Connect and Team Robert Daniel Momsen were armed with 29er carbon-framed race weapons from an SA Bike Company. Momsen Bikes design and develop a range of bicycles from their Port Elizabeth headquarters that have shaken up the South African bicycle market with their competitive pricing, their confidence-inspiring rides and no-frills, just-thrills attitude.
Development and testing of bikes and parts plays a massive role in the success of a bike brand, and Momsen Bikes has already established a name for itself in the South African marketplace for this. The rewards are tangible: race-winning frame geometries, coupled with careful parts selection and most importantly, return customers.
The teams were on board the 2012 Momsen SL929’s as well as testing a 2013 Carbon 29er in Prototype Form. The SL929 already race-proven in the SA market, is now officially ‘Epic-proof ‘ whilst the 2013 Prototype 29er excelled in the tough Epic conditions – this now tested and proven in the biggest MTB stage race in the world. On 01 April, after the gruelling race was completed, the winners’ champagne was uncorked, the medals handed out, the millions of Rands worth of bicycles were packed away, and all were sleeping after eight days of racing, Momsen Bikes celebrated: Ten Four. Reward for the countless hours of work, perseverance, sweat, tears and blood from its racers and staff, Momsen Bikes travelled back to Port Elizabeth with its TENTH place overall result and FOUR stage wins. Our Ten Four Epic celebration is one for all of South Africa. “Inspired By The Mountain” is not just a Momsen Bikes slogan, but it is the DNA evident in every bike we sell.
Team FedGroup – ITEC Connect’s Brandon Stewart and Jacques Rossouw pedalled their 2013 prototype Momsen 29er carbon weapons to tenth place overall in the General Classification and a solid third place in the Absa African Category. This pairing who are concentrating on the MTN National MTB Series, the biggest such in marathon racing in the world, did their sponsors, fans and families proud with their string of top ten stage results.
Gaining in speed as the event progressed, this team muscled their way to the front of the field on Stage Three (the longest in the event’s history at 143km) for 85km before being reeled in by the high-speed chasing peloton on the final climb of the day.
With attention focused on the top three on the final stage of the 2012 Absa Cape Epic’s 64km route, Stewart and Rossouw dug deep to power an unprecedented 19 minutes into their closest rivals leads. This massive effort ensured a solid 10th Overall in the General Classification, thrilling South African cycling and netting Momsen Bikes the highest 2012 finish result for a South African bike company.
“After a frustrating start to the event we had a great finish,” said Team FedGroup – ITEC Connect team owner Brandon Stewart. “Jacques and I rode as hard as we could, and we fought every kilometer of the every stage. “We couldn’t have done any of this without the amazing support, encouragement and hard work of our crew, and my wife Bridgette was once again a pillar of strength as team manager. Throughout the stages, our 2013 Momsen Prototype 29er Carbon bikes were perfect, perfect, perfect.
“This was the fastest Absa Cape Epic I have ever done,” continued Stewart, who is one of only a handful of riders to claim he has finished all nine Cape Epic races to date. “We raced flat-out every day. All the riders were so very focused, that every stage was like a sprint. It was a hard fight to this finish. We never gave a moment’s worry about our Momsen Bikes: these bikes just take all the abuse and ask to be raced even harder the next day. This prototype will be a winner for the brand, for sure. We really tested the bikes this week, and I must say this bike is just something special.”
Robert Sim and Nico Pfitzenmaier made up Team Robert Daniel Momsen. This pairing were regarded by race organisers as one of the favourites to claim the highly competitive Telkom Business Masters’ Category winners’ jersey in this year’s edition. And, Sim and German professional XTERRA athlete Pfitzenmaier delivered on their pre-race billing to lead the category from the Prologue and edged out a 45-minute advantage over their rivals in only four days of racing on their SL929 Team Issue machines.
Sim and Pfitzenmaier mixed it with the General Classification’s leading teams throughout their race, proving that despite their 40-something ages these racers were as driven as their younger competitors. Team Robert Daniel Momsen swept past their rivals on the technical descents and climbs, out rode their competitors when singletracks became near-passable and showed their mastery in tactics in the hot and humid conditions.
Nico Pfitzenmaier praised the SL929 for the frame’s race geometry. This professional racer and his team-mate Robert Sim were quicker than most of the international professional elite MTBers with full suspension 29ers on the technical ups and downs of the stages.
“Our Momsen Bikes are working perfectly, and the 29er hardtail really is suited to these technical conditions,” said Pfitzenmaier. “Our bikes are going so well, they are amazing.”
Sim commented on the bikes:
“Nico and I are good on the technical sections, and we are quicker than most of the professional teams. Our bikes are perfect; they power so strongly on the technical ups and downs.”
Four category stage wins were hard-earned, as was the pairings healthy lead. But, the Absa Cape Epic is not the world’s toughest race for no reason. While leading their category, and riding amongst the stage’s top 20 teams, Pfitzenmaier crashed heavily on Stage Five. Torrential rain transformed the already slippery muddy surfaces into treacherous tracks, and a number of teams waved a white flag of surrender as the adverse weather conditions broke their spirits and forced them into being mere spectators for the remainder of the event.
Lying dazed and bleeding in the rain and mud, and with his core body temperature quickly dropping, Pfitzenmaier stood up and mounted his bike to continue the stage. Plucking the energy from his reserves, Pfitzenmaier was helped to the finish line by team-mate Sim. But, the ever-competitive Pfitzenmaier saw his team’s lead erode away as team after team passed by. Upon reaching the finish line of Stage Five, Pfitzenmaier was rushed to hospital for treatment.
With 20 stitches to his knee, two deep gashes on his leg, several damaged and bruised muscles, Pfitzenmaier was sadly forced to retire from the event. Sim continued in the final two stages of the race as an “Outcast” – a solo racer – but their effort as a team in the preceding four stages was not for nought. Team Robert Daniel Momsen’s four stage category wins will long be remembered and celebrated.