• After discontent about many gravel roads and lack of real trails, the Cape Epic organisers have struck back with a phenomenal 2019 race route.
  • It takes in some of the very best South African mountain biking available, routing from the Hemel and Aarde valley through to Elgin and then Stellenbosch.
  • The 2019 Epic will combine classic South African mountain bike trails and some secretive new builds.

It’s expensive: R82,900 per team. It’s not easy: last year almost a fifth of the competitors didn’t finish. And you have to sleep in a tent and share showers for a week. But the Cape Epic is world renowned. Six months out from its first stage, organisers have released the 2019 route details and it has the making of a true, well, epic.

Celebrated for its testing nature, the Cape Epic’s 16th edition will cover 624 kilometres and total 16,650 metres of climbing. That equates to nearly riding up two Table Mountains per day, for a week. The Table Mountain reference is entirely appropriate as the race will start with a time trial prologue stage on the Mother City’s famous geological feature, batching the 650 teams of two into their respective starting order.

The race route is broadly a navigation from Hermanus to the Val de Vie estate outside Paarl, via Elgin and Stellenbosch.

Hermanus saw record temperatures for the 2017 Cape Epic and some of the worst single day attrition in the event’s history. Be warned. But also be pleased, because this race route is the best example of real mountain biking the Epic has ever composed for a race.

Experienced mountain bikers will recognise half of this as effectively being the Wines2Wales route in reverse, with an additional few days of lapping Stellenbosch’s famous mountain bike trails adding the distance.

The penultimate stage even includes a run down Stellenbosch’s famous G-Spot trail, which should be worth spectating.

The G-Spot. And that means gravity-trail in case you were wondering (image: @gspottrail)

See also: Inside SA’s craziest mountain bike race: Only one gear allowed and beer is obligatory

Each year the Cape Epic organisers manage to add some challenging features, made to test (or break) the resolve of those many amateurs who share the field with professional riders. Next year will be no different with a cryptic reference to "sand" from the route management.

(Cape Epic)

Every Cape Epic route has a Queen’s stage, the day which is ranked as most challenging by organisers and stage 5 carries that dubious honour for 2019. The distance calculates to exactly 100km, with a profile tallying 2,850m of climbing, taking riders from Elgin to Stellenbosch. By comparison, this year’s Queen’s stage was 13km longer but had 1,050m less climbing.

Next year you have to ride a bit less, but climb a Table Mountain more, comparatively. Like we said: 2019 won’t be easy.

This won't be one for the 'gravel grinders' - a derogatory term used by real mountain bikers, referring to people who are fit, but can’t really ride.

Stage 5 will climb the legendary A-to-Z trails of Grabouw, which eventually crest above Sir Lowry’s pass, before an enforced portage down the old ox wagon trail into the Helderberg basin. This is a reversal of the first day of Wines2Wales and without any tree cover, it can become cruelly hot. Carrying bikes down the steep ox wagon rock chute, with legs weary from four days of punishing riding, will be a very unwelcome prospect for the all riders.

As long lines form during the portage, patience will be tested, and an accidental fall whilst walking down the steep terrain could incur a race ending injury without even riding your bike. Try explaining that to sponsors or social media followers.

Riders can find tent-village living a touch beyond their comfort zone, especially when overnight bivouacs are in venues exposed to sand and wind – two elements the Western Cape has in abundance towards the end of any summer. For 2019, those fears are greatly allayed as the Epic will overnight three times on the pristine fields of Elgin’s Oak Valley, one of the most tranquil places imaginable to recover from a brutal day of riding.

Organisers aren’t giving out finisher’s medals for free on the final day either. The last stage will be 70km, climbing 1,800m, linking Stellenbosch to Val de Vie and it quite fittingly routes through Jonkershoek – inarguably the best mountain bike trail network in South Africa.

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