19-26 March 2017
The Absa Cape Epic is an annual, grueling 8 day mountain bike stage race taking place in South Africa. It is known as the “Tour de France of Mountain Biking”, and the only eight-day mountain bike stage race classed as hors catégorie by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Silverback takes part in the Cape Epic with OMX Pro Bike Team racing over roughly 700km across 8 days.
Read more below about the race and how we & OMX took on the best in the world during our 2017 campaign.
THE RACE & CAMPAIGN
The Western Cape in South Africa is the perfect location for the Cape Epic. Unspoiled nature serves as a dramatic backdrop for the riders. The terrain is tough, as is the weather. Ranging from very cold and wet, to hot and dry, the race tests participants to their limits. It is not uncommon for stages to be shortened due to adverse conditions. The safety of the riders are paramount after all. Throughout all this beautiful, and dangerous, conditions Silverback and OMX push the limits in the pursuit of glory.
Months of preparation are finally about to be put to the ultimate test. Our 2017 Absa Cape Epic begins at 10:23.45 on Sunday, setting in motion eight days of intense racing, mental grit and unparalleled attention from the World’s media.
It is a race that has captured our hearts and drawn us in, and after great success in 2015 and 2016 we are ready to push further and make an even bigger impact on one of the World’s biggest races in 2017.
This year OMX Pro Team have two teams racing the Cape Epic: Martin Gluth has partnered up with Julian Schelb to form Silverback OMX, and our two National Champions, Annie Last and Mariske Strauss, will ride together as Hansgrohe-Cadence Nutrition OMX.
All riders will be aboard the Silverback Sesta. Silverback are extremely passionate about the Cape Epic, and the Silverback Sesta Superbike was created and developed alongside OMX at this very race. It is the perfect bike for the job, and with the upgraded Sram Eagle drivetrain these bikes are set to shine! With Silverback we know we have a fully committed and dedicated team who will be behind our teams’ every pedal stroke.
The oldest OMX rider at this year’s Epic is just 26, but whilst we may have young teams, we do have experience of this unique race, and a really strong support team. Of course, the riders are also World-class and no stranger to suffering. The shorter, more cross-country style stages will suit Annie, Mariske, Martin and Julian better, and we will push for podium places when these days and good legs coincide. But, just as it is billed, this is the untamed African race that can throw so many variables at you. What can be assured, is that OMX will fight everyday for the best results possible.
Cape Epic 2017 covers 691 kilometres and 15400 metres of vertical ascent across South Africa’s Western Cape region, starting in Meerendal on 19th March and finishing in Val di Vie on 26th March. It will be, as ever, a battle of physical power and endurance, mental steel, preparation and dedication. It is an ultimate test of any athlete. We’ll make battle with our competitors, with the route, and with ourselves in a bid for glory.
It is brutal but it is beautiful, and that is why we return with excitement, anticipation and, of course, some nerves!
Prologue – 2017
Our 2017 Cape Epic started in both the best and worst ways…
Riding as Hansgrohe-CadenceNutrition OMX, Annie Last and Mariske Strauss got OMX racing underway with a storming Prologue ride. They set the fastest women’s pairs time on course at each of the three check points along the twenty-six kilometre course. On a blisteringly hot Cape Town day, Annie and Mariske rode a sensible but strong race, testing their compatibility with good communication and testing their legs with an aggressive final few kilometres. Mariske explains:
“It was a great start. We are happy with how it worked out. The plan was to open the taps slowly and finish strong, and that worked well. We caught the team who went out a minute ahead of us near to the finish and that gave us a real incentive to push hard for the finish. Annie was a machine today and it was really special to share a podium with her.”
After setting the fastest times on course, the Hansgrohe-Cadence Nutrition OMX pairing were topped by just two teams, the hugely experienced Team Ascendis Health of Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot, and the Meerendal CBC team of Esther Suss and Jennie Stenerhag. Annie and Mariske finished third and started their Epic week with a brilliant podium, in front of the cheering crowds and the beautiful backdrop of Meerendal Wine Estate. For Annie, it was a great introduction to the race:
“I really enjoyed my first Epic experience! It was a great course and atmosphere. It’s good to get the Prologue in the bag and I’m looking forward to Stage 1 tomorrow.”
The Men’s team of Martin Gluth and Julian Schelb rolled down the start ramp and got their Cape Epic underway just as the Ladies finished their race. The Silverback OMX pairing looked in fine form as they settled into the short but incredibly intense Prologue course. Unfortunately things took a bad turn when the midday heat, which was pushing up to forty degrees centigrade, began to really take its toll on Julian. With his body temperature reaching the outside temperature he passed out on the bike and crashed. Julian was immediately seen by medics who got him off the course on into the on-site medical clinic, from where he was transferred to hospital. Thankfully his temperature was brought under control quickly and we are delighted to say that he is doing okay.
Stage 1 – 2017
Another day, another podium for Hansgrohe-Cadence Nutrition OMX! Meanwhile, Martin rode on as an Outcast (or ‘Outlaw’ as he has been dubbed!) and ripped it up amongst the Elite teams on his own!
After the drama of yesterday and our thoughts all with Julian in hospital, we are extra proud that today our ladies team could perform perfectly once again, and Martin could showcase Silverback OMX in fine style.
With the first of the classic long and dusty Cape Epic stages, Mariske and Annie rode like seasoned campaigners. The partnership between these two cross-country specialists started strongly and is developing each day; their communication and understanding of each other is really impressive given that this is the first time they have raced together, and that it is Annie’s first Cape Epic. After five hours and twenty minutes on another hot South Africa day, the pair crossed the line covered in sweat and dust but wearing brilliant, big smiles. They retain their third place in General Classification. Annie sums up the day:
“It worked really well again with me and Mariske. We both had times where we felt really good, and others where we felt it but we looked after each other and could finish in third place. It’s lovely to be on the podium again. I think the bunch of flowers was heavier today…or maybe we were just more tired!”
The support for our riders out on course was first class today. As South African Champion, Mariske is well-known to many and can’t go far without being supported. She says,
“Thanks to everyone out there that was screaming and motivating us along, it makes the kilometres ticker a bit faster!”
Equally, as an Outcast, Martin was really touched by the amount of support he received from spectators and fellow riders alike, many of whom asked after Julian. Today Martin wanted to test his form and really race the stage. He started in the group five minutes behind the Elites (riders are set off at time intervals dependent on their position in the race) and soon found himself clear of anyone and chasing for the front group. Despite all this time working alone in wind, he managed to make his way through many of the Elite teams and incredibly finish as 19th ‘team’ home. He is absolutely flying!
“It’s not ideal to be an Outcast, especially this early on, but it was fun today. I tried to catch as many teams as possible – I was racing but not hurting myself too much. I have good shape and that’s what I wanted to see today. Tomorrow maybe I will take it a bit easier and be clever with my training.”
Of course, Martin would love to be racing alongside his partner, Julian. The good news is that Julian was picked up from hospital this evening and is doing really well. He’s already thinking ahead to “#capeepic2018”!
Stage 2 – 2017
It was a savage day in the sun for Annie Last, but team work kept the result strong. Martin was once again the first Outcast to finish.
With extreme heat and high humidity forecast for the day, the Cape Epic team took the unprecedented decision to shorten the stage and have it finish at Water Point 2 at sixty-two kilometres. Still, a Cape Epic stage is always tough, with every day and every minute counting towards the final General Classification.
Annie Last and Mariske Strauss were at the sharp end of the race at it headed out into the dawn. For much of the early part of the stage the top five teams were wheel to wheel, but as the day pressed on and the heat crept up Annie began to suffer. She talks us through the day,
“It was a tough race for me. It was not a bad call to shorten the stage, it was a really hot day and also humid. Me and Mariske stuck to the same plan as previous day – sixty-two kilometres is still going to be a tough day and we wanted to see how we went and maximise what we had. Unfortunately at about forty mins in I started to feel not so good – maybe it was the heat. I struggled to keep down water and food so I went through a pretty rough patch then and again towards the back end of the race because I didn’t have the nutrients I needed. Mariske really looked after me, she did an amazing job getting me through the stage by handing me water when I needed it and pacing me when my batteries were flat. I feel a lot better now. I have had some food and sleep and I’m looking forward to tomorrow and seeing what we can do.”
Team work is so key to success at Cape Epic. It is a new challenge for our cross-country riders to adapt to, but part of what makes the OMX team so special is the fantastic relationships that the riders have with each other. With good communication and a good friendship, the Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition ladies could manage their situation and get through the day in the best possible way. Mariske reports,
“I felt surprisingly good, but Annie was taking some knocks so we just kept it consistent and got home in one piece. I shared bottles and did my best to look after my partner. I know what it’s like to suffer at Cape Epic!”
Annie was evidently struggling as she crossed the line, but the first thing she did was to thank Mariske for getting her through, and the two shared a hug and a joke. Together they still managed a fine fifth place, despite the struggle, and retained their third place in the General Classification.
Despite being part of Cape Epic as an Outcast rider, Martin is still representing us in the best way possible and showing some seriously good form. Here’s his update on the day,
“For me it was more a ride than a race. I started in group C so there was no point to go full gas when you have to pass a lot of riders. I spoke to my coach last night and we decided that I should go at endurance speed and keep a check on my heart rate and power, and then do some efforts during the stage. It was good training and good fun. I enjoyed the ride and the scenery!”
Annie, Mariske and Martin are all now massaged, fed and watered, and ready for a big sleep ahead of Stage three.
Stage 3 – 2017
Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition made it three podiums from four stages with another superb demonstration that ‘team work makes the dream work’!
Stage Three took the riders on a seventy-eight kilometre loop from Greyton, over some classic Cape Epic terrain and through another hot and dusty day. Four days into the Cape Epic and it could be reasonably expected that the will, and the ability, to race full gas would be wearing off. Not so. Annie Last and Mariske Strauss put everything in and came out with third place.
Through Water Points One and Two, the Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition ladies were together with the leading two teams. By Water Point Three, at fifty-three kilometres, Annie and Mariske had just dropped off the pace but only by twenty seconds. Mariske rode straight through the Water Point to keep contact with the leaders whilst Annie stopped, refuelled for them both, and then rode back up to Mariske. At the finish line, the team staff nervously followed the race updates as the pair headed towards the finish and another possible podium.
The final twenty kilometres took their toll on Mariske who, following an amazing work rate yesterday, struggled to keep the pace. She explains,
“Today was a tough day on the bike for me. Yesterday’s effort was biting me but Annie was great. My tummy was a bit upset and I could hardly eat but it seems fine now.”
Amazingly, the ladies rode home to third place and more podium flowers! Plus, they put more time into the teams behind them to further secure their third place in the General Classification. After a bad day in the office yesterday, Annie bounced back to return the favour to her team mate and get Mariske through the stage as best as possible.
“The race was much better for me today. I felt good and there was lots of really nice single track which made for a good course. Mariske suffered a bit today but we worked well together and managed to keep the leaders in sight until late in the stage. Mariske had to look after the animals (which, pre-Epic, I said was part of her job description). Luckily nothing too South African, just some sheep and horses on the track, but she did her job well! Very happy to be on the podium again and keep third place overall.”
With the ladies on three third place finishes, Martin also collected his third day of ‘first Outcast to the finish’. He is training well and enjoying some great single trails and the Cape Epic vibe.
As the riders re-fuel and recover with Cadence Nutrition and more food than you would think possible for such slim people to eat, the staff are working incredibly hard each day to get the bikes and the riders perfectly prepped for the following day of racing. Think of them stumbling about with a head torch in the early mornings and late nights!
Stage 4 – 2017
What a day! Our best finish yet at the 2017 Cape Epic.
Mariske Strauss and Annie Last were delighted to cross the finish line in second place today. After a slow start to the day, the Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition pair really got stuck into the race, set the pace and made it count in the final, gruelling, twenty kilometres.
It was, finally, a cooler day in the Western Cape, with early morning mist and a grey sky for much of the early stage. However, the outlook was bright – it can’t fail to be with Mariske around! In high spirits and with a growing confidence, our ladies led the race out of Greyton and onto the 112 kilometre course to Elgin. Annie explains how the day panned out,
“It was a nice point to point today, and a bit cooler which was a relief. The course was rolling for the first eighty kilometres so the race stayed together. By the time we got to the single track the lead group was down to eight riders. In the last twenty kilometres there was a big climb, then eight kilometres to finish. When we hit the climb we hit the sand! It was really tough at the bottom of the climb and that’s where the race split. Ascendis punctured, Meerendal pulled away and we rode hard in second place. It was a good day out and we are really happy to take second place.”
Mariske said she felt like it took a long time for the race to get going, so at fifty kilometres she went to the front and drove hard to whittle down the bunch to the main contenders. From there it was time to gun it for home.
“I picked up the pace at fifty kilometres to try and get rid of some of the fluff and thin out the bunch. Annie was a monster again today and we raced super hard in the final stages to take second place. Woohooo! It’s a great feeling and I’m really happy to share the adventure with Annie.”
Finish line hugs were extra big today, and the whole team are really proud of this result. Martin shows just what the team spirit is like,
“It depends on the stage profile and the type of trails as to when I catch the women’s bunch. Today it was already after fifty minutes because it was really fast and flat in the beginning and no one in the women’s group wanted to work. I switched on the 360 degrees camera that I’m riding with and told Annie and Mariske to wave – was a fun moment in the stage! Today they did a really good job, keeping calm in the beginning of the stage and being ready to dig deep when the pace was getting faster, and they got rewarded with a second place finish. It’s always nice when they finish on the podium and we have the whole team together at dinner with wine before the presentation.”
Cape Epic is over half way now and we can’t wait to see what the final three stages bring!
Stage 5 – 2017
Stage racing brings so many sensations, emotions and daily differences. Whilst yesterday brought Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition their best result yet, today was a suffer fest. What makes Annie Last and Mariske Strauss such incredible athletes, is that on a day when things go badly, they still race to fifth place on the stage and retain their third place in General Classification.
Stage five was billed as the ‘fun stage’ of this year’s Cape Epic, and all talk was of how it would suit the cross country specialists. Unfortunately, the day that promised the most for us, coincided with a day that Mariske’s legs didn’t join the party! She explains,
“Annie was amazing today but I just went backwards from the first climb! I misplaced my legs…definitely didn’t have them on course. But that’s part of racing. I’ve had a lovely massage, a gorgeous piece of fillet steak and a nap and now I’m ready to go again! It’s the last seriously tough day tomorrow, and then we are almost home.”
The Cape Epic is not just about how good your legs are, it’s about how well you recover and how you are able to deal with the mental challenges. Annie and Mariske are not going to bed tonight mulling over a ‘bad’ day, they are looking forward to getting out there tomorrow and having a good day together. Annie is really positive,
“It was a tough day but we worked so well together as a team. There was lots of lovely single tracks, as well as a couple of really tough climbs in there as well, but altogether it was a really nice stage. We are well over the half way mark now which is good for the head. I’m enjoying the race and the team atmosphere, and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Martin is still doing his thing as the fastest Outcast. It’s crazy to see just how fast, and seemingly effortlessly, that he passes riders as he makes his way towards the front of the race from his Batch C start. He is in great form and high spirits, and is being a brilliant ambassador for Silverback with a great deal of media work.
It is indicative of our successful Cape Epic campaign so far, that a fifth place finish denotes a day where one of the ladies struggled! We are incredibly proud.
Tomorrow the Queen Stage – 103 kilometres and 2750 meters of vertical ascent. It’s going to be Epic!
Stage 6 – 2017
A stunning stage win for Annie Last and Mariske Strauss on the Queen Stage of the 2017 Cape Epic.
The Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition pair set out more to defend their third place in General Classification than to push for a stage result, however they took their opportunity when it presented itself. Having lost her legs yesterday, Mariske was back firing on all cylinders today, and the smile was bigger than ever!
“What an amazing day! Today the plan was actually just to stick with Team Spur and not lose any more time in the overall. We stuck with the front teams up to Groenlandberg, after which we dropped Spur and then decided to settle into our own rhythm and do our own thing. Then at about 60km we caught up with Team Ascendis and made sure we got into the single track first. We made a gap and then after the next Water Point we heard that Sabine had broken her handlebar. We cracked on and caught Meerendal with 14km to go. I took a gel and we pushed hard to the end. And…WINNERS!!”
It was with a lot – A LOT – of nervous tension that OMX staff gathered at the finish line in beautiful Oak Valley to see the conclusion to the race. With information from out on course that the ladies had moved into second, and then caught up to first, it was anxious times to see if they would swing round the corner to the finish line in first or second position. For twelve kilometres it looked as though it would be a sprint for the line, but as the race closed in on Oak Valley, daylight was beginning to appear between the two teams. Whilst the OMX ladies looked strong and consistent, there was some signs of fatigue from Meerendal. That said, the Meerendal CBC team of Esther Suss and Jennie Stenerhag are strong and experienced Cape Epic campaigners and nothing could begin to be certain until the final kilometre when the fast single tracks finally snapped the elastic for Meerendal and Annie and Mariske pulled convincingly clear.
It was a very special moment as Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition took the stage victory, with the whole Cape Epic team there to welcome them in and celebrate. There were a lot of big grins, hugs, and even a surreptitious tear or two!
Annie, in her first Cape Epic, is absolutely loving the experience, and is delighted with a stage win.
“I’m really happy! We lost touch to the first two teams – Meerendal and Ascendis – on the Groenlandberg climb but we paced it really well all the way. The trails and climbs were good today and it’s amazing to get the stage win. Perfect all round!”
With their win today, and the bad luck of Team Ascenis, Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition move into second place on General Classification with a twelve minute advantage to third. The Finale is coming up tomorrow – Annie and Mariske will once again balance a defence of their overall position with the opportunity to take stage honours. Don’t miss it, live on cape-epic.com.
Martin Gluth finished another solid day of racing as an Outcast, and waited at the finish to welcome his winning team mates home.
We are incredibly proud of Annie and Mariske for today’s result. It comes not only from strong legs, but from clever and determined minds, and pure passion. It was one of those days that the team will never forget!
What a moment, what a ride!
Stage 7 – 2017
This morning Annie, Mariske and Martin rolled out onto the final stage of this Epic journey.
Before they could dream of champagne and celebrations, there was the small matter of eighty-five kilometres of racing ahead of them. Annie Last and Mariske Strauss had a second place in General Classification to defend, as well as a chance to take another stage win. And for Martin, a long and lonely week of quality training would only be worth it if he could now finish in one piece! He talks us through the ups and downs of his Outcast week,
“It was good for me, I had really good training. But of course, I was for sure really, really disappointed when I realised that my Cape Epic with Julian was over. In the first moment I was shocked when I saw Julian lying on the ground and doing nothing, and then I was just happy that he was awake again when I got news from the hospital that he was okay. Then I realised that I had to race the week on my own – I said to myself, right, let’s do this and I raced Stage One hard and chased a good time and was really happy with that. After that I had to start in the C batch, fifteen minutes behind the leaders, and it was not so easy on the second and third stage and I thought, what am I doing here? I spoke to team manager Paul again and we talked about the pros and cons of continuing and decided that I would carry on and finish the whole Epic as an Outcast. I worked together with the media team from Silverback and I think we made a good story. I tried to get the best training out of it so I did some intervals during the stages but I didn’t get too tired from the week – I didn’t totally push my body so I should recover well and have a good base ready for the World Cups. Hopefully better luck at Cape Epic next year!”
For the Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition team, each day was one big interval, and the Grand Finale was no exception! It was another tense day for the team staff as news filtered in from out on course that Annie and Mariske were in the leading group, then had dropped back, and then were at the front again. As the final finish line approached, the top three teams on General Classification were wheel to wheel. After the mammoth efforts of yesterday, the ladies lost small chunks of time in the final five kilometres and were dangling dangerously off the back of the group. However, miraculously they clawed themselves back to the front so that as the race entered the final few hundred metres it was certain to be a full gas sprint to the line. Unfortunately riders ahead of the leading ladies, who had begun the day in earlier start batches, were anything but sprinting for the line. Annie and Mariske got caught up with the slower riders and, despite an incredible effort and some ninja style weaving through the traffic, could not get to the line ahead of Sabine and Robyn from Team Ascendis. Hansgrohe – Cadence Nutrition finished second by half a second! What a way to finish 691 kilometres!
Tinges of disappointment were soon overwhelmed by a huge sense of satisfaction and delight at a Cape Epic completed, and done so in fine style. Annie and Mariske have exceeded expectation in their first Cape Epic together, with six podiums in eight days of racing. What an incredible performance. Annie wraps up,
“It was so close for first! It was not the smoothest stage to be honest, but to come away with second place in the Grand Finale is pretty good, and second place overall is something I am really happy with. I’m looking forward to some rest and relaxation now but the whole experience has been amazing.”
Another year, another Cape Epic completed! We are very proud of everyone involved in making it happen, and especially of the riders who have performed so incredibly well both on and off the bike.