The 2016 Absa Cape Epic route has been revealed and will contain more singletrack than ever before in the race’s 12-year-history. A total of 110km of the 647km route will be made up of singletrack trails as the eight-days of riding takes riders from Table Mountain to Tulbagh, Wellington, Stellenbosch and Durbanville.
Although the 647km is shorter than previous years it includes more climbing per each of those kilometres than ever before. In 2016 riders will climb 14950m during the Prologue and seven stages. That means riders will be ascending 23,1m per kilometre, even more than this year’s 21.4m per km.
Race director Kati Csak, who rode the entire route on the official trial ride in August and September, said riders would be making a mistake if they were to read too much into the shorter distance.
“There is a lot of climbing, a lot of singletrack that will require skill and concentration, and some unstable and difficult surfaces,” she said. “It will test the skills of riders as much as any of the 12 previous races.”
The 2016 race will also introduce the daily Land Rover Technical Terrain sections, where riders’ skills, capability and composure will be tested on tricky descents or challenging singletrack.
The world’s premier mountain bike stage race returns to the iconic slopes of Table Mountain on March 13 for the 21km prologue, which again starts and finishes at the University of Cape Town.
They will then transfer to Tulbagh and lots of exhilarating new singletrack on Stages 1 and 2. Stage 3 runs south from Tulbagh to Wellington and the next day’s Stage 4 will be spent on the legendary trails of Welvanpas. Stage 5 includes five rugged climbs between Wellington and the new race village at Boschendal Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Stage 6 will introduce riders to the mountain biking delights of Stellenbosch before Stage 7 takes those still left in the race to the Grand Finale at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville… and the well-deserved status of Absa Cape Epic finisher.
The Prologue Table Mountain (University of Cape Town) 21km, 650m climbing
Back to the Mountain The 2016 Absa Cape Epic Prologue returns to the slopes of Table Mountain, once again starting and finishing at the University of Cape Town. This year it includes more of UCT’s cross country course and an extra singletrack section on the mountain. But there’s still that climb – the one locals have given an unprintable, expletive-laden name – and then the testing ascent up to Dead Man’s Tree before riders sweep home along the Tafelberg Road and down the steep Epic singletrackon to Plum Pudding Hill. A final and fun section of singletrack down near the university should ensure most riders finish their first day of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic and their time spent in Table Mountain National Park with a smile.
Sweet (and sour) Over its 300 years Tulbagh has built a reputation for excellent wine. Now the town nestled in a beautiful, lush valley is beginning to earn a name for great mountain biking, thanks to the efforts of local enthusiasts. From the race village at Saronsberg Wine Estate, Stage 1 loops around the town in the Tulbagh bowl with more than a few trips up the slopes of its surrounding mountains. It will introduce riders to many of the new tracks in the area with the action starting on the day’s Landrover Technical Terrain, the Bone Trail, which snakes upwards across the mountainside. Then it’s downhill on The Labyrinth's zigzag singletrack descent. Riders will also cross Confucius’s Bridge and enjoy the Fairy Loop. After some early climbing most of the cool sections are between the 45km to 70km marks, but include some rugged ascents – the profile for that section looks like a set of shark’s teeth.
EPIC100 The 100th stage in the 13-year existence of the Absa Cape Epic will be a memorable one for more than just its place in history. Directly east of Tulbagh lies the old wagon trail over the Witzenberg mountain range which veterans of the 2010 and 2013 Absa Cape Epics will remember well. On Stage 2 riders will traverse it twice – going up the steep side with portage sections on the way into the Witzenberg Valley and then on the way back the thrilling Land Rover Technical Terrain descent into Tulbagh towards the finish. In-between those testing bits of trail they will experience the unique geology of the Witzenberg Valley as they loop through its distinctive sandstone formations on trails carved out by local farmers and mountain bikers. There’s a couple of testing climbs in there too.
Into the valley A transition stage – linking one stage location to another – with a difference. After the rugged climb on the remote tracks of the Waterval climb riders will cross the Zuurvlakte – a pan fringed by mountains that looks like it belongs in a Western movie. The Zuurvlakte reserve has only just been opened again after devastating fires (but which did have the effect of regenerating the fynbos and Proteas) and this sandy and rocky section will include the day’s Land Rover Technical Terrain. A little while later it’s on to the tar and the long climb up the Bain’s Kloof Pass, a national monument, before a twirl around the highly-regarded Welvanpas trails near Wellington. Riders new to the Welvanpas network will get a rude introduction to the WTF? climb and some sharp ascents, but will also get to enjoy weaving descents such as the breathtaking Super G.
Trails and tribulations The day will be spent almost exclusively on the Welvanpas trail network. Not long after the start the legs will be tested on thePatatskloof climb, then it’s down Cool Runnings Too, up the Aap Duez (with a mere 29 switchbacks) and down Route 66. The loop also includes the Welvanpas White Route, filled with interesting singletrack and one notoriously bumpy section called the Cheese Grater – the stage’s Land Rover Technical Terrain section. A day for the purist mountain biker perhaps, but there are a lot of testing climbs – including three tough ones shortly before the finish. Riders will have to work for their reward.
The Big Five No, not the famous wildlife that roams Africa’s plains: five big climbs dotted across the day’s riding. Being a transition stage there are some forest roads to negotiate, but soon after the start the route turns upwards on the Slangrivier climb. Then it’s on to Patatskloof again – but a different route to Stage 4 – and Beulah, which leads into Hawequa (if you’ve got the time, look out for the great view of the Paarl Rock), and then the Protea climb. As you get close to the Drakenstein Prison – formerly Victor Verster, where the father of South Africa’s democracy, Nelson Mandela, took his first steps after being freed in 1990 – you will be greeted by the rugged Freedom Struggle climb and Bone Rattler descent, Stage 5’s Land Rover Technical Terrain section. All of which might make this the toughest day of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic.
Bacchus’s Garden Welcome to the delights of Stellenbosch and surrounds. Not long after the start, and the rare opportunity to ride through the Simonsberg Conservancy, riders will get a stunning view back across the vineyards to Stellenbosch and False Bay, with Table Mountain in the distance. But Stellenbosch is also about great mountain biking: look out for the Tunnel of Love trail through wattle trees, the Murati loop and the series of great singletrack sections that follow it. The renowned Skyfall singletrack descent is appropriately the Land Rover Technical Terrain section of the day. But there is a whole lot more too, once again including some testing climbs. The ride back to Boschendal treats riders to a passage through the Banhoek Conservancy and then some quite tricky singletrack.
A grand Grand Finale The numbers speak for themselves: not too much climbing for the weary as they make their way to the finish at Meerendal Wine Estate. There is some early ascending in the first 25km as the route hugs the Simonsberg mountain before some district roads take riders on a tour of the local farms and some vineyards. Then it’s into the Tygerberg network’s legendary Hoogekraal and Meerendal trails, which includes a great Land Rover Technical Terrain section. In Meerendal riders will get a striking view of Table Mountain to remind them of the beginning of their journey a week earlier. As they get to hear the strains of the PA and cheering crowds from the Grand Finale finish they will be introduced to Meerendal’s Stairway to Heaven climb for one last test of the legs before turning on to its fun bermed sections on the way down to the well-deserved status of Absa Cape Epic finisher.
* The 2016 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race takes place from 13 to 20 March and the much anticipated route can be viewed here. The 2016 race will host the 100th stage in the history of the event – the EPIC100 – on Tuesday 15 March.