The ABSA Cape Epic (I’ll just call it ACE) is the most prestigious mountain bike race in the world. While other races may have more numbers, ACE, limited to 600 two man teams, is bigger and better in every other way. So what makes it ace everything else?
Across the world, it’s the one race every cyclist wants to do. All ACE finishers get instant respect. You could have climbed Everest, dived off Brooklyn Bridge, or wingsuited from the Eiffel Tower, but, mention an ACE finishers badge and you’ll get looks of awe and envy.
ACE’s status is all in the name and my 2015 experience reinforced that view. It has a great sponsor in the form of ABSA. The Cape is the perfect geographical amphitheatre for mountain biking, and it really is an Epic event – in every sense of the word – marathon, heroic, impressive, grand, ambitious – every synonym applies.
ACE excels by having something for everybody. From a race point of view, it checks all the boxes. In my twenty three years of intermittent mountain bike racing, no other event has given a comparable racing experience. For every rider, class or gender, there is a real race taking place. As a public spectacle where the leaders compete like gladiators, and backmarkers are battling for precious seconds of advantage, everyone, from rider to spectator are involved in the intense racing experience. No lonely processions at the ACE!
Through this event, the Western Cape is showcased to the world, having aired more than 24500 hours of television coverage worldwide. The event airs as the Northern Hemisphere emerges from chilled and depressing winters, providing an instant tonic by juxtaposing the ordered agriculture of the Western Cape, the splendor of its natural beauty and wildlife, with the warmth of South African climates.
The numbers don’t lie. In 2015, forty percent of the field was international, with the majority coming from Switzerland and Germany. For them, as for most, ACE is something to aim for, providing hope and inspiration through dark difficult times. Whether it’s weathering climate or personal circumstance, training for ACE provides a tonic for all the consequences of modern life. Training for ACE releases serotonin, an opportunity to take on and beat the diseases of affluence – heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer, amongst others. There’s no hiding at ACE and you cannot arrive in bad condition. It’s akin to acing the exam – do your homework – and you’ll crack it. Come in under prepared and you’ll fail – spectacularly.
The Cape has a certain mysticism, from Table Mountain to the grasslands of the Transkei – a biodiversity wonderland and an inimitable cultural and spiritual experience. The ACE view from the bicycle seat leaves an indelible imprint and keeps bringing one back for more. My 2010 ACE was a personal journey, from fat to fit. I had hit the wall – fat, forty, flourishing, and blighted by the diseases of affluence. ACE 2010 left me invigorated, fit, appreciative of health, and of personal boundaries removed. Genetics play a role in establishing the finishing line pecking order, but, it’s overstated. ACE 2011 stamped the realisation that preparation is everything. In work or play, no matter your genetic potential, nothing replaces good hard work. The human capability knows no limits, and with enough goal directed effort, anything is possible.
ACE 2013 brought a new partner and an appreciation for the power of the commute. Yes, training for an ACE can be a mind numbing experience. You’ll find a plethora of training advice for intense shorter weeks of training rides, but, nothing beats good TITS (time in the saddle) and commuting is the way to get it. Without the Coega Daily Commute (CDC) I would battle to get a consistent 8 hour training week. The CDC ushered in 15 hour training weeks with ease. No bland indoor trainers or endless road rides. The commute uplifts, leaving one invigorated, filled with new ideas for a wholesome work day. Everyone benefits – your family, employer, clients, environment – everyone. But, be warned, your ACE partner will suffer if they cannot be in a similar place. A twenty hour week of singular training yields infinitely less than 20 hours of variegated fun while riding a bike. Any complacency breeds failure, and no matter how good the genetic pedigree, there will always be a time to eat humble pie. ACE 2013 was an abject lesson in accepting failure with humour, and success with humility.
ACE 2015 ushered in a whole new set of lessons. Such is the appeal of ACE, for it knows no bounds in the tuition it offers. ACE 2015 yielded new insights on the interplay between environment, people and prosperity, and nothing showcases it like the Western Cape.
ACE stage venues are set in amphitheatres of fynbos bejewelled mountains, yielding prosperity and protection. The mountains are inhospitable, rugged, providing the catchments for the arid landscapes through which the rivers flow, and protection for the biodiversity supporting the prosperity of the valleys below. Rich alluvial gravels, sculpted from the mountains, lay the foundations of the prosperity of the ACE stage venues of Oak Valley, Worcester and Wellington. Only from the seat of a bicycle, can you truly appreciate the complex relationships between agriculture, people and their environment. The lifeblood of Worcester and Wellington are the Berg and Breede rivers and success has come from centuries of focussed effort. Like fitness, productive capacity is not built up overnight. Irrigation canals feed the parched lands, drinking from meticulously maintained infrastructure built over centuries of carefully considered investment and the toil of thousands of people. A conservation regime, forged from years of experience, nurture the mountains, dutifully protecting biodiversity, feeding the rivers with life, to yield prosperity for the people in the valleys below.
The role of financial institutions in supporting this cycle of life is rarely recognized. They provide the capital, the foresight, the stability, for agricultural communities to build prosperity. ABSA mimics the prosperity which it has brought to the agricultural activities of the area through its ACE participation. ABSA, a child of the merger of Allied, Volkskas, United and Trust Banks are as old as the irrigation schemes pivotal to the Capes development. Its lines of finance trace the land, being central to every aspect of the development of agricultural lands, homes, businesses, savings and prudent financial planning. ABSA is ingrained into the landscapes of the ACE route. The requisite traits for finishing ACE are no different to those underpinning the prosperity of the Western Cape. Stable partnerships, investments of money, time, effort, resolve, patience, a long term view, focussed goals, planning – these are the building blocks for success, be they in life or the ACE. Throughout, ABSA is a pillar of support. Little wonder that it’s one of the coolest brands out there.
So therein rests the true value of the ACE – everyone prospers from the event, supported by the finest financial institution in the country. ABSA came to being with the new South Africa, and it has a tough task ahead in building a healthy, inclusive and prosperous society. The ingredients for a successful South African democracy and ACE are the same – prosperity and inclusivity. The Absa Cape Epic is making a quiet and substantively massive impact in every way.