The 13th edition of the Absa Cape Epic, which took place from 13-20 March 2016, attracted 1200 resilient local and international mountain bikers who clamber to tackle the demanding eight-day adventure.
Finishing the 7-stage Absa Cape Epic MTB race is a massive achievement for every rider. It is classified as the toughest MTB race in the world and for good reason. It is the ultimate test of courage, endurance, and psychological stamina that automatically puts these riders in a different class to the rest.
Finishing the Epic as a first-timer, intact with your team-mate, and reaching podium, is beyond epic. It is a dream thousands have had and failed. But not 25-year-old Thinus Redelinghuys (Jeep Team) and his Rwandan partner, Nathan Byukusenge (35). They took the Cape Epic debut to the next level, completing the world’s toughest MTB stage race as 3rd African team home in the coveted ABSA African Special Jersey. They also gained a top 20 finish, being placed 18th overall alongside the world’s top mountain bike riders.
Racing as Team Rwanda, Redelinghuys and Byukusenge finished the 654km, with 15 000m of accumulated climbing, Absa Cape Epic in a total time of 31h15m. This was just over 2 hours behind 2016 Absa African Special Jersey winners, Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock (USN Purefit) in 29h03m, with Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (NAD Pro MTB) in second (29h28m).
The Absa African Special Jersey has become one of the most sought after titles in cycling on the continent. The distinctive red jersey is awarded to the first team to cross line where both riders hold passports from an African country, irrelevant of category. Redelinghuys (RSA) and Byukusenge (Rwanda) are the first South Africa/Africa team since 2012 to finish in the top 3. Previous category winners have been two South African riders.
Team Rwanda’s achievement captures the spirit of what it means to take part in the Absa Cape Epic. Redelinghuys and Byukusenge are from vastly different cultures and backgrounds, also separated by a 10-year age gap. They had never raced together and only met each other two days before the Epic. Yet their courage, resilience and determination to succeed, together as one, saw them deliver strong, consistent racing over all 8 days of the 654km race to finish with the top riders in Africa.
This is a remarkable achievement for a first-time Cape Epic rider, Redelinghuys, and four-time epic rider Byukusenge, who had never before finished in the top 20. Byukusenge is an accomplished national Rwandan MTB and road cyclist. He is one of only four Rwandan athletes who has qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics after placing 8th at the 2015 MTB Continental Championships. The 2016 Absa Cape Epic formed part of his Olympic training.
Says Kimberley Coats, Team Rwanda Marketing Director, “When Nathan [Byukusenge] said he wanted to do the Absa Cape Epic, the first thing he asked was for a really good partner, a South African. You know, you South African MTBer’s are the real deal. Previously, Nathan has ridden the Cape Epic with a partner below his ability. This year, training for the Olympics, he wanted a partner a bit above his level.
It looks like Thinus [Redelinghuys] has been the perfect partner! Nathan didn’t know Thinus until two days before the Epic. We really have a lot of thanks for Thinus jumping into the unknown and taking a chance with Team Rwanda.”
Says Byukusenge, “This is my fourth Absa Cape Epic. It’s one of the best mountain bike races in the world – I really like the South African people and all the friends I’ve met from all over the world. They remember me, maybe because there are not many Rwandans racing.
When we first did the Cape Epic in 2007 nobody could believe there was a team from Rwanda. Many people thought we were still at war. We have been working hard to race at a higher and higher level, not just on the road where we primarily compete, but also on mountain bikes.
Nine years later, people in Rwanda are starting to put their children on bikes, not for work, but to become a cyclist like the members of the national team. Being able to compete and do this well in the Absa Cape Epic just shows the growth of Rwandan cycling.”
Team Rwanda Cape Epic Race Overview
Redelinghuys and Byukusenge’s 2016 Absa Cape Epic journey began with a Top 20 overall finish and 5th African team in after the 26km Prologue on Sunday, 13 March.
In the 106km Stage 1 on Monday, 14 March, Team Rwanda fell to 33rd overall and 7th African team.
In the 93km Stage 2, Redelinghuys and Byukusenge climbed up to 21st overall and 4th African Team in. Then in the long Stage 3 (104km, 2 150m climbing), they fell slightly behind to 5th African team in but held onto their 21st placing overall.
It was in Stage 4 on Thursday, 18 March, that Team Rwanda’s fighting spirit really started to pay off. After 75km of racing and 1850m climbing, the duo climbed up to 16th overall and 3rd African team behind African leaders Lill / Woolcock in 1st and Combrinck / Bell in 2nd.
With five imposing climbs between Wellington and Boschendal Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, the 93km Stage 5 was billed as the toughest day of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic and saw Redelinghuys and Byukusenge falter slightly in the rankings, finishing 20th overall and 6th African team in.
In Stage 6, a shorter 69km start/finish in Boschendal, Stellenbosch, Team Rwanda rose slightly to 5th African team and 19th overall.
In Sunday’s final Stage 7, 86km from Boschendal to Meerendal, Team Rwanda finished the stage in 16th place, 18th overall in GC and 4th African team in, but their total time taken over the eight days saw them elevated into podium position of 3rd African team overall.
Says Redelinghuys, “It was an amazing journey of #8DayOfCourage. Nathan and I took on one of the toughest mountain bike races in the world only meeting each other 2 days before the race and the outcome was mind-blowing! Third overall in the Absa African Special Jersey and 18th overall. Thanks to everyone involved – it was magical.”
2016 ABSA CAPE EPIC OVERALL RESULTS: ABSA AFRICAN SPECIAL JERSEY
1. USN Purefit – Darren Lill (South Africa) and Waylon Woolcock (South Africa) – 29:03 (6th overall)
2. NAD Pro MTB – Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) and Nico Bell (South Africa) – 29:28 (12thoverall)
3. Team Rwanda – Thinus Redelinghuys (South Africa/Jeep Team) and Nathan Byukusenge (Rwanda) – 31:15 (18th overall)
4. Team Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology – Christopher Wolhuter (South Africa) and Craig Boyes (South Africa) – 31:26 (20th overall)
5. Team GoPro – Oliver Munnik (South Africa) and Matthew Beers (South Africa) – 31:31 (22nd overall)
For all the results from the 2016 Absa Cape Epic, go to http://www.cape-epic…of-fame/results