Who best to turn to for a bit of advice than four very unique individuals who have finished every edition of the race since it launched in 2004? Yes, that’s an incredible 13 editions of the race in which even the best-prepared of the professionals is not guaranteed a finish.

How on earth have they – the Last Lions – avoided all the calamities that riders can encounter on the Untamed African MTB race? Crashes, illness and mechanical failures have felled literally hundreds of riders over the years, but not these four.

Photo credit Emma Hill | Sportzpics

So what is the secret?

“Luck!” says John Gale, one of the Last Lions. “More specifically, you need to avoid the myriad opportunities for bad luck to bring you down in either the run-up to the event or during the event.”

Mike Nixon, who has also summited Mount Everest and explored all sorts of remote regions, has this bit of advice: “Expect that you are going to run out of talent on one of the stages and have a bad day – it happens to everyone. Talk to your partner, get over it and, more importantly, get through it.”

Photo credit Mark Sampson | Sportzpics

The only woman in the group and a former winner, Hannele Steyn, says the key to finishing is “taking care of all the things that you can: bike, clothing, spares, training prep, nutrition … the other things are outside of your control”.

The fourth Last Lion, Craig Beech, strikes a philosophical note: “Four percent - and that is all. I am reading this book at the moment by Steven Kotler called ‘Flow – The Rise of Superman’. Read it. He speaks of your level of skill to the challenge you are facing. And to reach a state of flow, all you need to do is to push your skill level by four percent. That is such a small increment. The Absa Cape Epic is going to throw the greatest mountain biking challenge you have yet faced at you, day-in, day-out for eight days. The challenge is there. If your skills are not, just think, four percent is all you need to get to a state of flow, and then flow all the way through to Val de Vie. You will then find that you will most likely be doing a daily four percent come the end of the race, and for a good time to come.”

And any advice for first-timers?

“Training prep should be done by now, but make sure your nutrition is planned and you have trained with it,” Steyn says. “You have to be prepared for all sorts: Make sure you pack for cold conditions (rain jacket, under layers, long-fingered gloves) and take spares like extra cleat screws, rear hanger, plugs, chain links, tyre sealant, CO2 cartridges, tube and zip ties.”

Nixon wants them to chill. “By now the preparation is done so relax – my experience is that more people arrive on the Epic start line over-trained rather than under-trained.”

Photo credit Emma Hill | Sportzpics

Gale’s advice starts with “get to the start” and closes with “get to the finish”. But before starting he recommends that you “do enough training to know how hard you can ride; make sure the bike is absolutely perfect before you start; negotiate effectively with the wife and boss; avoid injury and bankruptcy”.

And once you have started: “Keep the rubber side down – no crashing, no burning, no illness.”

“Make it your office for the next week,” Beech says. “Make the landscape of the Western Cape your place of work. Hard work it will be, but it beats sitting in meetings or in a confined space tapping away at a keyboard. Just as you would encounter in any day’s work, there will be times that you would perhaps consider a change of approach or giving up on a deal. But don’t. Just take it all in. From the distant vistas to the process of flow as you pick your line through a forested, rocky single track.”