Cadel Evans & George Hincapie BMC Absa Racing Team celebrate winning the Masters category during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race. Photo by Shaun Roy/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Evans and Hincapie (BMC Absa Racing) started the 85km final stage second in their category, almost three minutes behind the masters leaders, Team Orbea’s Tomi Misser and Ibon Zugasti, and just three seconds ahead of Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (CST Sandd American Eagle).

The two retired road racers started fast and on the long road climb up Franschhoek Pass midway through the final stage opened a huge race-winning gap on their rivals.

“We didn’t have many time checks so we didn't really know where we were,” said Evans “We knew we were at least three or four minutes up but you can’t be sure until you cross the line, so we just kept pressure on right to the line.

“George had a bad moment mid-way when we came off on a descent. When he dropped it, it unsettled him a bit … but otherwise we were pretty good.

“I rode nine Tours de France and 16 Grand Tours in my career, so those ones mentally are much more taxing because of the duration. But the Epic is hard for your legs,” said Evans rubbing his quadriceps.

“The Epic is hard on your muscles. You wake up every morning with sore legs, and you might have that on the Tour de France but only after a bad day!”

Ibon Zugasti during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race. Photo by Mark Sampson/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

And the good news for his fans around the race village: “I'd love to come back next year.”

Hincapie found the race a lot tougher than he expected.

“I tell you it was tough. I definitely came in underprepared. I didn’t know it was this hard, but fortunately I got in shape as the race went on.

“I stay relatively fit at home but not by any means for this kind of effort. But of course the body kicked into stage race mode and I just felt better as the race went on. I'd love to be back next year.”

And his description of the Absa Cape Epic in one word: “Exactly that, Epic!”