Local luminaries of the sport like 1995 Rugby World Cup winners Chester Williams, Joel Stransky and Marius Hurter have all completed the race, with Stransky and Hurter now familiar sights on the trails of the event. Butch James and John Smit, both winners of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, completed their first Epic in 2014.
Stefan Terblanche, former Bok skipper Corne Krige, and renowned rugby hard man (you have to be tough to play for the Springboks and then “transfer” to the Australian national team) Tiaan Strauss have also all completed the Absa Cape Epic, with former Wales captain Colin Charvis returning this year, having completed his first Cape Epic as a solo rider in 2013.
While former soccer stars, F1 champions and a smattering of retired professional cricketers (no golfers just yet - come on, Ernie!) have tackled – and tamed – the world’s premier mountain bike stage race, there’s clearly something about the Epic that speaks to rugby players, so much so that Charvis is willing to put himself through the misery of training in the meat of the Welsh winter in preparation for his Epic return. John Smit believes the appeal for rugby players lies in the Epic offering an outlet for letting off some competitive steam.
“The Cape Epic definitely fills a gap in life after professional sport,” says Smit. “It’s another team event for us retired rugby players and we experience the same kind of camaraderie at the Epic that we did on the field. I look forward to the team effort that’s involved in completing something like the Epic, while participating in the event also helps us feed the competitive monster.”
Another 2015 rugby entry into the Absa Cape Epic is former Sharks lock and one-time Epic finisher (2009) John “Slugger” Slade, who will team up with former Springbok and Sharks flyhalf Butch James. After completing his debut Epic last year, James famously noted that the event “wasn’t that tough”.
“I should clarify what I mean by that,” says James. “I was training for the Epic last year and everyone I spoke to said I was ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ and seriously doubted that I would finish the event. All these comments raised the expectation of ‘toughness’ to the extent that I thought I would die out there, so when I actually made it I was surprised and happy.”
Slade, who wanted to return after completing the 2009 event but never found the time, approached James to be his partner for 2015. “He timed it well,” says James. “When you’re on the route you don’t think about doing it again, but John asked me the week after the race had finished, and I was missing the vibe. You get caught up in the excitement of the event, and I’m looking forward to experiencing that again.”
This year four-time Epic finisher Marius Hurter will be riding with Charvis (advice to fellow riders: don’t get in their way on the narrow downhills), Smit will ride with lifelong friend and 2014 partner Shane Chorley, and five-time finisher Stransky is riding alongside eight-time national road race champion Anriette Schoeman.
This is the first time that Stransky will participate in the Mixed category, and with Schoeman at his side, a podium place over the course of the event is not out of the question. Stransky’s training was hampered by a broken collarbone in late January, but all appears to be on track for a serious effort in the Mixed category.
“My training has been more intense this year, because Anriette is a champion rider and the last thing I want to do is let her down,” says Stransky. “We haven’t had much time to train together, but I’m looking forward to the experience, although I must add that Anriette is tiny and incredibly strong, so I’ll probably end up sucking some wheel out there.”
The Absa Cape Epic gets underway on the 15th of March at UCT in Cape Town, where former rugby stars, dedicated amateurs and the world’s best mountain biking professionals will ride in the event prologue on the slopes of Table Mountain.