When Kevin Vermaak founded the Cape Epic in 2004, he envisioned a global mountain biking series that would comprise both bigger and smaller stage events in some of the world’s most iconic locations .
But even he could not have imagined what this dream would become two decades later.
Today, Epic events are held around the world, including the SPAR Swiss Epic; The 4Islands MTB Croatia; Andorra Epic, Port to Port and Cape to Cape in Australia; FNB Wines2Whales in South Africa; and, of course, the “Tour de France of mountain biking”, the Absa Cape Epic, taking place from 19 to 26 March this year.
MarathonMTB.com founder and editor Mike Blewitt, one of the most authoritative voices in marathon mountain biking and stage racing, has taken part in more Epic series events than anyone. “The Epic Series stands out on the global mountain bike stage race scene, thanks to a cohesive event experience,” he says. “That’s not to say they are the same races held in different settings; each event has a unique character and requires its own skill set to complete.”
The global events are used as qualifiers for the Absa Cape Epic, though each is magnificent in its own right.
Australia’s Port to Port, the biggest mountain bike stage race in the state of New South Wales, and Cape to Cape fall under the Oceania Epic Series, while the 4islands MTB Croatia sees islands as stages, goat paths as trails and the ocean playing hide and seek.
The Swiss Epic was first held in 2014. Founded by Joko Vogel, Dany Gehrig and Thomas Frischknecht, the Absa Cape Epic was used as the model for the race that has since gone on to attract considerable investment.
The Andorra Epic is one of the newer events in the series, with riders navigating the spectacular Andorran Pyrenees mountains in two-person teams over four days.
Back in South Africa, the three-day FNB Wines2Whales was started in 2009. The three events, aptly named after the wines of the area, have become a must-do event on the mountain bike calendar.
The pace at which the Epic Series has developed is staggering, given its humble origins.
Vermaak recalls that when the Absa Cape Epic was launched, mountain biking was “very different” in South Africa.
“In South Africa there weren’t really stage races, and one-day races were not typically longer than 100 kilometres. In our first edition, we had seven consecutive days of over 100km in length, just the eighth day was shorter,” he says. “It changed South African mountain biking in just three years, helped create the depth of racing we see now and attracted endurance athletes for other sports into mountain biking.”
For riding scribe Blewitt, the Epic Series is all about making incredible memories.
“My best memory from the Epic Series is possibly the start of Stage 2 of the SPAR Swiss Epic, in 2015, in Leukerbad,” he says. “We were on the start line with my mountain bike heroes, including Alban Lakata and Sally Bigham. We rode well as a team that day, executing a race plan and getting everything out of our team dynamic that we could.
“A big part of that was the post-stage as well. Friends were racing the Flow event and every day we caught up for a drink to laugh and share memories. That’s what amateur mountain bike events are all about. That trip was great, but we really felt like it all clicked on that stage. We added time to our overall lead, had a great day, and enjoyed the company on the trails.”