Craig Beech, John Gale, Mike Nixon and Hannele Steyn have been ever-present at the Absa Cape Epic.
hey are the Last Lions, so named because they are the only members of the Amabubesi – which means pride of lions in Zulu – Finisher Club to have completed every edition, thus far, of the race. These 4 riders have clocked-up 12 126-kilometres of Untamed racing, climbed 251 967-metres in elevation and completed 129 stages in the process.
Missing an Absa Cape Epic is simply not an option for them. Which is why being forced to do so by a global pandemic was particularly challenging. “I think we all got affected in different ways, but we surely all had our little battles” the Last Lioness, Steyn, reflected. “Whether it was as a pro rider, whose earnings got cut off, or me, one of the Last Lions who missed out on another potential Absa Cape Epic and has to face the next one at an even older age. The Absa Cape Epic has been a part of my life since I was 38 and, in a way, it has become a second business; with its own challenges. To all of the sudden go without it created its own weird pressures.”
In October 2021 Steyn will be racing alongside Nixon, as was the plan for 2020. “Firstly, doing it with a friend, someone with the same goal and mindset, is very special” Steyn said. “Although we are 55 and 62 respectively, we will never just ride. We trained as hard as we could, juggling our own companies, and we’ll race as hard as we can. We know our bodies cannot race the youngsters anymore. But we’ll be doing our best without going into that ‘pain beyond words’ zone and putting safety before madness. Mike [Nixon] is an amazing athlete, person, friend and someone I admire, not only because of the dedication him and I share for the Absa Cape Epic.”
“We have trained together twice a week for the last 2 months and understand each other's weaknesses and strengths” Steyn added, as a warning to the “youngsters” in the Virgin Active Mixed category. “We can chat and we can just be quiet; but we know we are giving our best all the time.”
Giving their best is exactly what fans of the race have come to expect from the Last Lions. There will, undoubtedly, be a mini race between the 4 for the best overall position. While Steyn and Nixon have each-other to rely on, Gale will be racing with George Evans, as Team Fat Bob, in the Grand Masters category. Beech meanwhile, will be teaming up with Louis Smith for the third time, as LEATT-itude.
Along with the Last Lions, who have ridden all 16 Absa Cape Epics to date, there are 3 crew members who have worked at each edition of the race. They are Dianovan Lucus, Jerome Smith and Paul Valstar.
Riders – including Beech, Gale, Nixon and Steyn – will once again hear Valstar’s voice echoing across the race village in 2021. While Lucus and Smith’s vital input, on signage and advanced setup, will be, arguably, more important. Especially to riders with less Absa Cape Epic experience than the Last Lions, who by now can find everything in the race villages by habit alone.
Be sure to tune in to the Live Broadcast of the 2021 Absa Cape Epic, from 17-24 October, on the Absa Cape Epic website, Facebook page, or YouTube channel.
About The Absa Cape Epic
The Absa Cape Epic is the world’s premier mountain bike stage race. The route changes every year, leading aspiring amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world through 650 Untamed kilometres of unspoilt scenery and up 15500m of vertical ascent.
The Absa Cape Epic is the most televised mountain bike race in the world and classed as UCI Mountain Bike Marathon Series (SSR) by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI); this official UCI status makes it a highlight on the professional racer's calendar. The Absa Cape Epic also attracts aspiring amateur riders wanting to test themselves against the best. It is a full-service race, meaning that everything is taken care of from the start - all riders need to think about is riding.
In 2016 the Cape Epic PTY (ltd) was acquired by the IRONMAN group and is now the pinnacle event of the Epic Series which includes the Swiss Epic in Switzerland and 4Islands MTB Stage Race Croatia.