DirtDaniel Hespeler


DirtDaniel Hespeler

The ABSA Cape Epic is the World’s toughest and biggest Mountain Bike Stage Race. This is the behind-the-scenes story of team Cannondale Factory Racing (CFR) XC riders, Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini, and their dedicated support crew as they grind through eight hot and grueling days of racing, with the best images from the race, inside info on the team, and all the details of what went down in the Western Cape. Enjoy.

From the start of the off-season plan, the goal for the team was clear: set the fastest mark in the prologue, start stage one in the leader’s Jersey and race at the front of the race wearing the Jersey as long as long we can.  A finish on the overall podium would crown the efforts and plan coming into the race.  This is what our dreams were made of. This is why we raced the ABSA Cape Epic.

Prologue - 26km and 750m of climbing at the Meerendal wine estate. With memories of winning the Grand Finale at the same venue in 2016, Manuel and Henrique started the race with high hopes and an immense amount of motivation. The course suited the XC specialists quite well, since the distance covered was similar to an XCO World Cup race. From checkpoint one on, Fumic and Avancini were in the lead and stretched the gap in the time-trial effort to 1:36, winning over reigning XCO World Champion, Nino Schurter, and his partner, Mathias Stirnemann, and 1:43 over the Trek Selle San Marco team, putting the team for stage 1 in the yellow leader’s jersey.

Stage 1, 101km and 2300m of climbing. Stage 1 was held in the coastal town of Hermanus and led the riders through the stunning mountains along what is called the Haarkappers Roete. Manuel and Henrique dictated the pace of the field for the entire stage and rode away for their second stage win, extending their lead to 1:46 min after two days of racing.

Inside the team, our morning routine:

The morning routine is the same every day during the Cape Epic. An early wake-up at 4:30 a.m. for all team staff to prepare food for the athletes (who get up at 5:00) and a small snack for the themselves. The warm up for the athletes starts at 6:10 on the rollers and riders need to be in the call-up and interview boxes by 6:40 for a 7 o’clock start. On transfer days, the start gun is also a signal for the crew to step on the gas as they start the drive to the next location. On camp days, after the riders depart, the staff enjoys a quick breakfast before they move on to their daily tasks: organizing material for the mechanics, shopping for the kitchen crew, getting out on course with the photographer and getting updates from on the course for the team performance staff. After 3 to 4 hours of racing, the stage winners are normally expected back to the finish area, and the afternoon routine begins.

Stage 2 - Hermanus to Greyton - 62km and 1500m of climbing.  The goal for CFR was to win the Hansgrohe Hotspot, a KOM prize, and finish with the podium contenders. Stage 2 was shortened from its original 102km to 62km on the morning of the race, as the brutal heat the day before had already caused around 80 riders to abandon the race on Stage 1. The leading duo managed the day’s tasks well, despite some issues that saw Manuel Fumic get pushed into a fence with a few km to go, injuring his right arm. 4th place, no time lost, 1500 Euros in hand for the Hotspot win and starting another day in yellow is the result of the day.

Inside the team, the beauty of Africa:

The ABSA Cape Epic is held on the Western Cape, one of the most picturesque and beautiful areas in the world. The countryside is dominated by vineyards nestled amid stunningly rough and rugged nature, all overlooking a beautiful bay. While the riders don’t have too much time to enjoy the beauty of the area, team staff and spectators are entertained by the majestic scenery.

Stage 3 - Greyton to Greyton - 78km and 1650m of climbing. After 2 very successful days in yellow, the Cape Epic circus settled in Greyton. One of the shorter stages of the race seemed to be in control, right up until Manuel Fumic got hit by a video team motorbike and lost the connection to the lead group contending for the stage win. With a flat and windy finish, there was no way the CFR duo could close the gap to leaders again after remounting the bike from the accident and finished 4th for the stage. Critical time was lost due to this incident and after a protest by the team, CFR was granted a time bonus of 14 seconds. We hope you’ve never been hit by a motorbike at 30km/h from the side, but if you have, you’ll know that the loss was far greater than 14 seconds. Cannondale Factory Racing stays in the lead, but lost valuable time to the teams chasing the yellow leader’s jersey.

Inside the team, the mechanics job:

The mechanic's main job is to keep the bikes running and finely tuned for every stage, but they perform loads of other duties throughout the race, from technical advisor to a friendly shoulder to lean on. The bike wash after the stage kicks off the process followed by a close inspection of all components. In an afternoon meeting, the feedback of riders and plan for the next day’s setup is collected and discussed to prepare the equipment for the next stage. The two race bikes will be completely disassembled and the next day’s preferred setup is installed as the bikes get rebuilt. Very special attention is given to the tires, since there are lots of thorns in the brush that litters the ground in the Western Cape. Schwalbe Doc Blue Professional sealant is the product to help against flats and seal tires on the fly. Every single centimeter of the tire tread is carefully inspected and new tires are used every second day, at a minimum. Every team has a set of wheels at two dedicated Tech points out on the course, plus 2 boxes with spare material the riders can use in case of a mechanical. Out on course, the riders have to repair their bikes by themselves, once they cross the finish line and are back to the finish area, the mechanic takes over again.

Stage 4 Greyton to Oak Valley - 112km and 2150m of climbing. Day five of the ABSA Cape Epic would be the hardest one for Cannondale Factory Racing so far. Henrique Avancini suffered from stomach issues and could not ride with enough energy during the day to race at the front. Teammate Manuel Fumic jumped in the lead and guided Henrique to the finish line in a team effort to ride together and survive together. Precious time was given to the teams chasing CFR, but the leaders jersey would stay on the shoulders of Mani and Henrique for another day. Getting Henrique ready for the next stage and hoping for some recovery from the stomach bug was the focus for the balance of the day, staying on the overall podium the goal for the upcoming stages.

Inside the team, post-race procedures:

Once the riders cross the finish line, the support crew is 100% focused on getting the riders what they need to recover and get ready for the next stage. The mechanic takes over the bikes, while the physio and manager take care of the riders. A quick wash in the so-called “mix” zone kicks-off the process, followed by an ice bath around the ankles and wrists to get the body’s core temperature down as quick as possible to help speed recovery. Fresh kit and off the riders go to a marathon of podium presentations and interviews. Straight after the finish line is also when the nutrition strategy begins. A recovery shake, lots of fluid and energy bars fill the rider’s depleted energy storage in the first few minutes. After a shower there is a bigger meal waiting for staff and riders, followed by massage and lots of small snacks to gear-up for the next day. A light evening meal, followed by a protein shake rounds out the day’s food and fuel routine. To finish the day, riders and team go to the daily evening podium presentation and share some laughs with our fellow competitors. A glass of red wine helps staff and riders fall asleep early and keeps the spirit high.

Stage 5 - Oak Valley to Oak Valley - 84km and 2100m of climbing. What started during Stage 4 got worse in Stage 5. Henrique could not recover from the previous day’s effort of trying to minimize the damage. Two flat tires, ongoing stomach issues and less than the freshest legs for Henrique left him to experience a tough day on the bike again, suffering the whole way. Mani was by his side to push through the day's course, keep him from thinking of abandoning the race early, and carry on through the challenging circumstances. Over 10 minutes were lost during the day, but the team stayed on the overall podium in 3rd place.


Stage 6 - Oak Valley to Oak Valley - 103km and 2750m of climbing. What started during stage 4 found its peak in Stage 6. As Henrique continued to suffer from stomach issues, the possibility of a podium finish continued to slip through their grasp. Cannondale Factory Racing rode through the day with one goal in mind; to complete the stage and try to minimize damage, but ended up dropping back to 5th overall. Racing can be cruel and it definitely was for Henrique today. There is no hiding in the field and rolling along protected by a peloton like in a road race. Hard work and perseverance is what was needed to get through the day. A post stage doctor's visit confirmed what Henrique was battling with for two days already, but he was cleared to keep going. One more stage to go to the finish in Val de Vie.

Stage 7 – The Grand Finale from Oak Valley to Val de Vie - 85km and 1350m of climbing. Henrique recovered from three intense days and the team finished in 5th, earning well deserved, hard fought UCI points. The finish line of the Grand Finale is a big show with fans and family awaiting the pros and amateurs alike. A happy atmosphere and smiling faces along the way greet the riders home. Pro riders hand medals out to finishers and take time for photos as a reward for what they went through over the last eight days. CFR is happy to walk away with the Epic we had, even as the goals had to change during the race. 5 days in the yellow leader’s jersey, 2 stage wins, 2 podiums and lots of new found friends and fans...You can be sure we will be back in 2018.

The team behind the team. It takes a dedicated crew to just race this event, not to mention to be competitive in the ABSA Cape Epic. Thanks to the unsung heroes in the background. Performance Manager, Phil Dixon, Local Support, Jake van Zyl, Head Mechanic, Andi Pscheidl, and Physio, Stefan Röschl. And not to forget the man behind the lens, Michele Mondini. Thanks all!

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