Next week, the 17th edition of the Absa Cape Epic will finally kick off after three false starts due to the pandemic.
Only four riders have completed every stage of every Cape Epic. These riders have earned their place in mountain biking folklore and are known as the Last Lions. This year two of those riders, businessman and adventurer Mike Nixon and last lioness Hannele Steyn, will be teaming up in Land Rover colours as they aim for their 17th finish.
Ride24 sat down with the pairing to chat about 16 years of riding the Cape Epic and heading back to the trails. Mike up first.
With multiple postponements, how are you feeling about riding the Cape Epic in October?
We have been ready for 18 months, had three false starts and are glad that it appears that the event will be going ahead.
With only 250 teams and no supporters, there will be fewer people on the road, so the event will certainly have a different feeling.
The only drawback is that there have been no events leading up to the Epic, which is useful in simulating how you will feel during the event.
Do you feel that being one of the Last Lions has kept you coming back to the Cape Epic?
Being part of the Last Lions group is undoubtedly a motivating factor as there is nowhere to hide with this bunch.
Tell us about your riding partner?
I have had a couple of riding partners in the past 16 years, but this is the first time two of the last lions will be riding together. Hannele is like a Duracell bunny, always positive. We train together when I am in Cape Town and she is committed.
We are very different riders, she is such a sweetheart, and she has done the racing thing, won Epic and world championships, yet now she is happy to ride at my pace.
In total, we have done 32 Epics, so I think riding together gives us a big advantage. There is nothing that Epic can throw at us that we have not experienced before.
Looking back over the past 16 events, what stands out as a highlight?
We like to chat nostalgically over a post-ride coffee about the good old days of racing on 26-inch hardtails, with less preparation and training. Just enthusiastic amateurism.