Are rugby or soccer players better Cape Epic riders?

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Luis Enrique played in three Soccer World Cups. This year he is trying to earn a third Cape Epic finisher’s medal. (Photo: Cape Epic/ Greg Beadle/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS)
Luis Enrique played in three Soccer World Cups. This year he is trying to earn a third Cape Epic finisher’s medal. (Photo: Cape Epic/ Greg Beadle/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS)
  • Mountain biking is a popular activity for many sports stars after their playing careers.
  • Over the years, several international rugby and soccer players have ridden the Cape Epic, including Spanish soccer legend Luis Enrique, who is attempting his third Cape Epic this year.
  • But who does it better, the rugby or soccer players?

The Cape Epic has a strong celebrity element. Each year, celebrated legends from the worlds of rugby and football participate. And their results give a fascinating insight into how legacy sports stars perform on a mountain bike.

Joel Stransky is renowned for his mountain biking ability. The Springbok flyhalf and 1995 World Cup winner has completed 11 Cape Epics, finishing within the top 100 in four of those – a very impressive performance.

Stransky is also remembered for his dramatic exit at the 2017 Cape Epic, when he crashed very heavily at Hoogekraal during the prologue. Ironically, this year’s Cape Epic is the first to return to the Meerendal prologue, which includes the Hoogekraal trail section.

Cape Epic
Joel Stransky is a hugely competitive Cape Epic rider, in all conditions. (Photo: Cape Epic/ Mark Sampson/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS)

Backs are much faster than forwards

Rugby players have featured prominently at the Cape Epic. But they aren’t all as fast as Stransky. A wisdom in rugby is that forwards win matches, and backline players dictate by how much.

International rugby forwards carry their mass into post-rugby life. And in mountain biking, weight always counts against you. Despite this, Stransky’s 1995 World Cup teammate, tighthead prop Marius Hurter, has finished eight Cape Epics. John Smit, the 2007 World Cup-winning captain, has five finisher’s medals.

The consensus is that backs finish better than forwards, which is logical considering the difference in weight difference. Compare the times of Stransky, Hurter and Smit at the same Cape Epic. All three finished the 2019 Cape Epic, with Stanksy placing 97th, Smit 509st and Hurter 596th.

Cape Epic
John Smit getting ready to scrum a stage, at the Cape Epic. (Photo: Cape Epic/Dom Barnardt)

Are soccer players faster than rugby backs?

But what about soccer players? They are generally much smaller, lighter and more agile than rugby players. How do they perform at the Cape Epic? One of the greatest Spanish footballers, Luis Enrique, will attempt his third Cape Epic this year.

In his previous Cape Epics, Enrique finished with placings of 285 (in 2013) and 243 (2018). But how does the former Spanish World Cup soccer player’s Cape Epic riding compare to a World Cup rugby player?

Cape Epic
Marius Hurter might not be at the weight he was during his playing years, but he’s still much sturdier than most mountain bikers. (Photo: Cape Epic/ Mark Sampson/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS)

The stats tell a story 

Comparing Stransky and Enrique, it’s a clear win for the rugby players over the soccer stars. Joel Stransky has the best results of a former international rugby player at the Cape Epic. His most impressive finish was 61st in 2018, when Enrique finished 243rd.

For an amateur rider, any result in the top 100 is impressive. And if you make it to the top 70, you are edging towards the upper echelon of Cape Epic riders.

Cape Epic
Barcelona. Real Madrid. Spain. Luis Enrique was a legendary player for all three times. And loves mountain biking. (Photo: Cape Epic/ Greg Beadle/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS)

Spanish cycling and the Cape Epic 

Spain has a proud cycling tradition. It hosts one of cycling’s three esteemed Grand Tours – the Vuelta. Jose Hermida is a Cape Epic riding legend and, during the peak of his pro career, was considered one of the most enigmatic riders in mountain biking. And always a crowd favourite at the Cape Epic.

Then there is Spanish bike technology. Last year’s Cape Epic winning bikes were Spanish. Speed Company Racing’s dramatic last stage win at the 2022 CapeEpic, was aboard Orbea. In Barcelona, Unno produces arguably the world's most advanced carbon-fibre mountain bikes.  

Mountain bike
Enrique’s bike of choice is the MMR Kenta SL. In red, naturally. (Photo: MMR)

What MTB does a Spanish soccer legend ride?

It would be wrong for Luis Enrique to be riding his third Cape Epic on anything but a Spanish bike brand. Enrique has chosen the Spanish brand, MMR, based in Avilés. MMR produces a dual-suspension cross-country racing bike that is ideally configured for Cape Epic riders: the Kenta SL.

It features full carbon-fibre construction and 100mm of suspension front and rear. And, of course, it’s red –the best colour for a race bike.

Red also happens to be the Spanish national football team’s jersey colour. A fact certainly not lost on Luis Enrique.

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