Cape Town - The dramatic new route of the ninth edition of the Absa Cape Epic, which takes place from March 25 to April 1 next year, will be as exciting and challenging as previous years. Both local and international mountain biking enthusiasts will be taking on the demanding eight day mountain bike adventure of 780km with 16 300m of climbing from Durbanville to Lourensford Wine Estate.VIDEO: Absa Cape Epic 2012 route The route, which changes significantly each year, will lead 1 200 participating athletes, world champions and dedicated amateurs through vast distances of challenging terrain. With its exhilarating landscapes, the stage locations of Robertson, Caledon and Oak Valley await the most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world, before riders again finish at the Lourensford Wine Estate, as has been tradition since 2007. One of the most visited tourist attractions in the southern hemisphere, the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront, will again play host to the opening celebrations and registration for this pioneering, tough and breathtaking mountain bike race from March 23-24. For the fourth time in the Absa Cape Epic’s history, riders will compete in a prologue. A common feature in grand road cycling tours, the prologue on the Meerendal Wine Estate just outside Durbanville, will allow spectators to see teams race against the clock. This showcase event will decide which teams will wear the coveted leaders’ jerseys at the start of Stage 1 on Monday, March 26, in Durbanville. Says Kevin Vermaak, Director and Founder of the Absa Cape Epic: “The Absa Cape Epic has again selected some of the best terrain that the Western Cape has to offer. Our route designer, Leon Evans or as he is best known amongst riders, 'Dr Evil', has managed the perfect balance between exciting trails, challenging terrain and wider vistas in the pursuit of the ultimate mountain biking experience.” Says Leon Evans, aka Dr Evil: “There are no easy days in this race. Registration day is easy and the Monday after the race is easy. Anyone who thinks there’s anything easy about the Absa Cape Epic, is a fool. My job is to make sure that no rider, in any previous edition of the race, can say ‘the 2012 Epic riders had it easy’.” Prologue – Meerendal Wine Estate, Durbanville, Cape Town (27km with 900m of climbing)The 9th edition of the race kicks off with a 27km prologue. It will be the fourth time in the race’s history that a short team time trial opens proceedings at the Meerendal Wine Estate on the Durbanville Wine Route, passing through protected Renosterveld. Far from just a ceremonial stroll, it will be flat out from the start ramp heading through Contermanskloof, Hillcrest and Kliprug, railing the sublime single-track in the Tygerberg Hills. On the final push on the lung-bursting climb up to the mountaintop finish, riders will be looking to spectators lining the trail for support, with magnificent views of Table Mountain and Table Bay in the background. Teams will open up their throttles for a good seeding at the official start in Robertson on stage one. Stage 1 - Robertson to Robertson (115km with 2 350m of climbing)Stage one is always a rude awakening for participants. Combining the length, climbing, severity of trail surfaces and speed of fresh-legged hares at the front of the field - all will be a shock to the system, even for the best prepared. Three major climbs will loom ahead of the athletes. The first 3km rise will be littered with loose rocks and tilting to 25%, forcing portage, and there will be a risky descent lying in wait. Hangman’s Tree will follow, which may be short, but could take up to half an hour to conquer. Beautiful flowing trails then traverse the mountain ridges, showcasing the breath-taking scenery riders have come to expect from the race. Tortoise Peak will be the third major obstacle and riders will be creeping up this slow, yet rideable 5km ascent, named after its ancient residents. Riders with bar ends will need to take care on the descent, with grabbing branches on the off-camber dual tracks. For their considerable efforts, riders will then be rewarded with a beautiful section of trails through Nama Karoo, with a few gentle rises before finally turning East, back towards Robertson with a final rocky plunge into the picturesque town. Stage 2: Robertson to Robertson (119km and 1 650m of climbing)The route will traverse the beautiful rolling dual tracks through the stony Klein Karoo, passing through the charming village of McGregor. It will be a special day out for the riders. For those who manage to avoid tunnel vision, it will be a geologist’s paradise, with remarkable sandstone formations. Some might say this is too much fun for the Absa Cape Epic, but riders will soon be brought back down to earth as the rocks will be sharp with knife-edges shale and deluge of thorns, heavy duty tyres will be essential. Passing through Van Loveren Wine Estate on some severe vineyard hills, a district road will take the race past Ashton as they head towards the mountains for some short, but steep climbs before returning to Robertson. Stage 3 - Robertson to Caledon (147km and 2 900m of climbing)Route planner Dr Evil cites four major climbs on the longest stage in Absa Cape Epic history, with the action starting around the 40km mark. The first is a 6km dual track, where riders will fight for traction over large rolling rocks. This will be followed by a 4km mast climb, with a view over Villiersdorp. The next lump in the profile will be a smooth and comparatively easy rise to the “Toll House”, the highest point of the day, with a fast 5km descent dropping 500m into the valley. At the 110km mark, there will be a humungous climb to scale. A sharp rise will be followed by a tricky descent, undoing all the hard work. Then starting again, from the bottom, will be a steep rocky trail where riders will be switching to their granny gears. Riders will then be able to clock up some mileage on the fast downhill district roads before the last 10km slows them down again, traversing farmlands. Riders will be welcomed to their new race village in Caledon. Stage 4 – Caledon to Caledon (105km with 2 600m of climbing)Two major climbs jab upwards on the day’s route profile. The first is the loose, long and steep Babylonstoring, followed by the brutal, stony ascent to Charlie’s Heaven with several false peaks. Riders will be watching the weather report closely, hoping for some cloud cover to take the edge off the scorching heat. With views as far as Cape Point and Cape Agulhas it will be worth going through hell to get to the top. Danger will lie ahead on the rough, steep descent, with jagged rocks and deep ruts on this washed out road. The run into the finish will include open farm roads, fast paths along a railway line, some tight single-track through Middleton and a few hundred metres of trails in Caledon’s botanical gardens. Stage 5 - Caledon to Oak Valley (119km with 2 350m of climbing)Leon Evans, aka Dr Evil, has one aim on Stage 5 and that is to get riders to that famed Oak Valley single-track as soon as possible. It will be a fast, flowing start, before heading to the fynbos-lined mountain tracks. As participants edge closer to Elgin/Grabouw, their morale will be buoyed by the striking views from the Highlands Plateau onto the Botrivier Lagoon and Kleinmond Beach. A steady 10km climb will take them through the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, famous for its biodiversity and rare fynbos. A combination of new and old flowing single-track will wind through Lebanon, Thandi and Oak Valley on some unforgettable loops in apple country. However, the last few steep single-track climbs will throw agonising combination punches to the legs in the final push towards the lush fields of the race village in Oak Valley. Stage 6 - Oak Valley to Oak Valley (85km with 2 200m of climbing)Riders should not be fooled by the distance of the stage. It will be a hard day of climbing and Nuweberg will be the first big challenge ahead with the dangling carrot of stunning vistas at the top. On the penultimate day, nearing the climax of race week, the grand old lady Groenlandberg, will appear. Deep into this highly unique and remote landscape, riders will savour the solitude of the 30km of dual tracks through this pristine Cape Nature reserve as they tackle her in two parts. The first steady rise will bring them to a rutted descent. From here the path will contour along the side of this beautiful mountain, followed by the final ascent towards the saddle, followed by yet another tricky, washed-out descent. Riders will then get to enjoy the coveted single-track in Oak Valley. Stage 7 - Oak Valley to Lourensford (64km with 1 350m of climbing)Dr Evil has found a new way to the Champs Elysees of mountain biking, again reminding riders there will be no easy day at the Absa Cape Epic. Lourensford will await the tired athletes as they make their way from Oak Valley over Twin Peaks above the Elgin Dam, and down the ever-familiar portage section of Gantouw Pass. Extended single-track sections will then offer a final reward, before a last test of resolve – a few steep ascents with magnificent views of False Bay and Table Mountain. Once again, Lourensford hosts the Grand Finale festivities as riders experience that bittersweet feeling at the end of the arduous, yet epic journey of the Absa Cape Epic. Says Vermaak: “Our aim is not to make the route tougher each year just for the sake of it. We aim to offer participants from around the world an awesome trail that showcases the best that the Western Cape has to offer. We want new routes, with suitable technical and challenging riding, that take the riders to new towns whilst at the same time giving them the most beautiful and remote scenery, with wild animals to boot. Without the incredible support of Cape Nature Conservation, this would not be possible as they give us access to their reserves. “The Absa Cape Epic has grown in popularity worldwide and is increasingly becoming an iconic endurance event. Finishing the Absa Cape Epic is and will always be an enormous physical and mental challenge, and riders will need as much dedicated training and preparation to earn the title ‘Absa Cape Epic Finisher’,” he says. The Absa Cape Epic, the largest mountain bike stage race in the world, is organised and presented with the participating riders at the focal point. Their satisfaction, well-being and enjoyment of the race are the organisers' primary goals. Says Vermaak, “We aim to deliver an unsurpassed and unforgettable mountain bike and African travel-experience. Therefore, we offer a 24-hour full service around the race, including tented accommodation in race villages, carbo-loaded breakfasts and dinners, race nutrition, bike servicing, masseurs, and stage location specific entertainment every evening.” According to Happy Ntshingila, Absa’s Chief Marketing and Communication Officer, Absa’s partnership with the Absa Cape Epic has been most rewarding. “We have seen the development and success of this event into one of the best in the world and are extremely proud of our association. It has become a memorable annual event on the calendar for both professional cyclists and tourists alike. “The Absa Cape Epic sponsorship stands alongside other iconic properties such as the Absa Premiership, Absa Currie Cup, Bafana Bafana and the Springboks in strengthening the Absa brand. To this end, our sponsorship of the Cape Epic reinforces our commitment to the upliftment of sports as well as arts and culture in South Africa. Our association with the race has brought with it great rewards for both our clients and ourselves. Every year there’s an increase in the number of riders wanting to be part of the race, plus we’ve made it easier for our distinguished clients to experience this phenomenal event. The decision to extend the association to the entire Absa Group was based on these benefits that Absa Business Bank has previously derived from the partnership,” Mr. Ntshingila concludes. Visit www.cape-epic.com for more information.