Cape Town - The Amabubesi Finisher Club
celebrates all riders who have finished three or more Absa Cape Epics.
pride of lions grows year on year, but at their head are four unique riders.
They are the ever-present, fantastic four - the Last Lions - Craig Beech, John
Gale, Mike Nixon and Hannele Steyn.
Since 2015, when Hendrik van
Huyssteen last rode the Absa Cape Epic, the tussle for the Last Lion Trophy has
been locked in a four-way battle, which shows no sign of abating.
“I will try
and do it until something outside of my power stops me” the rose among the
thorns, Steyn, confided. That view is echoed by Beech, Gale and Nixon.
the tiger by the tail,” laughed Gale, employing a fitting metaphor for the
Untamed African Mountain Bike Race.
Nixon’s response to when he will
stop competing is equally entertaining: “After so many years, my wonderful wife
has got used to the solitude from December to March. So when she wants me
back I will stop.” Their responses beg the question: what makes four people
dedicate so much time to a single event?
“It has now become a little bit of a
habit,” Beech confessed.
“Due to work travel I don’t get the
opportunity to do many races in the calendar year; so I try pin down one or two
each year, in which to participate,” the conservationist from Somerset West
“I definitely favour the longer stage events, and the Absa Cape Epic
is often described as the toughest in the world, and I appreciate the
challenge. I also like to spend our end of year break on the bike, often
cycling through the Karoo. The year’s travels are similar to how a bear would
treat its summer, I find I am scurried around, all the while building up the
‘winter storage’, and then the time comes at the end of the year to pin things
down, use the lard and burn the calories.”
Steyn though has no need to ever
burn excess calories. The former World Champion triathlete is as active as ever
and clocks up a significant amount of time on the bike coaching and leading
tours for Breakaway Rides.
“I love the race and it became my favourite race
experience,” Steyn said. Remembering the early years she continued: “From the
very first one, when I had no clue of what to expect or what multi-day racing
was all about, I have loved it. As a professional racing for adidas
International, that was also the sponsor of the first Absa Cape Epic, it was
just one of the planned races on my calendar. But after I retired from
professional racing in 2007, I had done four already and wanted to get to five
at least. Each year after that I was fortunate enough to get a sponsor and then
it became a challenge to get to number ten. If you have done ten, you must
either stop or again carry on till the next big number…”
Her dedication to the Absa Cape Epic
was honoured in 2018 with the creation of the Absa African Women’s Category. In
seeking to promote women’s mountain biking on the continent, the race and title
sponsors Absa invested in local cycling by honouring the best placed
all-African women’s teams with red jerseys and at the end of the race with the
Hannele Steyn Trophy. The trophy was designed by Kgaogelo Mashilo and features
the Wawa Aba Adinkra symbol and the seeds from the West African wawa tree. Both
the seed and the symbol are regarded by people of the Akan culture, for
strength and toughness they are said to inspire perseverance through hardship.
The first names on the Hannele Steyn
Trophy are Candice Lill and Amy McDougall. As yet though there are no names on
Dylan Lewis’s Last Lion Trophy. It is a work of rare beauty and features a lion
lying on a rock surveying the plains of Africa stretching out before it. For
the foreseeable future it will remain unadorned by a plaque as it can only be
awarded to one rider.
That four have endured so long is a
“It takes a whole year of luck in training and being lucky
enough with health, work and personal life to be at the start line” Gale
stated. Luck in getting to the star is only the beginning however.
consecutive days of luck on the bike, not picking up an injury, not
dehydrating, not getting sunstroke, not breaking the bike; it needs a lot of
luck. Each year the field is stronger, faster, better equipped and better
prepared” Gale said, undaunted by the challenge ahead.
The pressure does not get to the
Last Lions however.
“It is the Tour de France of mountain biking, on your
doorstep. How can you resist?” Nixon asked.
He, Gale, Beech and Steyn
show no signs of resisting any time soon. Their Amabubesi (a pride of lions)
will not be shrinking in number.