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An elated Kombo Bere (left) and Daan Terblanche (right) with their Absa Cape Epic finisher’s medals on Sunday. Photo supplied.

Epic finish for local cycling duo

Date: 29 March 2024 By: Andries van Zyl

They did it! Louis Trichardt cyclists Kombo Bere and Daan Terblanche cycled across the finish line in Stellenbosch to complete their first-ever Absa Cape Epic on Sunday. This was a dream come true for both, but also a dream they had to fight for in a race considered to be one of the toughest mountain-bike races in the world.

The Absa Cape Epic is the most televised mountain-bike race in the world and the only eight-day mountain bike stage race classed as hors catégorie by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). This official UCI status makes it a highlight on the professional racer's calendar. This year saw the 20th edition of the Cape Epic, and according to the event’s website, every rider who crossed the line at the grand finale after 603 km and nearly 16,050 m of climbing has a very special place in “The Book of Legend”.

Kombo and Daan entered as a development team, riding in the colours of the Soutpansberg Youth Cycling Development (SYCD). The duo competed in the highly competitive UCI Elite Men's category alongside some of the country’s (and the world's) best mountain bikers. Cycling over the finishing line on Sunday, Kombo and Daan had spent just over 45 hours and two minutes on the bicycle saddles over the eight-day period to finish 42nd in their category and 320th overall.

“The Epic was really very tough. It is hard on your body,” said Daan on Tuesday. The duo almost saw their Cape Epic dream come to an abrupt end during only the second stage of the race. Daan’s rear wheel freehub broke just after the 50km mark, and the two spent an hour, maybe an hour and a half, trying to fix it.

“But we decided it would be better to try and make it to the next water point. We took turns pushing the bike and running,” said Daan. “The water point was about 23/24 kilometres away, so it was a proper running/free-wheeling experience,” added Kombo. But this decision took its toll. “This took a lot out of our legs, because after that water point, when we got the wheel, there were still some very big climbs left on the stage. We knew we were going to pay for it on the next day or the day after,” said Kombo.

Kombo and Daan finished the stage with barely 30 minutes to spare before the cut-off time. “We are happy to have finished that stage and ultimately the Epic. I think a lot of other people were shocked on the other days when they saw us, because they saw us along the roadside and we looked helpless. So, it was something special for us to be able to line up the next day as they are very strict with cut-off times ... it was close,” said Kombo.

Daan remembers how they were struggling. “We had no legs left after the running. It came and went, but mostly went. I also struggled a lot with lower back pain. At times, the pain was overwhelming. I remember telling Kombo on Stage 3 that I was done – I would not be returning for the next stage the following day,” said Daan.

Daan had to dig deep to get on the bike the next day, with Kombo spurring him on to continue. “At the end of the day, you know what needs to be done, and you do it. You gather yourself, climb back on your bike, and push through to the end. It got a little bit better, but the last day, for me, was the worst day of all. I was just empty! It felt like there was nothing left in the tank to do anything. At that stage, my back was in excruciating pain,” said Daan.

The moment was an emotional one for the duo and their supporters when they completed the race. “The race was very technical, so it was only by God's grace that we finished and finished it safely. For me, mentally, the race was extremely tough, especially with my back pain. This was, by far, the toughest thing I have ever done in my life,” said Daan.

“It is only now that we are becoming normal people again. The Epic just changes everything. It messes up your time schedule and your days. But it was an amazing, amazing, amazing experience!” said Kombo.

Asked how he felt after finishing the race, he said [on Tuesday] the reality was only starting to sink in then. “Literally, across the whole field, everybody labelled it as the hardest Epic they have ever done, including those cyclists that have done 10 plus Epics. Apart from that, because it was also the 20th edition, Epic went big on everything. It was so, so lekker, but extremely tough. I would say 60% of it was just cross-country racing, literally. I mean, it was insane rocks and crazy steep climbs, and the heat was extreme for the first few days. We are talking 40°C plus. But everything around the Epic event was just amazing,” said Kombo.

Kombo and Daan not only had to fight to stay in the race physically but also mentally. What kept them going was different for each of them. “As you get closer to the end, you gather up the strength each morning you wake up and think about why you came to Epic, the people who have contributed to getting you to Epic, the people in underprivileged communities who don’t have such opportunities… so you pretty much motivate yourself. Your dream is what drives you onward,” said Kombo. “If it were up to me, I would have given up, to be honest. But by God’s grace alone, I kept going, knowing that this [the race] too would come to an end. The thought of not finishing the Epic scared me more than the pain I was experiencing on and off the bike. It has been a dream of mine to do the Epic since the day I started cycling,” added Daan.

Despite the hardships they endured, Daan is already preparing himself for next year's Cape Epic. “I look forward to going back and doing it again next year, because we have unfinished business at the Epic. But next time, we will prepare a bit better and see to it that we have better equipment. Overall, it was lekker but challenging. There were difficult times, but there were also good times amidst the difficult times,” said Daan.

Kombo is also keen on getting back in the saddle for their next big adventure. “We got an invite to the Wines to Whales race at the end of the year. The organisers said we must come and do it. That is only three days of racing, but again in this beautiful area here in the Cape. So, that is something to look forward to for the end of the year,” said Kombo.

Kombo and Daan were extremely grateful toward each and every one who had supported them and contributed to helping their dreams of not only competing in but also finishing the Cape Epic. “Thank you guys so much. God bless you all. It was so beautiful to see a community get behind us,” said the duo.

 

 

 
 
 

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Andries van Zyl

Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.

 
 

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