"This is crazy, a paradise, the best trails in the world, a country made for mountain biking." Ibon Zugasti has just won the stage of the day in mixed with his partner, Alice Pirard, and continues to freak out. And it is not news to him, because few Spaniards have played seven times the Cape Epic. MTB fever has its Mecca in an unsuspected place in South Africa to which not only the best cyclists in the world make pilgrimage every year, but also hundreds of popular athletes willing to share camp and unique experiences. There, in the province of the Western Cape, the Absa Cape Epic has been held since 2004: eight stages, almost 700 kilometers and more than 15,000 meters of accumulated altitude between impressive vineyards.

Luis Enrique has promoted this 2023 media a test that does not need it. Because its boom is such that registrations take less than 48 hours to sell out every year... Although the price is around 3,000 euros -there is such demand that then the organization makes a raffle-, per participant. Because one of the great peculiarities of Cape Epic is that it is disputed in pairs, up to 650 in total. "To that we must add around 1,000 euros of the plane ticket from Spain, plus the expense in physiotherapy and mechanics offered by several companies. Equipment, own bicycle, preparation... And 11 days of vacation, "says Miguel Silvestre, first-person connoisseur of the Cape, former cyclist and organizer of tests, who, however, speaks of the magic of an event like no other: "It is the Test, with a capital letter. By far. There is nothing like it. It's like comparing Alonso's Aston Martin to a Seat Panda." "I always say, the Cape is cheap for everything it gives. The finisher who kills to come, which can take eight or nine hours each day, shares everything with the best in the world, a superstage queens every day, "adds Zugasti, who talks about media coverage, a country delivered, the pampering of the participants ...

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Ibon Zugasti, the crazy cyclist who went viral: "At the age of 32 I left a life of yuppie for the bicycle. My mother wanted to kill me."


Ibon Zugasti, the crazy cyclist who went viral: "At the age of 32 I left a life of yuppie for the bicycle. My mother wanted to kill me."

And that is why, on the starting line, along with the popular busily people, the best bikers in the world are present and also the most mediatic, driven by the main brands that do not miss the showcase. The specialists in XCO, the Olympic distance, such as Nino Schruter (together with Andri Frischknecht leads the test after four stages played) or the Spanish David Valero -bronze in the last Tokyo Games-, with the marathoners. Because a test of one or two hours on a circuit is not the same as the challenge of eight consecutive days on the road. "It's not of enormous technical difficulty, but it's very demanding. It has less adventure, because there is no navigation, than pure mountain biking. A lot of value is given to the design of the route, to the details, all the trails are taken care of, the departures are staggered from seven in the morning so that funnels do not form ...", describes Silvestre.

The original idea came a decade ago. Kevin Vermaak, inspired by La Ruta de los Conquistadores de Costa Rica, inaugurated in South Africa a stage race that soon, under the auspices of the UCI, was going to become the "Tour de France of mountain biking". In 2020, the same investment group that bought the Ironman brand took over the Cape Epic and prices rose around 400 euros, but even that has not managed to curb its global popularity.

Luis Enrique and Team Unzué.MUNDO

A boom that has in Spain one of its main fishing grounds, as it is always the second or third country with more participants, around 100 per edition. Thanks also to the celebrities who echoed it, such as Santi Millán, Josef Ajram, Rafa Medina, the Duke of Feria, in his day. Now it is Luis Enrique who puts it on everyone's lips – also Vicenzo Nibali, recently retired – in his third participation (he completed those of 2013 and 2018): the first thing he did after being fired as coach in the last World Cup was to start preparing the Cape Epic.

In total, the Spaniard, who has already completed an Ironman, several marathons and even the very hard Marathon des Sables in the Sahara, has dedicated 13 weeks to the set-up under the orders of his physical trainer (Chema Arguedas), telling on Instagram his adventures. For him it is a special challenge, because together with two more couples (in one of them is his brother Felipe), they form Team Unzué in tribute to the former goalkeeper and his fight against ELA, Luis Enrique's partner in 2013 -at that time they were first and second coach of Celta-, when they invested 48 hours to be among the top 50 of the Masters category. This time the former coach, who makes homeland riding an MMR (Asturian brand), forms a duo with Tomás Latorre, as in 2018. After three stages and the prologue, and almost 22 hours pedaling, they march in position 38 of their category, in the 323 of the general.


That, running with someone, is perhaps the most special element of the Cape, because not only efforts are shared, but also sleeplessness, breakdowns and even tent, where the night can be whipped by wind or rain. It is its DNA and its explanation is in the origins. Then – 26' bikes, rigid, two-plate and many still without disc brakes – was forged to guarantee safety: the GPS was not so accurate nor the coverage of the mobiles and taking someone next to it was the best guarantee of not being abandoned.

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