When Karl Platt and Mannie Heymans won the first Absa Cape Epic in 2003 their efforts earned them a pair of sunglasses each. When Platt heard the announcement yesterday that next year’s prize-money at the Epic would total R1-million, he asked: “I still have my sunglasses but please can I get the million.”
The number of the prize money is a magic one, but there is another magic number that Kevin Vermaak, the race founder, would like the Epic to have – a first prize of €50 000 (about R530 530). That would make the Epic, already a must-do for many of the world’s top marathon and cross-country mountain bikers, a cannot-miss race. “It’s more than the bonus for winning the World Cup,” said Vermaak. “You’d have those riders who wonder if it’s worth riding the race so early in the season making plans to take part. You might even get a few of those mountain bikers who have moved on to the road thinking about changing back to the mountain bike for a while, just to come and race. We want the world’s best to keep returning here – now we want make sure that they are clamouring to arrive.”
That first prize figure may take another year to bring to reality – or it may happen in 2013. Vermaak has never been afraid of innovation when it comes to his event, refusing to glorify the past of the event in case the future dries up. The next year is the making of the race; not the present or the past, and the Epic has a quite magnificent past. Vermaak will readily admit that the Epic made losses until a few years ago. He absorbed the losses by making them part of the next year’s budget of the Epic. Contrary to popular opinion, the Epic makes good money but Vermaak is not a man who drives around town in a Porsche.
The Epic is a business, but also a labour of much love. It is the most-televised mountain bike race in the world, and it also may just lay claim to being the best.
Yesterday the Epic revealed a series of statistics for the 2012 event – the highest number of masters (old guys over 40, like me) rode; the number of riders using 29ers increased from 23 to 64percent; 43percent of international riders were visiting South Africa for the first time; 60percent of race participants are either CEOs or directors, and in 2012 just two percent more were directors; 77percent of riders from 2012 said they would ride again before the race had started. Afterwards over 80percent said they would ride again.
I was asked seven or eight times whether I would ride in 2013. It depends. Does the R1-million prize money extend to 400th place?