Gunning for the Cape Epic Record Books

The Hanekom Brothers set their sights

 

Simply finishing the Cape Epic is a huge achievement that requires months of dedication, ample team work and a healthy appetite for pain. Riders' emotions, as they cross the line on the 8th and final day each year, run high with the relief of having safely completed the world's toughest mountain bike stage race.

While gaining entry into the Cape Epic's Amabubesi Finisher's Club - by successfully completing three editions - is a brilliant accomplishment, each year there are a rare breed of Mountain Bikers (some may say they have lost their marbles) who are racing towards their 10th Cape Epic finish. 

And then ... you get the Hanekom Brothers. 

Local legends in their native Western Cape, the Hanekoms - Sakkie (42) and Hannes (45) - are not just racing towards a 10th and 12th Cape Epic finish respectively in 2021, but are in fact attempting to become the first ever partnership in the event's 17 year history to complete 10 Cape Epics as a pairing. 

Rush Sports' Marketing Manager, Oli 'Pinner' Munnik, himself a 10 time Cape Epic finisher, sat down with the humble siblings during September's The U MTB stage race in Piket-Bo-Berg to find out what makes the Hanekoms tick.

Sakkie Hanekom  
Age: 42        
Hometown: Witzenberg Valley, Ceres
Day Job: Fruit Farmer
Years Riding: 30
Bike: Santa Cruz Blur CC XX1 RSV
Tyres: Maxxis Aspen 29 x 2.4" WT
Cape Epics Completed: 9
Best GC Position: 17th overall, 2013
Climbs, Flats or Descents? Climbs

Hannes Hanekom
Age: 45
Hometown: Witzenberg Valley, Ceres
Day Job: Fruit Farmer
Years Riding: 35
Bike: Santa Cruz Blur CC XX1 RSV
Tyres: Maxxis Aspen 29 x 2.4" WT
Cape Epics Completed: 11
Best GC Position: 17th overall, 2013
Climbs, Flats or Descents? Climbs

Brothers United

Oli: What is it about the Cape Epic that has kept you coming back each year?
 

Hannes

We love riding and racing our bikes and having fun on them ... and when the race that is considered the pinnacle of mountain biking is on your doorstep every year and you are truly blessed to be able to do it every time and ride with your brother who you have raced and ridden with all your life, it is very hard to say no.

Sakkie

Are you kidding me?! It’s an international, world famous MTB stage race that contains the best trails in the Western Cape, attracts the best riders in the world and literally goes past my house! What’s not to like?

Oli: Having completed 9 Cape Epics together, what is it that has made you such a reliable partnership at this gruelling event?

Hannes

You can probably over analyze this and get lost in the facts and figures of how we are physically very similar, how well we know each other and how our abilities are pretty evenly matched etc etc, and yes, that plays a huge role … but I think the No. 1 reason is the fact that we don’t race each other, we have nothing to prove to each other and we leave our egos at home: we team up, and together, we race against the Epic. 

Sakkie

Well, I think no other two riders in a team know each other better than we do. We respect each other, so we never try to break one another. You don’t have to explain how you feel, you don’t have to ask how he feels, you just know … on a technical note, our riding strengths and weaknesses are so similar that you don’t even have to look behind you to see where your partner is. That makes a huge difference in such a long week of riding. The most important thing is: when we ride, we have fun!


Oli: Do you have any stand out moments from past editions?

Hannes

There are, as you can imagine after so many Epics, plenty of amazing moments... but for me the memory of my late wife, Bea, smiling and cheering like I won the thing every time we crossed the finish line will forever be my most amazing and beautiful memory from the Epic. She passed away 2 years ago and those who knew her will tell you that she loved the racing, supporting “her boys" and the Epic probably even more than we did. If there was an Amabubesi prize for best supporter ever in the Epic, Bea would have won it hands down every year! This year will be the first Epic without her and it will be emotionally very hard but I am sure when we cross that line, Sakkie and I will be able to call up that memory and be able to hear her cheers and love for her No. 1 team louder than ever before.

Sakkie

There are just too many to mention in one article! There were specific moments, like riding and chatting with Jose Hermida and Ralph Naef through most of our Valley. Getting a lesson in full suspension bike riding on the wheel of Mannie Heymans and Raynard Tissink at the back of Groenlandberg. Riding, on many occasions, with real legends of the sport, such as; Linus van Onselen, Moolman Welgemoed, Nick Lamond and you Oli! Those are moments you just never forget.

 

Oli: What attracted you to the Santa Cruz Blur as your bike for the 2021 Cape Epic?  
 

Hannes

It is like the bike is made for South African stage racing. The modern geometry makes it very safe and comfortable over technical terrain. The suspension design and light weight makes it climb like a dream. You can fit 2 water bottles in the frame's front triangle and the warranty on the frame and amazing Reserve Carbon wheels is unmatched by any of the other brands. It is a step ahead of all of the other bikes at the moment when it comes to riding and racing in this country in my opinion and of course riding the same brand as the G.O.A.T  Greg Minnaar himself is more than enough reason to ride a Santa Cruz isn't it?


Sakkie

Team Greg Minnaar!! Enough said. Although we were on probably one of the best Epic bikes available, we were looking at the Blurs for a couple of reasons; a slightly slacker head angle, steeper seat angle, higher BB clearance and lower weight. That’s it. All there. And those wheels! Oh my word, they’re lekker (with a lifetime warranty BTW)! The bike is such a nice climber and is very stable on technical and rough terrain. Both are important in a race like the Epic, where concentration levels can take a dip when you get tired.

Oli: Have either of you made any tweaks to your Blurs?

Hannes

I run it pretty much out of the box. Removed the dropper post (I am old school that way) and fitted a 10mm longer stem. We use Look pedals. Also fitted a different saddle but that’s just because saddles are a very personal thing and I am a little bit vol stront that way. I will change the tyres to Maxxis Rekon Race 2.4" for the Epic just to have that little bit of extra grip on the loose stuff. 

Sakkie

Like Hannes, I've also swapped out my dropper post for a traditional seat post. Other than that, I literally put on a pair of Look (X-track carbon race) pedals, bottle cages (yes, two!) and my Garmin. That’s it! It comes with Maxxis Aspen 2.4" tyres, which we will swap for Maxxis Rekon Race 2.4’s in the Epic.

Oli: What are your bikes weighing in at?

Hannes

Epic race ready, with sealant, pedals, bottle cages and Garmin it comes in at just a fraction over 10kg.

Sakkie

As is, with sealant in the (2.4") tires, pedals, bottle cages, ready to race, 10.35kg.

Oli: Any advice for riders starting their first Cape Epic in two week’s time?

Hannes

First of all, enjoy it. Remember that you are blessed beyond belief to be able to do this. Look after each other and never race your partner, rather communicate honestly how you feel. Start slower than you think … the Epic is hard and long and will bite you towards the end. You will almost always make up more time on day 5, 6 or 7 on your direct competitors than you will lose on day 1 and 2 if you keep something in the tank. Make sure your bike is serviced and that everything is in good condition. Please do NOT fit the lightest tyres you can find!!! The terrain in the Western Cape is some of the harshest you will find anywhere in the world when it comes to tyres. Top-up your sealant once or twice during the race. Eat and drink what you're used to … do not try something new during the race - our bodies need time to adapt and the sudden change in nutrition under extremely hard racing conditions can very easily end up in the most expensive week-long bathroom break you'll ever take!!! Last but not least … take a moment here and there to look around you and see the beauty of this amazing country we live in from mountain tops and viewpoints that very few are privileged to ever get to and experience. When, during the race you think that it's too hard, just remember that, if two little known appel boertjies from the Witzenberg Valley can make it, you bloody well can too!!!   

Sakkie

Don’t ride too hard during the first 3-4 days, especially in this Epic. The terrain will make it hard enough (remember those durable tyres!) and the last couple of days will demand your best self. Pace yourself according to the weakest rider in the team, more so on the climbs and technical terrain. Start eating early enough during the stage. You won’t be able to stomach a lot of things later in the stage, so keep your tank full (also not too full) early on. Try and eat foods as natural as possible because your body knows how to digest them. Don’t panic or get negative when you feel weak or tired. Eat something, ride at a comfortable pace for a while and it will come back soon. It once took me 90km before I started feeling strong again, you just have to remain positive. This type of thing happens more than you might think!

Just enjoy nature and riding your bike! That is what it’s all about …!

Keep track of Hannes and Sakkie's progress during the 2021 Cape Epic by either tracking them via their team name: Team Santa Cruz Masters or their team number: 101 on cape-epic.com during race week, 17-24 October 2021

The U MTB images courtesy of Chris Hitchcock

The Santa Cruz Dealer Network 

Sakkie and Hannes are proud customers of JP van Zyl owner of Re-Cycles in Bellville, Cape Town. 

For more information on the Santa Cruz Blur and other premium models within the range, please visit your local Santa Cruz dealer today.

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