The Absa Cape Epic Pro-Am Race kicks off on Wednesday 17 March, at 20:00 GMT+2, on the very same course that wrapped up the fourth and final stage of the Virtual Absa Cape Epic – Watopia’s Serpentine 8. The setting, however, will be vastly different this time round as amateur community riders that have qualified by completing all four stages will go head-to-head against the professionals, albeit in batches, just like the actual race. The community racers will leave the start pens first in the hopes of staying away from the professional men and women who kick off their respective races spaced in three-minute intervals. Will the professionals make the catch? Well, Cyclingnews‘ Aaron Borrill has put together a comprehensive breakdown of the course to give you an idea of what to expect and who to watch. Tune in to the Live Broadcast of the racing on the Absa Cape Epic Facebook page and YouTube channel to see if Aaron’s predictions ring true.
Route Preview: Watopia’s Serpentine 8
Watopia’s Serpentine 8 was introduced in December 2020 and marks one of the game’s latest expansions. Essentially the Jungle Circuit, Serpentine 8 differs by way of the Mayan Bridge Road which bisects the circuit forming a ‘figure eight’ taking in the entire Jungle Circuit and Mayan Bridge in both directions. While the 26.5km/205m course may come across as a little innocuous on paper, the route is anything but forgiving on the legs.
Naturally, the intensity is going to determine the difficulty of the course and, as the main event, the Pro-AM is going to deliver some seriously fast-paced action. As previously mentioned, the amateurs will hold somewhat of an advantage over the professionals having raced it on the fourth and final stage of the Virtual Absa Cape Epic- and will have a clear understanding of just how much effort is required as far as pacing goes.
The course follows very much the same start layout as the regular Jungle Circuit with a fast and furious 7.1km lead-in – which marks a decisive point in the race as a sub-nine-minute effort at 50km/h is going to be the difference between making the selection or not. The official start comes at 7.2km, the banner of which will double up as the finish line. There’s no time to catch your breath either as a false flat takes you to the start of the counter-clockwise Jungle Climb. Comprising a series of step-ups the secret here is to stay on the power – even on the flat sections – to avoid getting gapped. The climb will eventually top out at 11.8km where you’ll need to cross the Rope Bridge. Again, keep your speed high and try to use your momentum to crest the steeper section of the bridge before the descent.
The descent is fast but will require the utmost concentration as the gravel roads don’t lend themselves much to saving energy or providing much draft or shelter either. Expect sub-threshold efforts here – try to spin out the legs in an easier gear to flush out some lactate and get ready for another all-out assault. At the bottom of the descent, riders will swing right and back onto the lumpy Mayan Bridge Road before a short descent marks the start of the Jungle Climb Clockwise. This is where those looking at scoring a big result will need to stay alert – attacks come thick and fast on this section and a breakaway is likely to form here as the selection starts shedding weaker riders. The secret will be staying near the front and watching the w/kg column on the widget to your right – any orange number flare-ups is a dead giveaway as to what is about to transpire. There are two power-up opportunities on this course that will be awarded each time you cross the start/finish banner – these should be used sparingly. The lightweight feather and draft boost are the two likely power-ups to be served out. Of the two I’d suggest holding onto the draft boost as it will help provide some respite for 30 seconds and even assist you on the climbs, granted the group is fairly large.
One more pass of the Rope Bridge (remember to keep your speed high to assist with momentum up the steeper section) and you’re almost home. Again, the descent is not for recovery and riders will almost certainly need to kick hard over the top to carry some big speed into the downhill gravel road. Try spin out the legs by mixing up your cadence – 10 secs at 100rpm and then back into a bigger gear to ensure you stay in the pack and don’t get dropped. Repeat this a couple of times to help soothe your legs while keeping an eye on the front and w/kg column to the right. Those who have managed to save their power-ups will be at an advantage going into the final 2km of rolling terrain.
The final pass through the Mayan Bridge is going to be appreciably difficult. At 3% average gradient it is going to feel harder than the first two assaults from both ways but it’s here where you’ll need to roll the dice: stay in the pack, put in an attack or use a power-up should you still possess one? I’d suggest saving your power-up and putting in one last effort to climb your way out to the 25km marker. A short downhill will take you under the rock formation and onto a wooden bridge which serves as a harbinger for the sprint. Watch the countdown and ensure you’re in the right gear. I’d suggest a somewhat long-range ramp up from 550m, engaging the power-up at 200m and holding the power to the end.
WHO TO WATCH: PRO MEN and WOMEN
The professional men’s field is a star-studded amalgam of the who’s who in international cycling – road and MTB disciplines alike. While it’s hard to predict who is going to perform based on training loads and target races, this is the Virtual Absa Cape Epic after all and we should see some fireworks on display – particularly from riders who use the Zwift platform to train and race. While former five-time Absa Cape Epic winner Christoph Sauser and 2014 winner Kristian Hynek can’t be written off, neither can the cross-country specialists such as Gerhard Kerschbaumer, Fabian Giger, Nicola Rohrbach – who are arguably better suited to this explosive, short-track-style racing.
Matt Beers. The South African mountain bike specialist has one of the biggest engines in the sport and has proven his pedigree time and again regardless of the discipline. Having convincingly beaten Alan Hatherly and Eddy Hoole at the FNB Wines2Whales Champions Chase on Zwift just a few months back, Matt has the sustainable power to tear the field apart and ride away to victory.
Jaco Venter. A veritable darkhorse, Jaco has the pedigree and power profile to do well on this particular course. Having raced all three grand tours – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España – apart from former teammate Jacques Janse Van Rensburg, there isn’t another rider in the field as decorated.
WHO TO WATCH: PRO WOMEN
The women’s field is as decorated as the men’s boasting a stellar field of mixed-discipline royalty. South Africa’s Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio will be looking to use her pre-season form and Zwift know-how to great effect as she jostles with some of the best mountain bikers in the world. Again, the field heavily comprises cross-country riders such as Caroline Bohe, Elisabeth Brandau, Laura Stiger and South Africa’s Sarah Hill – all of whom have the high-revving engines ideally suited to excel over shorter distances.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. The SD Worx rider needs no introduction having openly admitted to Zwift changing her riding and training for the better. The South African backed this up by winning the first UCI Cycling eSports World Championships on Zwift last year proving she has both the ability and mettle to succeed under pressure in a high-intensity setting.
Catherine Colyn.The former U23 South African National Road Champion is also a two-time Zwift Academy finalist and knows how to train and race on the platform. A sprightly and gifted climber, she has what it takes to put in a good showing on this course and challenge for the win based on her extensive knowledge of the in-game nuances.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Approaching 16 years of testing anything with wheels Aaron Borrill is a world-renowned cycling journalist who specialises in road and mountain bike tech. As technical editor of Cyclingnews.com, he travels the world in search of all the latest kit, components and bikes. He’s also a top amateur road racer and mountain biker, not to mention self-confessed Zwift addict racing for CRYO RDT eSports.