They almost didn’t get an entry into the 2013 ABSA Cape Epic, but on Wednesday, four days into the race, Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes of the SCOTT Factory Racing team were sitting in eighth place overall and still in with a shot at the African Leader’s Jersey.
The 10th edition of the world’s most prestigious mountain bike stage race, was so heavily oversubscribed in 2013 that two-time African champion and London Olympian, Buys and his teammate, Beukes, South Africa’s top-ranked marathon racer, faced the prospect of missing one of the highlight events on the South African racing calendar.
They managed to secure an entry when Brandon Els, Managing Director of SCOTT Sports Africa offered them his entry. And they’ve shown impressive form in the event, which reached its halfway stage in the Boland town of Tulbagh on Wednesday.
Buys and Beukes finished Stage 3 in 10th place and held their eighth place on the General Classification, 16 minutes down on Darren Lill and Charles Keey (Cannondale Blend), the leaders of the African team competition.
“The African Leader’s Jersey is still one of our goals. There are still four days to go and lots of sections to come that suit our strengths,” said Buys, who shares with Beukes a fondness for technical riding.
“We’ve only really ridden one technical section so far, the descent towards the end of Stage 2. We’re looking forward to the higher percentage of singletrack and technical descents still to come,” said Beukes.
“Darren and Charles are having a superb race. It’s great to see a South African team in the top five,” said Buys. “Today they were especially strong to finish fourth.”
For Buys and Beukes, the strategy has been one of conservation.
“We’re racing an eight-day race and our strategy reflects that. It’s no use going really hard one day and then being flat the next. We’ve been cautious at times in order to minimise the risk of a mechanical problem or a puncture,” explained Beukes.
“So far we’ve had no tyre issues. We’re riding Maxxis Ikons 2.2 front and rear and they’ve been superb. We get new tyres every second day. But you also have to ride with a bit of caution in order to lower puncture risk and we’ve done just that,” said Buys. “There is also no doubt in my mind that 29-inch dual suspension is the ideal bike type for this race. Our SCOTT RC 29’s are perfect stage race bikes.
“We saw in the sand on Stage 1 how well the 29ers managed. And you can see how the guys on hardtails have to brace themselves all the time. It’s a rough course in places and a long race. Dual suspension is not negotiable,” added Buys.
Buys and Beukes have the full technical support of SCOTT Sports Africa, which has helped put the riders on a level playing field with the other top teams in the race.
“We don’t have to worry about our bikes at all!” remarked Beukes. “As we finish they get taken by a SCOTT mechanic and we get them back the next morning ready to race. They really just need a clean, lube and check for any potential problems because they’ve not given us any problems.”
“Brandon has been really good to us. Not only did we get his entry in the race he also arranged for us to have a camper vehicle to sleep in. It’s important to get good recovery time and sleep and this is the kind of support that Matthys and I aren’t used to but really appreciate,” smiled Beukes.
Thursday’s Stage 4 is a 106km leg from Tulbagh to Wellington which climbs a total of 1 900 vertical metres.