They’re over 40 but by no means over the hill. In fact, they’re some of the fittest athletes in the world! A total of 138 teams will compete in the Master’s category at the 2009 Absa Cape Epic which in all likelihood, will have a higher percentage of finishers than any of the other categories.
You see, these guy aren’t professional mountain bike racers, but they’ve endured enough life stuff to know what they want and how get it. Gone are they days when they made foolish errors and paid for them dearly. No, they’ve graduated to that life stage where everything is carefully planned and passionately executed.
From highly successful businessmen, to former professional athletes, to average blokes with a wife and two kids, they come from different backgrounds and from all over the world but they all have a common goal – to finish one of the most demanding sports events in the world. Yep, eight days, 685km and within that, more than 14000m of climbing!
South Africans have traditionally fared well in this category, although in recent years, they’ve met strong opposition from the Europeans.
Heading up the South African challenge this year is the Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota pair of Andrew McLean (44) and Shan Wilson (40). Both were exceptional athletes in their younger years with McLean having been one of the country’s top road professionals and Wilson a canoeist that turned mountain bike racer.
McLean won the Master’s category (partnered by Damian Booth) at his first attempt in 2006 while Wilson, a former overall stage winner, finished second at his first shot at the Master’s title last year with Italian partner, Walter Platzgummer.
Cape Epic success requires more than just two super-skilled, finely tuned athletes. It also requires teamwork. And a strong partnership takes time to build, which counts in the favour of McLean and Wilson, who have raced to category victories as well as top-10 places overall at the 2008 York Timbers Sabie Experience and the 2009 Subaru Sani2c, two of the country’s premier mountain bike stage races.
“Our preparation has gone quite well. However you can’t read too much into our success in the build-up because the Cape Epic is so much harder and the racing so much more intense,” said McLean. “Shan and I did however get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that counts for a lot. We just have to hope for consistency and, because nothing is certain in mountain bike racing, some luck!”
“There’s a bigger percentage of climbing in this year’s race compared to previous years. That suits Andrew and I. It also means more downhills and I can tell you that Andrew’s descending is pretty impressive. He’s improved a lot in the past year,” said Wilson, a highly skilled descender.
Their primary opposition will come from defending Master’s champions, Doug Brown (RSA) and Barti Bucher (SUI) racing as the Absa Masters team and Lieb Loots (RSA) and MC Franken (RSA), racing at the Pragma Masters, both former podium finishers.
“There will be some other European teams in the mix too,” said Wilson. “There’s so much cycling depth from there and we’ve heard a Belgian team and a British team are likely podium challengers too.”
The most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world, starts on Saturday, in the form of a 19km prologue on the slopes of Table Mountain. McLean and Wilson are last to start in the Master’s category, which gives them the advantage of getting time splits on their rivals. However, while the result of the prologue is a good indicator of form, it’s got no real bearing on the final outcome of the race, which starts proper on Sunday’s 112km haul from Gordon’s Bay to Villiersdorp.
To follow the Master’s race, visit www.cape-epic.com for daily updates and results.