The Absa Cape Epic has often been compared to the Tour de France in its sheer difficulty and the endurance that is needed to complete the eight-day mountain bike stage-race. It was held earlier this year in Western Cape, South Africa from March 17 to 24 where 55 different counties were represented, and both seasoned and amateur riders alike from across the globe came to compete. It is not for the faint of heart or will, as out of the 753 teams of two that started the race only 516 finished.
Out of those 516 was Cowichan Valley’s dynamic duo Darren Meiner, a real estate agent with eXp Realty, and Tim Winter a consultant occupational therapist with Re:Function Health Group.
Winter has been a mountain biking enthusiast for the last 13 years, and has been racing on and off since 2016. It was in the BC Bike Race in 2017 that Winter first put his pedal to the mountain competitively. Racing to the finish of the Absa Cape Epic has been on Winter’s bucket list for a while, and he competed in three other stage races prior. Winter teamed up with Duncan’s Cycle Therapy owner Matt Grossnickel in 2020 to take on the challenge. Winter shared that after a full year of prep, the pandemic put a damper on their efforts and they were sent home on the Friday before the scheduled Sunday race was cancelled that year, so they went back to finish what they started in 2022.
“Last year I gave it a go, but I didn’t finish it,” said Winter. “I finished seven out of the eight stages, because I had some issues with my kidneys due to dehydration, because of the heat. The doctors pulled me from the final stage. It was unfinished business so I needed to go back.”
Winter needed a partner, so he called on Meiner, who sold him his house 10 years ago, and who’s been a pal ever since. Until last month Meiner had only ever competed in a myriad of road races. The Absa Cape Epic was their Everest.
“This is my first year; Tim talked me into it,” said Meiner. “It was tough, it was really tough, because it was day after day. I actually equated it to tree planting, which I did back in my university days. Working all day then coming home exhausted, sleeping in a tent in less than ideal conditions, then putting wet stuff on and getting back out there again. I was riding a bike, but it totally brought me back to tree planting.”
Cycle Therapy sponsored the twosome as they tenaciously braved the elements, and endured less than optimal health conditions to complete the 2023 Absa Cape Epic.
“The weather was atrocious this year,” said Meiner. “Last year it was the heat that did Tim in, but this year it was windy, rainy, and cold.”
Winter added, “When you are soaking wet, and there are 50 km an hour winds, and you are just exhausted and you end up getting all the shivers and chills. You really can’t compare this to any other bike race you would normally do, most are only a day long where you are on the bike for three to four hours. You go into this race at your peak physical fitness, ready to go, and then it’s all the other variables that you have no control over, which makes this event the most gruelling thing you could do on a mountain bike. It’s the stomach bugs, that sort of kicks the legs out of you for a while. We ended up having stomach bugs and bad sleeps because it was gale force winds, and your tent is smacking you in your head all night, with rain coming in sideways. So on the bike is brutal, long days, seven to eight hours at a go, and then you get back to base camp and you are still fighting the elements.”
After a year of intense training and prep that often took the two away from their families, Winter said that he and his partner-in-ride did everything they could to get it done.
“We just did everything we could to get there,” said Winter. “The dynamic of working as a team puts a whole other layer to everything that is going on. When we are healthy we ride equally, but in an event like this you never have two guys feeling the same on any given day. One day Darren is feeling rock star ready to go, and I’m dying or vice-versa.”
Winter said that there is different dynamic to this type of race because both members of the team are constantly trying to support one another, where with most bike races it is a solo mission. While the duo isn’t sure when they will take on their next stage race, they are both contemplating competing in the first Vancouver Island Waffle Ride in late May.
“The Absa Cape Epic challenges you in so many ways,” said Winter. “Its probably more of an emotional and mental game out there, than physical. You go out there physically prepared, and it’s extremely hard physically but it’s everything else that is thrown at you that you need to handle and manage. Our primary objective was to finish the race.”
This rugged race took the two Cowichan residents through roughly 700 untamed kilometres of unspoiled scenery and up 16,000 metres of climbing, according to the series website. They pedalled their hearts out travelling 648 kilometres with an impressive time of 47:26.22 having them finish 119th in the masters men category and 370th overall. The pair shared that while they may have been near the back of the pack, the quality of the riders was world class, including one rider who was in fact an eight time world champion.
“The quality of the pack was phenomenal and it felt great to ride alongside the best of the best.” said Meiner. “We were just weekend warriors out there trying to survive, but we did it, and we did good. Once we did the climbs on the final day, were down to the final 10 km, that was the best.”
Meiner shared that on that last leg the two experienced absolute euphoria to know they had conquered the impossible.
“It was an absolute amazing adventure, and to finish it is quite an accomplishment,” Winter added. “It couldn’t have been better; my wife was able to come out and when we got close to the finish line she was there cheering us on. It was overwhelming with emotions, it gives me goosebumps just talking about it.”