The late morning sun beats fiercely onto the rugged South African landscape, accompanied by a relentless hiss of riders skidding and the disjointed beat of chain slap. Here, at the ABSA Cape Epic, is where bikes and riders are pushed to their limits. That warm, yellow glow of the sun is something to be enjoyed later. Right now, there’s an almost imperceptible pause, a moment to look at the trail ahead and assess the line.

Team ASSOS at the 2018 ABSA Cape Epic is made up of Christopher Haas and Stephan Weber, road riders, keen triathletes, and longtime friends from Germany. “We’re the sorts of guys who mountain bike in winter when the weather is foul,” laughs Christopher when we catch up with him after his extended trip to South Africa. “But riding the Cape Epic has been our dream for years. We wouldn’t really classify ourselves as super technical riders, so it’s fair to say we went into the Cape Epic with a few doubts about how well we’d get on. After all, everyone had warned us about just how difficult it will be.”

Long, hard climbs followed by dusty, dry trails that you can rally down. A lot of pedaling, a lot of XC-style singletrack. Wide, open vistas that distract you from stray roots and rocks. Such steep, loosely packed ramps that you’re leaning so low over your bike to keep it planted. That narrow ridge you see up ahead; that’s the one you’ll be taking. Fortunately, the technicality of a route is subjective, and Team ASSOS was psyched to find that it was far more rideable than they’d expected. “That’s true!” laughs Christoph. “We rode it fairly conservatively this time but next time around I’d go there with the intentions of being much more competitive. The prologue was the most demanding stage, as we really didn’t know how it would go and the pressure was on because you’ve been preparing for this day for 4–5 months. It was a big unknown. That and the fourth stage were the most technical, but naturally, every single day had tricky bits where we shouldered the bikes. There was one stage that was 120km and we rode it with a 20km/h average though, so that tells you something about the technical nature. I was riding a hardtail, a Look 989, which was totally capable, but next time I’d definitely prefer to ride a full-suspension bike.”

2018 marked the fifth consecutive year of ASSOS-sponsored leaders’ jerseys at the ABSA Cape Epic. Worn by the toughest riders, valued by everyone.

Now back out on the road across Germany as a sales rep, he’s since had time to process the experience: “It was incredible. The sense of belonging among all the riders was just so amazing. We chose the option of staying in tents because those humble means are really how the event originated, and I wanted to stay true to it. Your mattress and everything is all laid out for you–it’s great. Plus, there’s such a good vibe in the camp area and everyone is so encouraging and cool to be around. People were super keen to chat to us because of our ASSOS kit.”

The landscape of Cape Epic is vast, one of those sprawling images that are hard to process, with a horizon that seems further away than anything we see in Europe. The light even looks different over there. The tents are laid out tidily, hundreds of one-person structures with fly sheets and just enough room to sit upright. Then there are the camper vans of various sizes, the marquees and the mechanics areas. In terms of organization, the ABSA Cape Epic has it dialed.

Each morning at 5am bagpipes sounded, announcing daybreak and rousing the riders into action: get up, dress, breakfast, prepare bike, set off. You quickly fall into a routine, an eight-day existence that depends purely on how much power you can put into the pedals that day. “But at the end of eight days,” adds Christopher, “the absence of this routine put me in a bit of a slump that took a full four days to lift.” For that short period in mid-March, his main concerns had been choosing which line to take, how many helpings to eat at dinner to best replenish energy, and who to chat to in the chill-out area each afternoon. In hindsight, you could say it’s almost like a holiday, if you’re into type 2 fun, dust that encrusts itself into your sweat, and tan lines that should last the entirety of 2018.

“Later this year Stephan is doing Ironman Hawaii and I’m doing an Ironman here in Germany.”

“Obviously after three days you’ll need to be using some great chamois cream.”