Shaun Portegys and Tim O’Leary are familiar names and faces to the mountain bike community in New Zealand, the pair were runaway winners of the Grand Masters (50+) category at the Pioneer in November last year, finishing the event in 9th overall.
That win presented them with a guaranteed entry at the godfather of mountain bike races, the Absa Cape Epic and it proved an offer they couldn’t resist, with O’Leary heading to the race dubbed ‘Africa, Untamed’ for the first time and Portegys for his second.
And they started the race superbly overnight NZT, for a short while holding rights to the leaders red couch, posting what was at the time the fastest time of the day when covering the 20km Prologue in 55:49. The South Island mates eventually finished in 5th place in their Grand Masters (50+) category, and 87th overall.
“You better get that interview quickly, we won’t be holding that lead for long,” quipped Portegys.
“We did the course the other day and we were ready for a really difficult piece of the course and got there and it wasn’t there, so we were pretty happy with that, it was a lot quicker than we thought it was going to be.”
O’Leary (Queenstown) was pleased with his first taste of the pinnacle of the Epic Series events, with the Pioneer and Swiss Epic the others in the global series.
“It was a good course, we went hard out, it was a bit drizzly today, we didn’t have any mishaps and kept a pretty solid pace and passed a lot of riders, so we are happy with our first day out.”
Portegys (Alexandra) used his previous experience riding the Epic to enjoy a settled morning prior to the ride and acknowledged the role The Pioneer has played in seeing him return.
“It is not my first rodeo so I probably wouldn’t have come back, but Tim was keen, and we got the opportunity through the Pioneer, so we took it. It is my third trip to Africa and my second Cape Epic, so it is not the unknown so there were no nerves this morning.”
Portegys loves his Pioneer experience, but it is one that is very different to that of riding in the Absa Cape Epic, an event that attracts nearly 1400 riders and sells out in minutes every year.
“This is the Olympics of mountain biking, the best of the best are here. Down in New Zealand and Australia you are in a little pond and you realise when you come to an event like this you are a little fish in a very, very big pond. It is an amazing experience and you have to keep yourself grounded and make sure you don’t get overawed by the experience, you have to keep grounded and remember why you are here.”
Portegys loved his first experience at the Cape Epic and soaked up the atmosphere in the event village, but this time around they are doing things a little differently.
“We are doing this quite differently from my first Cape Epic, we have a beautiful house in a game reserve that we have rented for the week, which is quite central to the race. We have a pool and spa pool there and once we have finished riding we can head back, relax and switch off.”
The approach to riding is relatively simple, with O’Leary deflecting most of the responsibility to set the pace to his more experienced team mate.
“I get behind him when it is windy and try and stay there and on the climbs I see if I can hold his wheel or get out alongside. Basically, he sets the pace and away we go. But the event is amazing, and coming to Africa for the first time, I am enjoying it.”
Meanwhile at the front of the men’s field, Kiwi Sam Gaze and riding partner Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE) started in steady fashion, coming home in 8th place in the Prologue, 1 minute and 50 seconds behind early leaders Nino Schurter (SUI) and Lars Forster (SUI), the Swiss cross-country stars setting a blistering time on the 20km stage held on the lower slopes of Table Mountain.
Keep an eye out for all of the Kiwis, including Sam Gaze as he contends to be the first ever New Zealander to win the prestigious event, as well as O’Leary and Portegys (team Progressive Livestock) as they take on the Absa Cape-Epic over the next 7 days. Links to news, results and live streaming of the entire race can be found atwww.cape-epic.com
Riders can experience the same thrill of Portegys and O’Leary and ride at the Absa Cape Epic, with guaranteed entries up for grabs at the 2019 Pioneer, to be held 1st to the 6th December. Category winners and lottery winners earn guaranteed starts at the Cape Epic, enter now for the 2019 Pioneer at www.thepioneer.co.nz
For full results from the Absa Cape Epic Prologue, CLICK HERE
The Absa Cape Epic is the world’s premier mountain bike stage race. The route takes amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world through approximately 700km of unspoilt scenery and 15 000m of accumulated climbing, over some of the most magnificent mountain passes in the Western Cape, South Africa. The eight-day Absa Cape Epic is the most widely broadcasted mountain bike stage race in the world and is classified as hors catégorie by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). The event is a highlight on the professional racing calendar and attracts aspiring amateur riders wanting to test themselves against the best. It is a full-service race, meaning that everything is taken care of from the start – all riders need to think about is riding.
In 2016, Cape Epic PTY (ltd) was acquired by the IRONMAN group, part of the Wanda Sport holding company. In terms of the group’s strategy, the Absa Cape Epic® is the pinnacle event of the Epic SeriesTM – a global portfolio of best-in-class mountain bike stage races. Other Epic Series races include the Swiss Epic, The Pioneer in New Zealand and in Australia, the Reef to Reef, Port to Port and Cape to Cape.