Organizers of the Cape Epic announced on Wednesday that they will pay equal prize money for the elite men and women at the 2014 edition of the popular mountain bike stage race.
The Cape Epic already offered the largest total prize purse in the world for mountain biking and the increase to R690,000 ($68,048) for the ladies' purse now takes the race's total prize purse for all categories to R1,564,000 ($154,241). The increase was made possible due to the support of sponsor Sasol Oil.
"We're delighted to be sponsoring the legendary Cape Epic. This grueling race demands exceptional performance from all riders, regardless of their gender. We believe the prize money should reflect this and we're therefore very proud to be increasing the 2014 women's prize, to equal to that of the men," said Alan Cameron, Managing Director of Sasol Oil.
Cape Epic founder Kevin Vermaak said, "I believe prize money lends credibility to a professional sport. Even just a few years ago, a few hundred thousand rand was a big pay-out for mountain biking - not only in South Africa, but for mountain biking all over the world. I'm happy that with the help of our sponsors, we have been able to consistently and substantially increase the prize money at the Cape Epic, which in turn stimulates other mountain bike races to also increase their prize money, and thereby increase professional mountain bikers' earnings."
"South Africa must be the only country in the world where road cyclists switch to mountain biking because they can potentially earn more off-road. I'm proud of the role we have played in uplifting the professionalism of our sport in South Africa."
Reigning marathon world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå welcomed the news. "It's fantastic when a very popular event, such as the Cape Epic, decides to have the same prize money for men and women. I promised myself (and Kevin Vermaak) many years ago that I wouldn't participate in top marathon races where the prize purse for men and women wasn't equal. This announcement by the organisers of the Cape Epic is important for the sport in general, and I hope other organisers follow suit."
Dahle Flesjå won the women's cross country gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games and is a multiple-time world champion. She has won six world titles and six European titles.
The 2014 edition of the Cape Epic will again host 1,200 racers, including a mix of pros and amateurs. "Even if we have all the world champions on the start line, the race remains achievable for anyone that sets his or her mind to it. It's a unique pro-am sports event, where amateurs from around the world can race alongside the world's best. And the amateurs' finisher medals are just as highly valued as the winners gold medal," Vermaak said.