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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Classic Colnago steel frame with gorgeous pantographed Campagnolo components
Esther Suss (front) and Jane Nuessli (rear) of BMC Wheeler during stage 1 of the 2013 Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race
De Villiers, Bigham and Süss react to news of equal prize money
The world's top female mountain bikers are overjoyed with the Cape Epic's announcement on Tuesday that the race will match the women's and men's prize purses in 2014. An increase to R690,000 for the women's purse now takes the race's total prize purse for all categories to R1,564,000 ($153,937).
Previous Cape Epic winner Yolande de Villiers said, "Sport brings out the true character of a person. Therefore it is fitting that [sponsor] Sasol Oil has shown its real character in empowering women by equalising the ladies' category prize money for the Cape Epic to that of the men."
"This is a moment for ladies cycling to rejoice and cherish, as for many years women have had to compete at the top of cycling without proper or full recognition for the sacrifice and devotion. This decisive step will create the catalyst and send a strong signal about equality in global cycling at this truly international event."
Two-time Cape Epic winner Sally Bigham said, "It's exciting and extremely encouraging to hear that the Cape Epic and Sasol have matched the prize money in the elite men's and women's categories. I sincerely hope that it sends a message to women, signaling that times are changing."
Esther Süss, 2012 Cape Epic winner shared her thoughts. "The Cape Epic is pioneering the way for ladies in sport and it really is a step in the right direction for women's sport. A big thank you to the organisers and Sasol."
Hanlie Booyens won the inaugural 2004 Cape Epic and went on to complete five more events, finishing on the podium on five occasions. "I believe the prize money is a very important incentive to attract the top riders from all over the world, but I also see it as a thumbs-up from the organisers, sponsors and hopefully media that the ladies component of this race is as worthy of acknowledgement as the men. And this goes for all the ladies who have completed and will complete this challenging event, not only the racers. Their commitment and sacrifices are as big as any of the men and perhaps even more so. They deserve to be recognised."
To the question of whether the R45,000 hotspots will change the nature of the race, Booyens said that "some teams, especially the cross country experts, may target the hotspots, which will lead to a fierce pace out of the blocks and some aggressive racing. I feel proud that the Cape Epic has now reached this point! Viva ladies racing!"
Ariane Kleinhans will compete in the ladies category for the first time next year. She is a two-time winner of the mixed division with husband Erik Kleinhans. "It's a huge step towards equality in a sport that has been ruled by men so far. I know we don't have the same depth yet as the men but the top ladies are taking the sport very seriously and working extremely hard to be as strong as they are. The equalisation of the prize money shows that people respect our performance and believe in us. I hope that other events will follow the trend, which the Cape Epic is setting here."
Kleinhans hopes the increased prize purse will motivate more women to participate. "Women in road cycling are fighting hard to just get the ladies Tour de France to happen and are miles away from getting the same prize money as the men. I hope female mountain bikers understand how much this announcement means and are motivated to live up to the expectations to grow in numbers as well as performance. Stage prize money definitely helps to make the race more interesting and is going to be a great motivator. I'd like to thank everyone who made this decision happen. As a professional rider that lives for this great sport, this personally means a lot to me."
The 2014 edition of the race will be the second Cape Epic for Cherise Stander. "I think it is absolutely amazing being treated on equal terms to that of the men. I believe this will attract even bigger names, and it's good to see that there is a change happening in the sport of professional cycling for women. On a personal level, it gives me a dream to reach for. Unfortunately, we do live in a world where money is very important and knowing that you can get a financial gain helps to motivate a person when going through that deep suffering."
Cape Epic founder Kevin Vermaak said, "The matched prize money marks the start of a new era in the ladies' category, and we look forward to welcoming the top international as well as amateur riders to next year's event."
Past Cape Epic women's winners
2013: Energas - Yolande Speedy & Catherine Williamson
2012: Wheels4Life - Sally Bigham & Esther Süss
2011: USN - Sally Bigham & Karien van Jaarsveld
2010: Rothaus-CUBE - Kristine Noergaard & Anna-Sofie Noergaard
2009: Absa Ladies - Sharon Laws & Hanlie Booyens
2008: Rocky Mountain - Pia Sundstedt & Alison Sydor
2007: DURAVIT - Anke Erlank & Yolandè de Villiers
2006: adidas-Fiat-Rotwild - Sabine Grona & Kerstin Brachtendorf
2005: Fiat/Bianchi/Adidas - Zoe Frost & Hannele Steyn-Kotze
2004: Yellow Jacket - Hanlie Booyens & Sharon Laws