Cape Epic celebrates women's day

The Absa Cape Epic is celebrating Women's Day today (August 9) by paying tribute to its fairer sex participants who have conquered the most televised mountain bike stage race in the world. The seven-day race saw 85.57 percent of women who participated cross the finish line in 2012, along with 87.49 percent of the male participants respectively.

Hanlie Booyens sets the bar in the ladies category, with the most stage wins in the history of the race. This year she secured her 17th stage win in the race.

"I've won it twice with Sharon Laws in 2004 and 2009. I've completed five Cape Epics. Beside the two wins, I've finished in second, third and fourth place - maybe I must try for fifth in 2012."

"It's been amazing to see the race grow from a far-fetched dream to what it is today. The increase in the ladies prize purse since last year is a very positive step as well," said Booyens. "This is a super tough event - I think even more so for women! There are no shortcuts. It's just hard, hard work.

"Day 7 of all of my Cape Epics has been tougher than any of the other crazy things I've done. It has caused me many a tear in anguish and despair and hate and joy, all at once. The reward lies in crossing that finish line and the amazing sense of achievement that it brings. You hate yourself for doing it, you love yourself for completing it. Competing in such a challenging mountain bike stage race teaches you commitment, perseverance, patience and teamwork. Above all, respect for your body, your mind, your partner and your support structures such as family and sponsors. It's a humbling experience!"

The number one position in the 2012 Cape Epic Ladies category was won by Sally Bigham and Esther Süss of team Wheels4Life. The team achieved a time of 38:34.12 and were placed 29th overall. They were followed by the Biogen Britehouse team of Theresa Ralph and Nina Gässler in 39:23.39 with Karien van Jaarsveld and Jane Nüssli of MTN Qhubeka in third place overall in 40:09.16. All three of these ladies' teams reached the podium in the top 40 of the general classification.

The challenging race has seen a steady increase in the number of women entering the ladies and mixed division. Hannele Steyn, winner of the ladies category in 2009 and silver medal winner in the mixed category in 2004, with three stage wins in the inaugural race, is the only woman who has competed in all nine events.

"I'm proud to say that I've done all nine Cape Epics. In 2005, I won the Cape Epic in the ladies category and we won seven of the eight stages. A stage race like the Cape Epic teaches you not only physical skills, but a lot of mental skills as well," said Steyn. "If you're not mentally prepared and strong, your physical body won't be able to keep up.

"In 2006, my partner stopped and I finished solo and ahead of the first ladies team, but obviously that doesn't count. In 2007, I raced with Greg Minnaar (former World downhill champion) and we finished seventh in the mixed category. In 2008, I raced in the ladies category again, but my partner pulled out on day two and I finished solo again. In 2009, I raced the mixed with my ex-husband who got sick and had to stop on the first day, but restarted on stage 2. We finished third overall, but because he didn't finish stage 1, we didn't get an official result.

"In 2010, I raced with a German girl, Yvonne Kraft and we finished second overall in the ladies, winning the first four stages. In 2011, I raced with a rookie that I coached, Leana de Jager, that is now one of our top riders. She got injured before the Cape Epic, but managed to start. We finished fifth because of the first four days, nurturing her injury, but we won a stage and finished second in three other stages. In 2012, I raced with an Australian girl Naomi Hansen and we finished in sixth place."

Previously three women have won the Cape Epic in two different categories - Alison Sydor (2008 ladies category with Pia Sunstedt, and 2009 mixed category with Nico Pfitzenmaier), and Esther Süss (2011 mixed with Bärti Bucher, and 2012 ladies with Sally Bigham) and Anke Erlank (2005 mixed with Nic White, and 2007 ladies with Yolandè De Villiers).

The youngest lady to finish the 2012 Cape Epic is Minione Lategan, a 19-year-old Gauteng resident. Proving that age is nothing but a number, Petra Van Huyssteen, 54, also a Gauteng resident, completed the 2012 Cape Epic.

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