New for the 2012 edition of the Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, racers in the ladies category will earn UCI points at an hors catégorie (HC) level. The South African race is one of only two mountain bike stage races with the UCI's HC status. They will also receive more prize money. The 2012 race will run from March 25 to April 1.
"The HC classification is typically reserved for Grand Tours such as the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España," said Kevin Vermaak, founder and director of the Cape Epic. "These races have a long history, some up to 100 years, so they've had 100 years to develop and refine their rules as the sport developed. We're challenged as we are the most competitive mountain bike stage race in an industry that is still growing, but growing strong. We've seen tremendous growth in the ladies category, with the competition increasing steadily each year."
Races with the HC classification carry the highest points. "Naturally, we're delighted with this announcement as there is only one other race where ladies can earn the same number of points - the Sunshine Cup in Cyprus. These cross country points will be used to determine seeding at the 2012 Olympics. Previously, local female riders had to race abroad in order to earn points for a decent seeding. Finally, points can now be earned here in South Africa. Cross country points can also be earned at other cross country races, but more points are awarded at a race that has an HC classification than a regular cross country race, so it's definitely worth it for the ladies to try and earn points at HC races.
Prize money for the women will increase from R40,000 to R127,500.
"It's a major increase and will definitely be worth our while to participate," said one of South Africa's top riders and certified UCI Level 2 cycling coach, Erica Green. "This increase, together with the fact that we can now earn UCI points, will attract more of the top riders and make the category much more competitive. We often see two or three teams racing way ahead of the other women, but hopefully attracting a better field will mean that the racing will be closer together and therefore incredibly exciting."
In another change for the 2012 edition, the African Leaders' Jersey will be acknowledged as an official category, with prize money to the value of R100,000 attached, not just honours as in the past.
"The total Cape Epic prize purse has now moved up from R500,000 to R721,000, a huge increase to take the race to the next level," said Vermark.
Former African Leader Jersey winner Kevin Evans, says the prize money will undeniably make the field more competitive. Evans has won this category since the race's inception in 2004, except for this year when he had to withdraw early in the race after breaking his collarbone.
"This is a wonderful way of giving back to the African teams, as well as a great motivator. It will also, to a certain extent, justify the hard work and preparation that go into this race. I, for one, will definitely be back next year to try and win the African Leader Jersey back from Mannie Heymans and his teammate, Adrien Niyonshuti."
Heymans, who won the honor in 2011, said, "Just a pity it's not helping us for 2011, as Adrien and I were real stars, I think. One puts in an enormous amount of effort and the prize money will definitely make the African teams take note. Perhaps it would also be a good idea to have a second and third prize - if riders think they don't stand a chance of winning at all, they won't see the use in trying."
"I'll be back next year, either as African competitor or who knows, maybe I'll team up with a top master as I'm also a master now," said Heymans. "It doesn't feel like it though."