The protagonists of the fourth instalment of Oli Munnik's #5Questions series are visionaries whose dedication has put South Africa on the map from a global perspective. We hear from Kevin Vermaak about his dreams of the Cape Epic's Grand Finale unfolding on the slopes of Table Mountain while Patrick Morewood gives us insight into the bike he sees himself riding in 5 years time!
#5QUESTIONS FOR EPIC PIONEER, KEVIN VERMAAK
1. Kevin, paired racing is now synonymous with Mountain Biking in South Africa, why did the absa Cape Epic chose this option in favour of individual riders?
Paired riding, and racing, nods back to the origins of the spirit of mountain biking – climbing aboard a bike and heading off on a voyage of exploration in the company of a friend.
In the early ‘90s, prior to the founding of the absa Cape Epic, I went on a number of mountain biking trips to the Himalayas and discovered that two wheeled adventures offer the explorers more of an opportunity to enjoy the surrounds and go faster, further, and often higher than is possible if hiking.
Essentially, in my life, mountain bikes have taken me to some of the most incredible destinations and I wanted this shared experience of discovery to be a core aspect of the absa Cape Epic.
2. If there is one town/area that you feel the event has never visited but should, what/where would it be?
Since inception, the absa Cape Epic has hosted Race Villages in over 30 towns in the Western Cape and passed through, or in close proximity to, numerous others in transition between Race Villages. While there are a number of towns that I would love to have host a Stage, the one that still holds the greatest place in my vision is Cape Town and the iconic slopes of Table Mountain National Park.
3. Are we getting closer to the absa Cape Epic hosting a Stage that utilises the expanding trail network in the Table Mountain National Park and in and around Cape Town's Southern Suburbs?
Table Mountain National Park is home to some incredible mountain bike trails and every time I venture out onto its slopes, I think back to 2013 where we began an immense mission to host a Grand Finale that utilised this extensive trail network and gave riders an uninterrupted view of the City of Cape Town.
Unfortunately, after two years of research and planning, we had to succumb to the fact that it was not going to happen; the absa Cape Epic is such an iconic South African race and I still hold onto the hope that one day we’ll be able to take riders over one of the natural wonders of the world as they pedal their way into the Book of Legends, all the while being cheered on by thousands of fans.
4. What do you think you would be doing if you had not started the Cape Epic?
There’s no doubt in my mind that if I had not been the person to found this event and it had still happened, I would have ridden every single one.
But back to the question, truth be told, had I not started the Cape Epic, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be in South Africa. When conceptualising this venture I considered many different locations for it to be held in and South Africa trumped every other country for a number of reasons, including its terrain and conditions, and of course its people and their hard-working, never-say-die attitudes.
I still believe that South Africa is a fantastic place to start a business and I have no regrets about returning.
5. What has been your proudest South African cycling moment?
Having watched this event from the get go, there have been a number of moments that have instilled a sense of pride, but nothing compares to the feeling of watching Burry Stander cross the finish line as victor in the 2011 Cape Epic.
As he and Christoph Sauser charged to the final finish line of the event, Burry was passed a South African flag that he proceeded to fly, as the pair completed the final kilometre. Further to seeing the flag held high by one of South Africa’s favourite mountain bikers, and the only South African male rider to win the race, I was blown away by how calm and collected he was, so much so that he turned on his GoPro and captured the entire run-in to his spot in absa Cape Epic history.
This very moment has been immortalised in the folklore of the race, from the video clip being used in a number of content pieces, to the a picture of the moment being emblazoned on our boardroom wall, and of course Burry’s famous quote being something that we at the Cape Epic hold very high:
“If someone comes to me and says he’s done an Epic, or two or three, he’s immediately part of the club. That person is a real mountain biker. You know they can suffer. You know there’s so much behind the statement. It’s the race that measures all.”
#5QUESTIONS FOR MOUNTAIN BIKE PIONEER, PATRICK MOREWOOD
1. We've seen Pyga developing its international dealer network recently and heard rumours of exciting production changes, new models etc. What has been the catalyst in this "change of pace"?
I think that the answer is simple. We have always wanted to make our bikes here, be it alloy or carbon, but it wasn’t possible in the early stages. We have always been very clear about that, as well as that our bikes up till now have been made in Taiwan and designed and tested by us here in South Africa.
For me, using my hands to make things has always been what makes me really happy. It’s been killing me over the past few years not being able to do that while watching our factories take their precious time delaying our orders or making improvements while all I can do is sit here and wait!
2. Do you think South Africa is ready for a cycling revolution to replace marathon - gravity, bike parks, e-bikes etc?
I think replace is a bit of a strong word, more like complement. E-bikes are great fun and certainly have their place especially here where we don’t have “real” bike parks with chair lifts. Marathon , XC and Enduro will remain in my opinion, but with E-bikes I feel they need to be used responsibly - in other words, not ridden 'up' downhill tracks of any discipline, or being used for competition in their own stand alone events.
The biggest issue here in SA is that most people think a mountain bike or e-bikes sole purpose is for racing in competition. Let’s not forget why they were invented in the first place!
3. What bicycle do you imagine Pat Morewood will be riding in 5 years?
Interesting question. I think it would be a 130mm travel lightweight 29er with super slack geometry and loads of adjustability. Wireless shifting and 1x12 drive train. It should have a minimum of 5 year interval on bearing replacement and a lifetime warranty on the frame. Lastly it needs to convert easily to be a shorter travel whippet.
4. You've worked with a few "leading minds" in suspension design including Olivier Bossard (Bos Engineering) and Dave Weagle (dw-link, Split Pivot, Faith). Who have you learnt the most from and why?
I would have to say Olivier Bossard. I like his way of thinking and his manner, he is quiet and doesn’t follow what everyone else does. His suspension designing abilities speak for themselves when you look at the broad spectrum he has covered, namely off-road motor racing (Dakar), motor-cross and motorcycle enduro, as well as XC through to downhill mountain biking. The other person I would say I admire is Tony Foal, a leader in kinematic analysis and design.
5. What has been your proudest moment in cycling?
There have been a few for sure. I think starting fresh with PYGA and within 5 years being able to have our bikes racing in Marathon ,XC and Enduro at the top level.
Team Pyga EuroSteel winning the Queen Stage at the 2019 Cape Epic.
Being able to ride with my son, Cam and watch him develop his skills and love for riding bikes.
About #5Questions: This 10 part series of interviews aims to highlight characters, from industry insiders to professional racers, who have shaped South Africa's cycling landscape.
Written and compiled by Oli Munnik