After an 8 day ride covering hundreds of gruelling kilometres, Toyota Specialized team riders Matt Beers and Cristopher Blevins have emerged as the overall winners of the 2023 Absa Cape Epic. A victory that was made that much sweeter with the team improving on their 3rd place podium finish in last year’s edition of the race.
The Absa Cape Epic itself is one of the world’s premiere mountain bike races, covering some of the most challenging terrain South Africa’s Western Cape province has to offer. The race sees 680 teams of aspiring amateur and professional riders from around the world traversing 7 stages, 648 kilometres and 15 000 meters of elevation gain.
Incredible Beers and Blevins
The 2023 edition saw some incredible performances, but none more so than Beers and Blevins’ outstanding victory in the men’s category. After winning the opening prologue and starting the first stage in the yellow jersey, the team lost time due to Blevins suffering stomach problems early in the race. However, the duo showed incredible resilience, skill and precision as they rode hard, navigating the treacherous terrain and the elements, ultimately going on to win 5 out of the 7 stages. It was the last day of the race that decided their overall victory though with the team needing to beat their nearest competitor on stage 7 and ride more than 01:35 minutes into the team order to take the overall win, which they did comfortably.
When asked for his thoughts on the victory Beers had this to say: “This is unreal. I never thought that this was possible. Winning five stages and the overall at the Cape Epic is such a prestigious achievement. It was tough to stay composed, but we stayed calm throughout, and it shows you that anything is possible in stage racing and you should never give up” – Matt Beers.
The team is also supported by Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) which has a long history of sports sponsorship and has been Toyota Specialized’s title sponsor since March 2022. They are also the Headline Sponsor of the Epic until 2025, the Official Vehicle Partner, Mixed category sponsor, and Official Route Partner as well. Thanks to them the team of Beers and Blevins did not suffer a single mechanical set-back for the duration of the race, and thanks to their Toyota Hilux the team were able to pull trailers and caravans out of the muck caused by the unexpected rains.
When asked for comment on the victory Blevins said “I could not have dreamed of this after a tough stage 1, but we continued to trust the process and just showed up for our team and our staff. It is especially sweet knowing that we earned more prize money which I am donating to the Songo.info charity.”
Toyota Development team success
The Toyota Development team’s Zola Ngxesi and Ntlantla Nonkasa were among the very first beneficiaries of the Songo.info cycling and education charity, founded in 2008 by multiple Absa Cape Epic winner and mountain bike World Champion, Christoph Sauser. Both Ngxesi and Nonkasa are exemplary role models for the charity, with Ngxesi working full-time as a technician at Specialized South Africa and Nonkasa serving as a cycling coach and mentor in the Songo programme. Their victory in the Exxaro green jersey category has inspired the youth of their hometown, Kayamandi, after dominating most of the earlier days of the race.
Christoph Sauser said, “It is incredible to see how far the Toyota Development teams have come. These young riders are the future of cycling, and it is heartening to see them perform so well in one of the world’s most challenging mountain bike races.”
Winning a race as monumental as the Absa Cape Epic not only relies on the skill of the riders, but the support of their team and sponsors, too. And Beers and Blevins had plenty of it, first in the form of Tristan Nortje who played the role of back up rider after losing his teammate Adrien Boichis to a stomach bug. Nortje gave up his opportunity to finish the race and instead rode with Beers and Blevins in a support role, meaning should they have faced any technical difficulties along the route they would have used Nortje’s bike for spares. Blevins commented on this: “It was a huge ride by Tristan; he is going to win this race one day, and for him to stay with us gave us an extra boost today, and it was great knowing that we had a backup rider throughout most of the stage.”
Meanwhile, the Toyota Gazoo Racing team’s Riaan Weideman and Samantha Sanders secured the second position in the Toyota Mixed category. While the team were leading the category from stage 1, they unfortunately dropped to second on stage 5 due to mechanical issues, however, this did not stop them from pushing through to the end. The team’s excellent performance has further cemented Toyota’s position as a major player in the world of cycling.