The Last Lion and the first-timer

Hannele Steyn is the only female rider to have finished all 12 Absa Cape Epics to date.

Hannele Steyn is the only female rider to have finished all 12 Absa Cape Epics to date.

Hannele Steyn epitomises the courage required to finish the eight days of the Absa Cape Epic – so much so that she is one of a very select group of riders who have finished all 12 of the events to date.

She and just three others – the Last Lions – will line up to finish their 13th race this year.

In 2005 Hannele was the Women’s category winner at the Cape Epic. Five times she has been the South African cross country or marathon champion and has represented her country at several world championships in both disciplines.

So who will she be riding with in 2016? Her partner will be Anneke Viljoen, an Epic newbie who has been riding a seriously for little more than a year.

How did this extraordinary partnership come about?
“I met her about two years ago on a road ride in Camps Bay,” recalled Hannele. “She owned a mountain bike but that was about it. She was, with all due respect, double her size.”

A few months later Hannele needed legal advice and remembered Anneke was a lawyer: “I made an appointment and she was very kind to take on my case, and said she would do it for free as I wouldn’t be able to afford her.”

Hannele Steyn is the only female rider to have finished all 12 Absa Cape Epic’s to date, and in 2016 she will be riding with Epic newbie, Anneke Viljoen.

Hannele Steyn is the only female rider to have finished all 12 Absa Cape Epic’s to date, and in 2016 she will be riding with Epic newbie, Anneke Viljoen.

Hannele was determined to pay Anneke back “but I realised how naive I was when I realised she was a partner at one of the top law firms”.
“While I was still trying to save face, she said I can pay her by helping her to change to a better lifestyle,” said Hannele. “I immediately agreed and when she said I must just send the invoice I said that I will do it for free as she wouldn’t be able to afford me!”

And that is how their friendship and journey to the 2016 Absa Cape Epic began. It is a journey that has required another type of courage from Anneke as she faces the great challenge of the Absa Cape Epic.

“Middle age was creeping up on me faster than lightning strikes,” smiled Anneke. “I was feeling less than enthusiastic about work and generally bored with life. Hannele is not only a remarkable athlete, but also a nutritionist.”

“Since I started training with Hannele in December 2014 my life has changed dramatically,” Anneke recalled. “Initially, I asked Hannele for a training programme I could follow that would prepare me for the RECM 200 in June 2015 – so that I could ride it without being wiped out after each stage.”

Hannele Steyn is the only female rider to have finished all 12 Absa Cape Epics

Hannele Steyn is the only female rider to have finished all 12 Absa Cape Epics

She began the programme in December 2014 while on Holiday in Knysna and has since followed it to the letter, combining long rides with studio training on busy work days.
“She also changed my eating habits and I learned to make healthy choices. I have lost a lot of weight, feel 10 years younger and have newfound energy in my work. I have also met some great people along the way.”

She finished the RECM 200 in June this year, the Ride to Nowhere with Hannele in September and recently the Cape Pioneer Trek, also with Hannele, in October.
“The Cape Pioneer Trek was a turning point for me. It was a great ride and the best holiday I have had in a long time. The sheer pleasure of finishing a stage … and then the race, managing the technical sections without incident and careering down the hills was absolutely exhilarating,” Anneke said. “The freedom that comes with travelling on a bicycle from point A to point B, managing energy levels and enjoying the scenery and routes is indescribable. Having the company, experience and expertise of a legend in cycling sharing every moment along the way, was a great privilege. My confidence and skill set has improved remarkably, which makes every ride more enjoyable than the previous ride.”

‘When Hannele asked me early in April 2015 if I would like to do the Epic with her one day I said ‘yes, as soon as you think I am ready for it’, thinking that might be ‘ready for it’ in 2017 or 2018.”

“It was settled there and then that 2016 was going to be my year. My heart has been racing ever since,” Anneke laughed.

Hannele Steyn is the only female rider to have finished all 12 Absa Cape Epics

Hannele Steyn is the only female rider to have finished all 12 Absa Cape Epics

She admits to alternating between “yes I can do it” and “what was I thinking”, and “I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night wondering what I let myself into”.
“Of course I am nervous about doing the Cape Epic. I am, however, lucky enough to do it with not only the most experienced women rider in the field, but also a person who has a huge heart, bigger soul and who is a great friend.”