“It is my eighth Absa Cape Epic, but I have finished six,” said Fipaza. “The stage to Worcester still owes me. I got sick on that stage one year. I couldn’t take any food or drink in and we missed the cut-off by three minutes. I pushed my body beyond limits on that day. It owes me one for sure.”
Stage 3 from the Arabella Wine Estate in Robertson to the HTS Drostdy in Worcester is the longest day of this year’s route (122km), with 1800m of climbing and the possibility of a head wind later in the day. The Land Rover technical zone on the stage is called “Choose your own adventure”, which is also a fine description of the Fipaza’s life.
Fipaza is the man behind the Songo.info community organisation in Kayamandi in Stellenbosch, which is supported by the Investec Songo Specialized teams. He is riding with Craig Beech, one of the four Last Lions who have taken part in every one of the 14 Absa Cape Epics thus far.
“Between me and my partner we have done 20, so I just add my six to his,” laughed Fipaza. “He got me into the very first Absa Cape Epic in 2004. We were joking, so I said to him, if I get an entry and a bike I will do it. Two months before the race, I got a bike and I got an entry, so I had to do it. I didn’t know much about mountain biking. I came from a running background. But I was very competitive. So, when we got into the technical section, I would put the bike on my shoulder and run down.
The Songo.info programme, which is now one of the Absa Cape Epic’s MTB academies, was officially founded by Fipaza in 2008. Inspired by his 2004 experience at the race he began training riders from Kayamandi for the 2006 event. Songo.info was founded after a talk with Erica Green, who represented South Africa at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. Fipaza wanted to start a BMX programme, but didn’t have funding. He then met Absa Cape Epic legend Christoph Sauser, the five-time winner of the Untamed African MTB Race.
“At dinner at an Absa Pride training camp, myself and Erica were sitting at the same table as Christoph. Erica told him about my dream. He said he would ride for us, and that started the ball rolling in a programme that has gone from strength to strength with his involvement and passion,” said Fipaza.
Close to 20 riders from the Songo programme have taken part in the Absa Cape Epic thus far. Sipho Madolo and Azukile Simayile won the first Exxaro special jersey for previously disadvantaged riders in 2012 and now compete for the Absa African Men’s special jersey.
“They stand a good chance,” said Fipaza. “They have their minds and hearts set on it. They have prepared well, so I think they will do very well. I remember when I did the very first Absa Cape Epic, I was one of first black riders in the race. But now you can see how the sport has grown among black riders. The number of people riding for the Exxaro special jersey doubled from 2016 to 2017. People like Thabo Khojane of Investec, who is riding in his second Absa Cape Epic, and Letshego Zulu, who inspires women to take up the sport. It’s great to have those role models and their support.”