Sport

RECORD-BREAKER

Cycling giant Beers fights sleep deprivation, illness to capture back-to-back Cape Epic wins

Cycling giant Beers fights sleep deprivation, illness to capture back-to-back Cape Epic wins
Matt Beers on Stage 7 of the 2024 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race. (Photo: Sam Clark/Cape Epic.)

Beers made history this weekend by becoming the first South African to win the Cape Epic three times.

The gruelling eight-day journey of the Cape Epic ended on Sunday with South African Matt Beers and his American teammate Howard Grotts claiming the overall yellow jacket for team Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne.

It’s Beers’ second Cape Epic victory in a row and his third overall after placing first in 2021 as well.

This makes the 30-year-old the most successful South African ever in the men’s division, usurping Burry Stander who claimed back-to-back victories in 2011 and 2012.

“The amount of support from South Africa I’ve had has been super special,” Beers said to Daily Maverick.

“It’s been really cool to keep this jersey on my shoulders. Being a South African, it’s good to be able to show the youngsters that we are a strong [cycling] country.”

It was the first Cape Epic that Beers raced alongside Grotts, who claimed his second-ever Cape Epic win, having achieved the feat alongside Czech biker Jaroslav Kulhavy in 2018.

Matt Beers and Howard Grotts, Cape Epic

Matt Beers and Howard Grotts win the overall yellow jersey during Stage 7 of the 2024 Absa Cape Epic. (Photo: Nick Muzik/Cape Epic)

On which of the three incredible victories were his favourite, Beers said: “It’s hard to compare wins. They all have their own stories, they all have their own circumstances.

“Last year we had to put two minutes into a specific team in order to win so it was everything laying on the line for that Epic which is a whole different type of stress.

“When I won in 2021 with Jordan [Sarrou], we controlled the race really well. We led from the beginning till the end.

“This year we picked [the lead] up halfway through so it’s been three very different scenarios I’ve won the jersey, so it’s really hard to compare which one is more special.”

Consistent cycling

Beers and Grotts were consistent throughout the eight days of racing. They won their first leg of the race at stage five and continued that momentum to claim stage six.

That’s only two victories out of a possible eight, but their consistency at finishing with good times within the top three throughout the Epic placed them well ahead of the chasing pack heading into stage seven.

And while the pair had a lead in excess of nine minutes going into the final stage, an unforeseen hurdle challenged their championship credentials the evening before the final 67 km trek.

“There was a stomach bug going around,” Beers said. “One of our massage therapists had a stomach bug with three days to go and it just hit me.”

The stomach bug affected Beers’ ability to sleep on Saturday evening, with the knowledge that the yellow jacket was one last ride away.

“I spent a lot of energy but because it was the last day — and it was a short day and the weather was cool — all these variables played into my hands so that it didn’t hit me too hard,” he said.

“I knew I could last three hours. We had nine minutes 22 seconds [lead] so it would really have to be bad, I would have to be bedridden, to let that gap go.”

Despite the ill and sleep-deprived Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne team, Beers and Grotts still finished stage seven in third place, three minutes and eight seconds behind Simon Schneller and Urs Huber of team Bulls Mavericks.

“The physical effort is a lot on the body. The mental fatigue is pretty equal to the body fatigue for a race like that,” Beers said.

Matt Beers, Cape Epic

Matt Beers is two metres tall, which is unheard of for a pro cyclist, but he was one of the best. (Photo: Nick Muzik/Cape Epic.)

David and Goliath

Beers is a physical anomaly to most other cyclists. The champion cyclist is around 1.95 metres tall, only around eight centimetres shorter than Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth, and carries around 20 kgs of body weight more than other cyclists.

“I’m a bigger cyclist… Most of them are quite short and light like my partner Howard, he’s a tiny guy,” Beers said.

“I ride an extra-large bike, he rides a small, so you can tell the height difference is massive.”

While on an energy-sapping slog like the Cape Epic, that extra weight may seem like a disadvantage, but for Beers he purposefully trains to use it to his advantage.

“It helps in some ways,” he said. “I can carry a lot of momentum, I can be really powerful on the flats but I also climb very well because that’s the way I train.

“I like to climb hills and challenge myself for that which adapts your muscle physiology. If you do anything a lot, you’re going to get good at it, your body adapts.”

While from a size perspective, Grotts and Beers look like David and Goliath, their relationship with each other, despite its infancy, is conversely to the biblical story, very healthy — with both cyclists holding reverence for the other.

“He’s an amazing person. He’s a soft, gentle soul. There’s a bigger meaning for him than [just] cycling,” Beers said about Grotts

“He loves it, but he has a lot of things he enjoys off the bike as well. He’s very smart and put together as an individual, he has a Master’s in mathematics so he’s extremely smart and calculated.”

While Grotts echoed similar sentiments about Beers.

“Matt is a great partner and we work so well together,” he said. “We don’t push each other beyond what is reasonable. I think we have the same approach to life and that’s what has made this week a tough but fun experience.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Richard Baker says:

    Was one of the best Epics ever-hats off to all who entered, started and rode-achievements in themselves.
    Finishing wherever and better still placing in this year’s strong field-outstanding!
    Congratulations to Matt and Howard-well managed and strategised ride-not without setbacks🇿🇦🇺🇸!!
    Womens race also great-sure Ghost dominated and didn’t miss a beat-professional outfit. Stars for me Candice and her smiling face whatever was thrown at them-and Mona-didn’t stop pushing to the limit-brilliant👏!!

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