Words: #CountryCyclist Ian Macleod
They say a good young guy will beat a good old guy. But not always. At the recent Cape Epic – probably the most grueling mountain bike race on the planet – Andrew McLean and Heinz Zoerweg proved that.
Both within riding distance of 50, they claimed 15th overall and won the grand masters category by nearly an hour. As impressive, they had never even met in person before pairing up in Cape Town.
Andrew has, of course, been our go-to guru for the whole #CountryCyclist campaign, aimed at getting me to the finish of the upcoming joBerg2C, and I found his performance thoroughly inspiring. Here’s the bare bones of what is really an epic achievement.
MCLEAN MOTIVATES MANY WITH TOP CAPE EPIC FINISH
When South African Andrew McLean and his Austrian teammate Heinz Zoerweg crossed the finish line in the top 20 positions at the 2014 ABSA Cape Epic each day, they looked a lot like all the other riders finishing just ahead of or behind them. Dusty most days, muddy some days and relieved to be finished every day.
But when they removed their helmets and had a face wipe, you could see there was something different about these two men. They were 15-25 years older than most of their rivals. McLean, 49 and Zoerweg, 51, were racing to win the Cape Epic Grand Masters title, for riders 50-years and older, but they were mixing it among the top 20 overall in one of the toughest bike races on the planet (you become a Grand Master the year in which you turn 50).
Racing as team Cycle Lab Toyota, McLean (RSA) and Zoerweg (AUT), only wore their team jerseys on Day 1. After that, they wore the purple jerseys of the leading Grand Masters team. Incredibly, they finished 15th overall and comfortably won the Grand Masters division. They also won seven of the eight stages in a remarkable display of excellence and consistency and reached a high point of 12th overall on the General Classification after Stage 4.
To put this into perspective, they were consistently beating around 6-8 teams of Elite male professional mountain bike racers on a daily basis.
McLean is a former road cycling professional, but has remained an active amateur racer since his retirement 15 years ago. He only met Zoerweg the day before the start of the 2014 Cape Epic, but the two were on a par in terms of strength and endurance, although McLean concedes that wasn’t the case every day.
“Heinz is an absolute gentlemen on the bike and off it and a true pleasure to have as my partner,” said McLean. “I definitely held him up on the last two days. He was a machine. Definitely the strongest teammate I have ever ridden with,” said McLean.
“Neither of us could speak the other’s home language, so we ended up communicating with a handful of words that we worked out: ‘Schnell’ (Faster); ‘Langsaam’ (Slower) and ‘No Stress’ (I am fine). I suppose you could say our actions spoke louder than any words needed to,” smiled McLean.
This was McLean’s third Cape Epic victory. He won the Master’s (40-49 years) division in 2007 (with Damian Booth) and 2010 (with Shan Wilson). He now has a total of 24 ABSA Cape Epic stage wins to his name (17 as a Master and seven as a Grand Master), making him the third most prolific Cape Epic stage winner in the race’s 11-year history.
McLean and Zoerweg beat the second-placed Grand Masters team by just under an hour. In their age division, which numbered 44 teams, they were dominant. But it was their performance in the overall race that was not only significant, but highly motivating.
“Finishing 15th overall in a field of 619 teams in such a high profile international mountain bike race is an impressive feat for athletes of any age. But to achieve it as riders in the oldest category in the race is exceptional,” said Sean Badenhorst, Editor of TREAD magazine.
“Andrew and Heinz, committed mountain bike riders from two different contents and cultures, quickly formed a strong athletic bond and displayed amazing consistency throughout the event. For anyone younger than them, their performance was inspiring, showing just what’s possible to achieve at that age,” added Badenhorst. “Yes, their goal was to win the Grand Master’s category, but they did a lot more than that, they won a huge amount of respect.”