The 2012 ABSA Cape Epic will long be remembered for its extreme weather. Searing heat in the opening few days was replaced by wet and near freezing conditions into Grabouw, with hypothermia not uncommon, even amongst the most seasoned of participants. This made life miserable for those riders resident in the tented village, especially after long and arduous days on the bike. Navigating from the finish to your tent, not to mention the ‘to-and-fro’ to shower, eat and other ‘admin’ wastes vital energy required to survive the next day.
The above description would be familiar to Team Racing 29ers from Denmark, quite possibly the only UCI-registered team residing in the tented village in 2012.While most professional teams were happily ensconced in their campervans or pre-arranged accommodation, the Danish pair of Erik Knudsen and Thomas Bundgaard happily rubbed shoulders with the ‘mere mortals’ of the Cape Epic; cleaning their own bikes and doing their own laundry, all the while racing at the sharp end of event. And surviving the rain.
“I would like to sleep dry next year,” commented Knudsen, whose Nordic beard and friendly demeanor made him popular throughout the eight days of racing. Together with Bundgaard, the Danish pairing were rewarded for their consistency with a final placing of 15th overall. Not bad for these ‘part-timers,’ who juggle their training around full-time careers.
Bundgaard (28) is a physiotherapist, while Knudsen works as an architect, both basing themselves in the city of Aarhus. While competing at an elite level, Team Racing 29ers see themselves as trailblazers of MTB racing in Denmark, where elite road racing is more predominant.
“We call Team Racing 29ers a partnership, creating awareness for the sport of mountain biking in Denmark. We are not professionals, but aspire to represent our country at the UCI Marathon World Championships later this year,” says Bundgaard. This partnership has seen them attract sponsorship from the likes of Specialized (bikes), SRAM (components), Trimtex (clothing) and the WE Bike shop .
“Most of our sponsorships are product based and we managed to attract some generous support from various investors to help fund our passage to South Africa.”
After a solid sixth place at the Andalucia Bike Race in Spain in February, Bundgaard and Knudsen set their sights on the ABSA Cape Epic, preparing as best as possible through the Nordic winter.
“Thomas does not mind riding an indoor trainer for four hours; I would rather freeze my butt off outdoors,” laughs Knudsen. “The weather in Denmark is more suitable for short and hard efforts as opposed to long endurance work, although we did manage to get in a few long rides. We train as best we can.”
Most of Team Racing 29ers’ training is performed in the early morning before work, although they are sometimes able to ride in the late afternoon. Thomas’ working hours are more flexible, which also includes employment at Specialized in the field of product education.
Bundgaard and Knudsen were certainly popular at this year’s Cape Epic, greeting the water point volunteers and finishing each day with smiling faces. But there was also a serious side, which complimented their friendly demeanor.
“We are determined to maintain our fifteenth position on the GC,” explains Bundgaard, while relaxing in the ABSA Capital Lounge. “That will keep us in the prize money and earn us valuable UCI points, which we hope will get us to the Marathon World Championships. That is our primary objective.”
Sandwiched between South African teams Blend Property Group and RECM, Team Racing 29ers ‘walked the walked’ so to speak. Not intimidated by the bigger professional teams, they certainly made their presence felt and won many fans with their relaxed attitude.
I ask Knudsen about his hairy legs, and whether he has any aversion to a razor. Does he have any inclination to conform to the ‘smooth-legged’ brigade?
“My hairy legs got us a lot of publicity in Andalucia, so Thomas told me not to shave. I may consider it though, but the beard is staying! I am a human, not a pro!”