By: Korie Marshall

Two mountain bikers with a local connection were recently in Valemount to help train for a grueling eight-day race in South Africa in March.

The Cape Epic is an annual mountain bike stage race, covering between 700-800 kilometers across the Western Cape of South Africa. Teams of two have to stay together to qualify for a finish. Like the Tour de France, it’s been accredited as “horst categorie” (beyond categorization) by the Union Cycliste Internationale. But unlike the Tour de France, though it does attract top level professionals, it is also open to armatures. The bulk of the entries are chosen by a public lottery.

Evan Wishloff and Chris Coleman are both living in Edmonton and working at bike shops. They managed to get an entry into the Cape Epic through an online auction using loyalty points from Starwood Preferred Guest. But the trip would still cost about $30,000 for the two of them, so sponsorship from a number of businesses around Edmonton has been hugely important, including twice weekly physical therapy, massage therapy and nutrition management.

Wishloff has been to Valemount many times over the last 7-8 year. His dad Zara has a property here that has been a getaway for his family in the summer, and sometimes in the winter, especially New Years.

“So when we started looking for a place to sneak away for a quick training camp, it was at the top of my list,” says Wishloff – both for the relatively mild weather and the elevation gain, if they could find some open tracks.

“We were just gambling trying to find a place to ride. I assumed the road to Kinbasket would be open, at least a descent portion, and I though worst-case scenario we’d go to Jasper and ride the Ice Fields Parkway” said Wishloff. “But thankfully we stayed in Valemount the whole time.”

The pair found the East Canoe Forest Service Road open, giving them access to an active logging road and an active rock quarry road, both well maintained. The roads have quite a steep grade – Wishloff says they were averaging around 10 per cent, but there were sections of 20 per cent, so it was quite a workout for them – exactly what they were looking for. The Cape Epic is about 740km this year with over 15,000 meters of vertical, so a ton of climbing, says Wishloff.

They got to the top of the logging road and ran into the logging crew working there, but only made it about 7-8 kilometers up the quarry road before they started losing daylight. Wishloff says the ride from town was a nice warm up as well.

They also tried Five Mile Hill – Wishloff says he loves it in the summer – but they could only get about one kilometer up because the snow was too chopped up to get traction with their fat bike tires.

There are Olympic medalists and world class mountain bikers among the 1,200 participants in the Cape Epic, so the pair doesn’t expect to be placing high in the race. Wishloff says they will be happy just to finish it, but are aiming for the top third of the pack.

The Cape Epic is the most televised mountain bike race in the world but with so many contenders, don’t expect to see the pair on TV – unless they get t-boned by a gazelle and the video goes viral, which has happened in the race before. But you can follow their journey on their website, The race starts on March 15th and runs until the 22nd.