Effervescent, quick with a joke or a laugh, Jose Antonio Hermida and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez are two of the Absa Cape Epic’s best loved characters. Their enthusiasm for cycling and the race in particular is infectious. In the serious world of the UCI men’s start group their seemingly laid back attitudes helped lighten the mood. In 2019 they will be taking that exuberance into the A Batch start group as they line-up alongside former professionals and other highly competitive age-group riders to contest the Dimension Data Masters’ Category for the first time.
The 2010 XCO World Champion and the five-time grand tour podium finisher will compete against defending champions Massimo Debertolis, who will race the 2019 edition with Dax Jaikel (7C Wilier), and Ondrej Fojtik, who is racing alongside José Silva (MITAS HEAD NEW RACE) this year. Also in the Dimension Data Master’s category are the SCOTT-SRAM Old Dudes, Tomas Frischknecht and Urs Gerig, as well as the heavily former professional road racing influenced squads of Erik Dekker and Maarten Tjallingii (IBS Capital Allies) and Robbie Hunter and René Haselbacher (PTB/RH77). On his own Hermida holds near as much Absa Cape Epic experience as the rest of the category favourites combined – making him the joker in the Merida Factory Racing team’s pack.
In his nine Absa Cape Epic finishes to date Hermida has won five stages – in the elite UCI Men’s category. His best ever finish of fourth, in 2013 and 2015, was achieved alongside Rudi van Houts but he and Rodriguez have ostensibly been preparing for this moment since they first teamed up together in 2017. Rodriguez’s debut in the race came hot on the heels of his retirement from the professional peloton at the end of 2016. Not that ‘El Purito’ – the little cigar – has struggled to adapt from the road to the mountain. In his two Absa Cape Epic finishes he has ridden to very credible eighteenth and thirty third place finishes in the overall general classification.
The pair’s success in the race goes far beyond results however. The race arguably owes much of its popularity in the Spanish speaking world to Hermida in particular. Famous for his magnificent moustache and his flamboyant style, Hermida’s love of the Absa Cape Epic has spread to his country-men and women culminating in 135 Spanish riders entering the 2019 race.
When asked why the race is so popular in his home nation Hermida responded with a laugh: “Because I promise to pay for a beer for each of them if they finish! It’s a country bet.” Perhaps unaware of just how out of pocket he might be, come the 24th of March, he elaborated: “It’s true; the Absa Cape Epic has a great reputation in Spain. It is a reputation built on the racing, the event’s image, the riders it attracts and the way riders are looked after. That is what people in Spain like about the event and search for in other mountain bike races too.”
Having broken his hand on the 15th of December Hermida’s preparation has not been ideal. “Well this year it’s going to be hard for me, as I’m going through a recovery from my hand operation; but also Purito [Rodriguez] is training more than ever. We took the decision to start in the Dimension Data Master’s category and that’s going to bring us a bunch of pressure” the now 40 year old former World Champion recounted. “Also Purito is going to take part at his third Absa Cape Epic and he is fully motivated to get into Amabubesi Finisher Club. As for myself…I have a special motivation to finish my tenth and get that Land Rover 4×4 that the Absa Cape Epic promises to all the ten-time finishers” he joked.
Source: Absa Cape Epic