Stories of Commitment: Changing the Race at Cape Epic 2022

with Liz Walker, Liv Racing Team Manager

Cape Epic is a notoriously challenging mountain bike stage race. It’s set in South Africa’s Western Cape, and takes athletes through valleys, mountain ranges, forests, and vineyards, often accompanied by extreme midday heat. In 2022, the race covered eight days, 647 kilometers, 17,250 meters of climbing, and – perhaps the most challenging aspect – the race must be started and completed in teams of two.

Cape Epic 2022 Race

Our preparations for Cape Epic 2022 began in 2021. After the postponed event took place in October, South African Liv Factory Racing athlete Sarah Hill was keen to race again and would be joined by her teammate and 2018 Cape Epic finisher Kaysee Armstrong. In 2018, Kaysee raced alongside Serena Bishop Gordon – who also agreed to return, joined by her Liv Racing Collective teammate Crystal Anthony. 

It’s not common for any sponsor to send two equally-supported professional teams to Cape Epic, but in the women’s field it’s even more rare.

With 15 women's teams competing (versus over 180 men’s teams), as Liv Racing’s team manager, I’m proud that we are creating more opportunities for women in professional cycling. And that doesn’t just stop with the athletes.

Liv went all in this year, sending an all-women support crew – myself, Liv Racing mechanic Paige Stuart, and biotherapist (physio) Kathryn Pelser – which, as it turns out, made history at Cape Epic.

Cape Epic Liv's All-Women Support Team

Cape Epic is an extremely difficult race, it’s also incredibly difficult behind the scenes. The logistical preparations started months in advance to ensure we had every possible thing covered for the race, from vehicles and lodging, to spare parts and nutrition. Once on site, each day we had to make sure all the puzzle pieces we needed fit together so everyone was set up for success as best as possible. The athletes, Paige, Kath and myself work together as a team to solve problems and come to the best solutions.

Having a women-led support crew for this race was an advantage for our team.

The challenges the athletes face on long, hot days in rugged terrain don’t end at the finish line for each stage. If an athlete was not having her best day on the bike – having myself or Paige or Kath to talk to, helping moderate conversations or process feelings was valuable for our athletes. It’s not often at professional mountain bike races that we sit down at a table at the end of the day with all women, and that dynamic allowed everyone to present their authentic selves.

Cape Epic Liv Team

So, do we need more teams supported by a staff of all women? No. But we do need more diversity on teams that already exist. 

I would like to be less alone as a woman in a leadership role on a professional cycling team. As I travel to elite international mountain bike races throughout the year, it’s rare for me to see other women support staff. I would love for other women to see me or Paige or Kathryn and say, “I want to do that.” It takes teams creating those opportunities for women and sharing their stories so other women can see themselves in the position of a professional mechanic, physio, or team manager.

I want to challenge teams to rethink their team structure and strategy. It’s time to change up what it means to care for the whole athlete to provide an environment where all athletes and staff can be successful. Women often have additional social and domestic burdens placed on them that make taking a position that involves a lot of travel, or following their dream of being a professional athlete, seem unattainable. We can find creative solutions to allow these women to chase their dreams and relieve some of that social burden.

Cape Epic Liv Women's Team

At Liv, we will continue to seek out women to fill roles on our team staff and we hope it encourages other teams to challenge the status quo and tradition of what a racing team looks like.

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