Mission Impossible: Epic EVO Edition

What weapon do you reach for when your Absa Cape Epic has been ripped out from under you? The Specialized Epic EVO, of course.

By Tim Brink |

Unless you were hiding under a rock this past March – or riding over it at the time, which is perfectly fine – the story of the winning of the Absa Cape Epic can not have slipped you by. A second victory in three years for local hero Matt Beers, who teamed up with rising US superstar Christopher Blevins to form Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne, in trying circumstances made the 2023 event one of the most closely watched ever.

Beers and Blevins started so well aboard their shiny Epic EVOs – a narrow 25km prologue win on the technical, fast Meerendal course was testament to the longer-travel EVO’s speed and agility, and they took the first Yellow Jersey of the event by seven seconds over Scott Sram MTB Racing’s Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht. 2022’s surprise winners, Georg Egger and Lukas Baum were more than half a minute further back, in third.

The Epic circus moved to Hermanus, and it was on the mountainous Stage 1 that this Epic legend would be prefaced… not that anybody knew it then. At around halfway into the stage, with Beers resplendent in Yellow on the front of the small leading group, a hush went up (yes, that’s possible) from the television watchers glued to the live coverage. The second Yellow jersey was drifting to, and then off the back. It took Beers a while, but eventually he had to drop back and found a weakened Blevins suffering with cramps, possibly a result of the gastric illness that often sweeps the Epic paddock early on. Ever the team player, Beers stayed back, cajoled and nursed the American to the finish, a devastating 12 places and eight minutes behind the winners, and Schurter and Frischknecht. The tiniest of leads had now become a seven minute and 59 second deficit. 

All was lost.

Except it wasn’t. Day after day, Beers and a fully-recovered Blevins chipped back at the overall lead of Baum and Egger. Two-and-a-half minutes on Stage 2, a few seconds on Stage 3, half a minute on Stage 4. The Germans came back by a few minutes on Stage 5, and then came the now-infamous Stage 6, with torrential rain, mudslides and conditions described as the worst the Epic has ever seen testing man and machine to their limits. Beers and Blevins appeared from the gloom first, Scott Sram MTB Racing finished four minutes later in second… but where were the Germans? A collection of bike disasters left them playing catchup all day, and the weather won, with a loss of over 11 minutes to the Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne pair.

What a Grand Finale (as the final stage of the Epic is called) had been set up, through the strong, sensible riding of Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne and through the reliability and all-terrain suitability of their Specialized Epic EVO machines. They started the day 90 seconds in arrears to the new Yellow Jersey wearers, Schurter and Frischknecht, but with the latter still feeling the effects of an earlier tummy bug, there were few who didn’t expect Beers and Blevins to pull that back… it still had to be done though, and while Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne knew they’d put some time into the lead of Scott Sram MTB Racing, and sensed it was enough for the overall win, it was only when the time passed a minute-and-a-half on the finish line, with Schurter and Frischknecht nowhere to be seen, that they knew the 2023 Absa Cape Epic title was theirs.

The Absa Cape Epic is the race that measures all, as the legendary Specialized rider, the late Burry Stander once said. Matt Beers, Christopher Blevins and two trusty Epic EVOs were measured in 2023. And passed with flying colours.

So. What’s The Epic EVO?

What do you get when you give a crazy-smart, singletrack-obsessed development team virtually unlimited resources and tell them to make the fastest XC trail bike ever? Epic EVO. Start with the Epic front end, build an all-new rear end, swap the brain for a custom-tuned metric shock, and tune the geo for technical terrain capability. Ready, set, shred.

The heart of the EVO chassis is the same wicked-light and super-stiff front triangle as the Epic. Next, for stability, Specialized designed a purpose-built rear end. Finally, they boosted control and trail performance by unifying the front and rear end with a stiff shock link optimised for the plush metric damper used on the EVO. Evolved for trail speed.

The EVO’s 66.5-degree head angle and lower bottom bracket keep things calm when the trail turns technical. For pedalling efficiency, the seat angle is 3/4 of a degree steeper than its predecessor. If you want sharper handling and a bit more clearance, just rotate the FlipChip—angles get half a degree steeper and the bottom bracket comes up 6mm.

No Brainer

To conquer rough trails as fast as humanly possible, the Epic EVO maintains ultra-efficient pedalling manners, but trades the Brain in favour of an Rx-tuned metric shock. A purpose-built link yields a 2.8:1 leverage ratio, and milks bump-devouring performance from its 110-mm rear travel. 120mm forks with custom Rx-tuned valving complete EVO’s balanced, trail-smart suspension.

Want proof of the how ridiculously capable and reliable the Epic EVO platform is? Read this article again from the beginning: it’s the bike choice of champions.

For more Epic Evo information, head right HERE


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