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An Inside Look at Noah Warren and Hadden Beykirch's Cape Epic Experience

By: Jim Rutberg  May 24, 2023

The Athlete Development Pathway teammates marked the youngest finishers ever in the UCI Men's category at the Cape Epic.

When Noah Warren snapped a photo with Nino Schurter as a young ABSA Cape Epic spectator in 2019, he never imagined he’d line up with the 10-time UCI Mountain Bike World Champion to start the same event in 2023. And yet, through years of hard work and steady progress, Warren and his USA Cycling Athlete Development Pathway teammate, Hadden Beykirch, earned their place on the 2023 Cape Epic start line to compete in the UCI Men’s division. In their very first race as newly minted UCI U23 racers, Warren and Beykirch became the youngest elite competitors to finish the notoriously tough 8-day mountain bike stage race.

Working Toward a Dream

Noah Warren put the ABSA Cape Epic on his bucket list when he was still in middle school. Upon reaching high school, he immediately started racing National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) events. Although he was fast in short cross-country races, he was increasingly drawn to long trail rides and marathon mountain bike competitions. Noah’s focus on long rides helped him achieve podium performances at USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships in 2021 and 2022.

While he was steadily progressing through the ranks in the United States, Noah’s international ambitions were never far from his mind. The family trip to South Africa that netted him a signed jersey from Nino Schurter just cemented his desire to compete in Cape Epic as soon as he reached the race’s minimum racing age of 19. Joining the USA Cycling Athlete Development Pathway in 2022 provided the opportunity to race in Europe, as well as access to knowledge and resources from USA Cycling coaches and nutrition experts.

“Alec [Pasqualina] is running an amazing program,” said Warren. “The ADP is setting the example for what every team should be doing. It’s not just support at races, it’s like school for bike racing. We’re learning how to race at the highest level, with the best tactics, and a big focus on developing the proper mindset for training and racing.”

Building to Cape Epic

In 2022, Noah secured a ticket to race the 2023 ABSA Cape Epic, but that was just the first step. Cape Epic is a team event, meaning Noah needed to find another young athlete capable and willing to join him for an international escapade. Enter, Hadden Beykirch, who met Noah through the ADP. “Noah got a team entry into Cape Epic and had a teammate lined up. At some point, I told him, ‘If you ever need a teammate, I’m your man.’ It’s always been a dream of mine to race Cape Epic. Noah’s original teammate fell through, and I got the call about four months before the race.”

Learn As Much As Possible

The ABSA Cape Epic is a notoriously brutal mountain bike stage race. As the race organization proclaims, “The terrain is as varied as it is harsh - dusty and demanding gravel roads, strenuous rocky climbs, thrilling technical descents, refreshing river crossings, and fast forest single tracks.” The 2023 edition covered 684 kilometers over 8 days, with 15,475 meters of climbing. Riding as two-person teams, competitors must stay within two minutes of each other. The harsh weather and rugged course takes its toll on riders and equipment, leading many riders to drop out before the final finish line.

“Our strategy was to reach out to people who had experience with a race like this,” explained Noah. “I had a friend who had done the race and explained what it was like. My coach had a connection to Jim Miller [Chief of Sport Performance at USA Cycling], who has coached many athletes through Cape Epic. And we spoke to Christopher Blevins, who was going to be racing there as well. So, we had support from people around us who knew what they were doing. Having all that knowledge around us was the biggest thing. The second thing was having the right equipment and the right backup equipment.”

To successfully complete Cape Epic, teams must be prepared to fix their own bikes if anything breaks out on course. This meant Warren and Beykirch needed to carefully choose the equipment, spare parts and tools they would take to South Africa, and ensure they knew how to make any necessary repairs trailside.

“Although racing Cape Epic was my idea, the ADP offered an incredible level of support,” Noah commented. “They provided invaluable guidance around how to compete in a race at this level. Having the support behind us to know what to do and how to go about preparing for and completing this race was amazing. And outside of Cape Epic, they’re providing riders like me and Hadden with resources like nutritionists and strength trainers and coaches who really know what they’re doing.”

The Mock Epic

For Warren and Hadden, the 2023 ABSA Cape Epic would be an entirely new experience. It would be their first race as U23 competitors. Their first 8-day mountain bike stage race, and their first race competing as a team. To prepare for so many new experiences, USA Cycling’s Jim Miller suggested the pair create a mountain bike training camp to closely mimic the demands of the actual event. The idea quickly earned its own name: The Mock Epic.

In the mountains near Brevard, North Carolina, Beykirch and Warren rode for 8 days, closely matching the daily duration and elevation gain of the 2023 Cape Epic stages. The camp concluded about two weeks prior to the start of the race. “When my coach and I spoke with Jim, he said the Mock Epic would help us understand what’s coming when we got to South Africa, and provide a major aerobic boost to our training right before the race. And as long as we recovered properly, we’d have that fitness boost going into Cape Epic.”

Racing Cape Epic

“Racing with somebody is so different than racing against someone, or just by yourself,” said Noah of racing Cape Epic with Hadden Beykirch. “We can do better working together than we can on our own… if we work together correctly. Some teams just rode away from each other, which makes sense because this sport caters so much to solo racing. But we understood we had to stick together to make it.”

“Through the Mock Epic and then Cape Epic, we got really good at reading each other. Knowing when your partner is suffering, when you can push, and how to leverage your individual strengths and weaknesses adds a whole new layer to the tactics for the race,” added Beykirch.

While Team USA rider Christopher Blevins won the 2023 ABSA Cape Epic with South African teammate Matthew Beers, the duo of Warren and Beykirch earned the distinction of being the youngest team ever to finish in UCI Men’s division. They also gained invaluable experience and new perspectives for the future.

“The opportunity to line up with World Champions, Olympians, and World Cup racers gave us a clue about where we are in our development,” commented Beykirch. “It gave me a lot of motivation to understand my current level and that if I keep working, and working with coaches and developing myself, I have the potential to race at that next level with those top guys.”

Warren had similar revelations about his potential, saying, “Being on the wheel of guys who have won World Cups is such a crazy feeling. It gets me more stoked for the future. I’m still young in my racing career. I’m 18 years old and mountain bikers often peak at around 28. It’s exciting to race at this level now and think I have another decade to build fitness and potentially reach my peak.”