The Absa Cape Epic, now in its ninth year, has become one of the most important events on the global mountain biking calendar. As the premier team stage mountain bike race on the  Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) calendar, the race annually hosts the world’s most accomplished and legendary mountain bike riders. This year, everyone will keep a close eye on the men’s division and all its tough competitors.

Swiss mountain bike champions Konny Looser and Urs Huber with again be riding as Stöckli Pro Team. Huber (26 of Switzerland) is the current Swiss Marathon Champion, winner of the Transalp and three times winner of the iXS Swiss Bike Classic (2007-2009). He has won the bronze medal in the Mountain Bike World Marathon Championships in Italy (2008), the European Championships in Germany (2008) and is a two times winner of the Crocodile Trophy in Australia (2009 & 2010). He has won over 54 races in his career to date. Looser’s impressive achievements include winning the U23 Marathon European Championships in 2010, winning the ICX Classic short distance in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and achieving a 5th place overall at the Bike Craft Transalp in 2010, amongst others.

For Konny Looser (22, of Switzerland) this will be his second Absa Cape Epic. “I think I have a good chance when it comes to decision-making during the race, and will hopefully make the right ones!” Huber is also not new to the Absa Cape Epic with this year being his third event. Adds Huber: “I know after my first two Cape Epic’s which things are more important than others in the race. Also, my good performance in the first few days at the 2011 Absa Cape Epic gives me a lot of motivation for this year.” Looser and Huber believe they are a good team as they know each other well. “We have the same attitude for the sport. We also have the same philosophy for training and for the race, and we both have very strong minds,” says Looser. Huber also adds that as he and Looser won the Transalp together last year, he believes that makes them a very strong team.

Looser and Huber do not train together often. “Huber does his job and I do mine,” says Looser. Huber adds: “Although we don’t train together often, we do race together every week. And I think that’s more important as a race is always better than training.”

Urs Huber & Konny Looser of Stöckli pro celebrate 2nd place during stage 1 of the 2011 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh, South Africa on the 28 March 2011. Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Huber does a lot of base training. “We take part in some training camps in the South and from now on, our training will become more intensive so that we’re ready for the Cape Epic.” Looser maintains a simple diet and does not have a complex training plan. “My training programme is really simple. I always train alone and without a plan or a coach. During the winter, I prefer to train in the South of Europe. I always go to Gran Canaria, Mallorca or the South of France for training. At home, I often train on Nordic skiing because I don’t like the cold weather on the bike! With my diet, I’m not too serious. I don’t like chocolate so maintaining a good diet is much easier for me.”

Fortunately with both team mates not having any serious injuries, they believe that they have ‘the best preparation for the Cape Epic ever’. Both are confident for this year’s race regardless whether they win or not. “I won’t say we’ll win this year’s Absa Cape Epic, but I know that everything will be possible when we have a good start in the race and we work hard,” says Huber. Adds Looser: “During such a long race, anything could happen. We’ll do our best and who knows, maybe we’re strong enough for a win.”

For this year’s race, Huber is hoping for their team to be one of the strongest every day. Adds Looser: “We’re looking to gain a lot of experience for the future and you can learn a lot from this race. The Absa Cape Epic is our first race together this season and we’re hoping to become one of the strongest teams in the world.” Huber finds the first days the toughest usually. “Everybody is fresh and wants to win. The last days are also difficult but there are not so many teams in front, only the strongest. And we’ll be one of them.” It is a memory he keeps forever, crossing the line at the Absa Cape Epic. “It’s one of the best feelings because the eight hard days are over. But it’s also a sad moment as you have to wait a whole year until the next Absa Cape Epic.” Huber has many fond memories of the race but the one that stands out to him the most is the special interest from overseas that the Absa Cape Epic attracts.

Besides a lot of training, Huber recommends one must not start the race too fast in the first three days because it is so long and you will struggle to complete the event. “Also, you need to be a team during the race. To be a team together with your partner, your mechanic, physio and the coaches! You must be relaxed if there’s something like a flat tyre. Always look ahead and remember that every day is a new chance to win!” adds Looser.

In his free time, Looser enjoys other sports. “I really like to go swimming and skiing. I enjoy free riding with my downhill bike in the mountains and in summer, I often go sailing, play ping pong or beach volley.” Huber on the other hand takes care of his orchard. “I have an apple plantation which I keep busy with in my free time. And when not busy with that, I obviously spend time with my girlfriend and relax.” Huber is hoping to defend his Swiss jersey and gain some extra medals in 2012. “I want to win the Absa Cape Epic – that’s my dream! I want to also defend my national championship jersey, and get medals at the European and World championships.”

“In 2012, I want to win the U23 Marathon European Championships again and want to keep well and fit in the future! I want to have fun with my team and staff and to continue my career successfully as a mountain bike professional!”

Eight days of the Cape Epic is one of the hardest things you can do, says Huber. His advice to other participants is to give your best performance. Says Looser: “I’m only 22 years old and maybe one of the youngest riders. I have only done one other long race (Transalps) so I don’t have a large amount of experience. All I can say is that everyone should just enjoy each moment of the race. It’s been hard work leading up to the race for all.”

“Huber concludes: “Work hard every day and you will become stronger and stronger. Just make sure not to miss the pleasure of training.”

From 27 March to 3 April, all eyes will be on the Western Cape as the world’s top riders vie for position in what is billed to be the most competitive event in the race’s history. Covering a distance of 707km with 14 550m of climbing, the race will finish eight days later at Lourensford Wine Estate.

Visit www.cape-epic.com for more details and to see where the riders are online during the race.

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