As the Absa Cape Epic enters the post-Christoph Sauser era a number of new challengers from around the world are putting up their hands.
One of those with the pedigree to challenge the favourites in 2016 will be Greece’s Periklis Ilias, a former Marathon World Champion and Olympian. The 29-year-old will be partnered with another Epic newbie who also has great credentials – 27-year-old Tiago Ferreira, the reigning Portuguese marathon champion.
In June last year Ilias finished fourth in the Marathon World Championships, which he had won in 2012. He also has several Greek cross country championships to his name.
But this week Ilias was not getting carried away with his chances in the 2016 Absa Cape Epic: “The priority on our list is to finish the race safely. Then it is a stage win and to podium in the overall general classification,” Ilias said. “But our weakness is that in March we are going to be riding our first Cape Epic.”
Ferreira was also mindful of the fact that experience is key to Cape Epic success: “It being our first participation in the race, we will be hoping for a victory in a stage or a place on the overall podium.”
They both expressed great confidence in their teammate.
Ilias said “Tiago is a top marathon rider, but is also a very cool and no-stress guy … this is one of the most important things in this sport”.
Ferreira added that “Peri is an excellent athlete. He is very strong mentally, physically and technically … a complete athlete”.
They will be riding for Team Dolomiti Superbike and, although not familiar with the Western Cape countryside, have been studying the route from afar.
Ilias said the ground conditions where he trained in Greece seemed similar to that of the Western Cape. “The route has everything: many climbs, technical parts, cool downhills and amazing views… .”
“It looks very tough and technical,” Ferreira said. “But I believe these are characteristics which my partner and I can adapt to. We know it will be a very tough race but we will fight until the end.”
Both said they had to adjust their training schedule to take on a stage race of the magnitude of the Absa Cape Epic but were confident they would be in good shape come March 13’s prologue on Table Mountain.
They will be riding Protek full-suspension 29ers.
Last week the Absa Cape Epic announced that top Italian riders Damiano Ferraro and Samuel Porro Selle (San Marco-Trek) would be also be on the start line in March. 2016 will be the first year since 2005 in which Sauser – who won the 2015 edition with Jaroslav Kulhavy before retiring – will not be competing as a professional.
Another rider who will be adding to the cosmopolitan character of the Epic will be Norway’s Calle Friberg, who has notched up several national titles and many years as a top cross country rider on the World Cup circuit.
The 34-year-old Norwegian will be riding with local talent Adriaan Louw in Team Contego SWIFT Carbon and it will be his second go at the Absa Cape Epic: In 2006 he had to pull out with a torn hamstring after three stages but that was “cool and a learning experience”.
Louw, 24-years-old and seemingly destined to be one of the future starts of mountain biking in South Africa, was unequivocal about their hopes for the race: “In 2016 our main ambition is to go trophy hunting for a stage win.”
Friberg has been training in Stellenbosch since early December and is familiar with Western Cape conditions. He expects the Cape Epic to be “a hard race for sure … I’ve heard it’s a bit shorter and more intense this year, so maybe the gaps will be smaller and make for a tighter race”.
Louw is delighted to be partnering a rider with such experience and says it has raised his motivation levels: “Calle is an experienced athlete with a hunger for racing, and he truly enjoys riding mountain bikes, which suits our team values and racing strategies.”
He added: “We’ve been training together a fair amount to make sure that our Eight Days of Courage go smoothly.”
And Louw is already a big fan of the Epic: “I enjoy the dynamic of a multi-day race and I generally get better as the days go by. And there is no bigger platform to perform on than the Epic – it’s the worlds greatest mountain bike race.”
He will be riding a “custom-painted Team Contego SWIFT Carbon Evil Twin, a bike I helped develop over the past two years”.