The second Columbia Grape Escape 3-day mountain bike stage race – due to take place in the Boland from 1-3 March – has already attracted the interest of major local and international mountain bike riders.
Three-time Absa Cape Epic winners Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm have confirmed their participation and are hoping to take top honours in the competitive two-rider team category. Asked about his intentions, Platt said: “I’ve been training really hard for the Cape Epic and this race will give me a perfect opportunity to test my skills. It’s also the first time Stefan and I will be teaming up again since last year, and I believe our preparation and strong team spirit will be enough to give us victory at this year’s race.”
Platt and Sahm will be joined by their Team Bull(s) teammates Tim Bohme and Thomas Dietsch, who have also confirmed their entry in the two-rider team category. Swiss cycling star and Team Multivan Merida rider Ralph Naef has entered and may be a front-runner to take top honours at this year’s event, but he will have to overcome the challenge posed by legendary German rider Mike Kluge, an ex-Cyclocross world champion.
The international riders will face stiff competition from local trail kings, Kevin Evans and David George – who placed first and second respectively at last year’s inaugural race – and will be returning to the Boland to defend their title as a team this year. Said Evans, “It was tough to make the choice between participating in the SA Champs – which takes place the same weekend – or the Grape Escape, but I am determined to defend my title and we are looking forward to riding against the top international guys who have entered.”
Not to be outdone by the boys, the women riders confirmed for this year’s race include such big names as Swedish cycling sensation Jennie Stenerhag, who comes fresh off her fifth consecutive victory at Die Burger Cycle Tour, while stalwart Hannele Steyn-Kotze has hinted at competing in the mixed team category with Fourie Kotze, and Jane Seggie has teamed up with Hanlie Booyens, hoping to join top riders on the podium.
Says Hannele Steyn-Kotze, “My intention when racing is not always to win, but to do my very best. We are expecting very strong local competition in this year’s race with the addition of many international riders. She says tongue in cheek, “As Grape Escape is an endurance race, my age shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance.”
And if national pride is not enough of a motivating factor, the local and international team riders will be facing off to win a significantly-increased prize pool, competing for prize money of R31,000 across each of the team (male, female and mixed) categories.
The Columbia Grape Escape, the brain child of the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust, now in its second year, features a new route designed by leading mountain bike trail enthusiast Meurant Botha. Commenting on the new route, David Bellairs, CEO of the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust says said: “The aim for this year’s event is to create a flowing, more technical route that incorporates the best elements from the diverse terrain – a route that will appeal to the more serious trail rider.”
The race is held over three days and covers 208km of some of the most spectacular terrain the Boland can offer, including more than 4 700km of climbing.
Says Bellairs, “Following last year’s success and the feedback we received, we’ve kept the aspects of the event that appealed most to riders – including keeping the cost as low as possible by not offering a full service stage race but still keeping comfort levels high; and we’ve improved on other aspects – like moving the race back by a day which allows competitive riders an opportunity to also participate in the ultra-distance of the Cape Argus Pick n Pay MTB Challenge taking
place at Boschendal on Sunday 4th March. As the Columbia Grape Escape will only field 750 competitors, we encourage riders keen to participate to enter as soon as possible.”
For more information about the event, route profiles or to enter online, please visit www.grapeescape.co.za
For event-related queries, please contact the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust Events Office on (021) 681 4333 during office hours.