Absa Cape Epic legend Christoph Sauser will be riding with Stellenbosch’s Sipho Madolo in the 2016 Absa Cape Epic.
The five-time Absa Cape Epic winner, now retired from the professional ranks, has been one of the world’s foremost mountain bikers for nearly two decades now.
25-year-old Madolo comes from humble Khayamandi and became a protégé of Sauser when they met at the multiple world champion’s songo.info charity project in the township.
Madolo has since completed four Absa Cape Epics and his progress under Sauser’s guidance is evident: In 2010 he finished 275th overall, in 2012 he had improved to 77th and in 2014 he and his teammate crossed the line 30th. In 2015, Madolo suffered a knee injury and had to pull out of the race.
Sauser retired from the professional ranks after this year’s Marathon World Championships and has now decided he will partner Madolo in the race he has dominated for so many years.
“Christoph is a good friend, coach and mentor to me,” Madolo explained. “I look up to him and racing the 2016 Epic with him is definitely a great opportunity for me.”
Sauser was similarly warm about Madolo: “Sipho is so determined. He is not afraid to work hard towards his goals. He is fast on the bike and smart off it. He has finished his studies and is now playing a major role in our (songo.info) programme.”
Sipho added: “We always train together when he is in Stellenbosch and I have learned a lot from him already. I am so excited about racing with him on his first Epic as a retired man … he is still strong and hungry for racing.”
They raced the three-day Wines2Whales stage race together in 2013, finishing 12th overall.
“That was the great experience that took my racing to the next level. I learned to go out of my comfort zone and to race smart,” recalled Madolo. “As we have been training together for a few years now it is cool to get the chance to race together on the big event like the Epic.”
So will they be racing the 2016 Absa Cape Epic with a specific goal in mind? Madolo is reluctant to make a commitment: “He is retired but still can make your life difficult on the bike. To do the race with him is a huge pressure already and if I have to be realistic he will still be one of the strongest riders in the race, which is good motivation for me to train even harder.”
“I can’t say top 10 or top 20 as I don’t want to put myself under too much pressure but all I can say is that we will ride as hard as we can and hopefully get rewarded for it.”
Sauser, asked if he would be approaching the event as a race or mentoring exercise, said it would be a combination of both: “Sipho is already a very experienced Cape Epic racer, but there is always something to learn. Even the most experienced riders always face new challenges every year. You can only plan for a stage race to a certain point and will face many surprises, which also makes it interesting.”
Sauser said retirement had changed his approach to riding: “I do have a different approach. I definitely don’t hurt myself on never ending hill repeats on my own any more.”
But he would be keeping himself fit: “I have to, because here in Switzerland the mountains are steep and long. I love riding my bikes: that’s why I started riding and still do so. It is my passion do discover new areas or trails, feeling the speed, the challenge of technical sections or just being out in the nature with friends.”
One thing that he says will definitely not change is his involvement with South Africa and thesongo.info project: “I am very involved in the daily business of the programme even when I am far away. I always love to come back to RSA and I will keep my apartment in Stellenbosch.”
In 2008 Sauser – who had by then made Stellenbosch his second home and was looking for a charity to support – met Songo Fipaza, a community leader in Khayamandi and a man with a passion to improve the lives of local children.
Khayamandi is a place where alcohol and drug abuse is widespread, crime is rampant, and teenage pregnancy a major problem. By 2009 songo.info was up and running with a clubhouse and a BMX cycle track. The clubhouse has since become a refuge for local children, where they come to do homework and to ride bikes.
Sauser has used his influence to get sponsors to back the charity and locals says it has made a marked difference in the lives of the children. Sauser and Fipaza set out to build a place where “children are protected and have a safe place to grow and develop” and they appear to have achieved that.
The emphasis on cycling at songo.info has also unearthed some great talent, Madolo being one who has since represented his country at a marathon world championship.
Sauser’s palmares – his list of cycling achievements – include three marathon world championships, one cross country world championship, two World Cup cross country series overall wins, 14 World Cup individual event wins and a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games. And, of course, an unmatched record in the Absa Cape Epic, the world’s foremost mountain bike stage race.
But his legacy will also include several children from a corner of South Africa whose lives have been enriched by his time and generosity.