10TH ABSA CAPE EPIC ROUTE LIVES UP TO LEGENDARY REPUTATION OF UNTAMED AFRICAN MOUNTAIN BIKE RACE
The dramatic new route of the tenth edition of the Absa Cape Epic, which takes place from 17 to 24 March this year, will be as challenging as previous years. Both local and international mountain biking enthusiasts will be taking on the demanding eight day mountain bike adventure of 698km with 15 650m of climbing from Meerendal Wine Estate to Lourensford.
The route, which changes considerably each year, will lead 1 200 participating cyclists, world champions and dedicated amateurs, through vast distances of challenging terrain. With its unexplored landscapes, the stage locations of Citrusdal, Tulbagh, Wellington and Stellenbosch await the most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world, before riders again finish at the Lourensford Wine Estate, as has been tradition since 2007.
For three-times Absa Cape Epic winner Christoph Sauser, who has been racing professionally since 1993 and has many accomplishments under his belt including the World Marathon Champion title in 2011 and 2007, next year’s stages are quite well balanced with a lot of trails in it. “There’s no specific king’s stage when I look at the profiles, but the heat, or difficult sand and rocky surfaces can change everything.” With regards to which stage he thinks would be the most difficult, he comments: “That question can only be answered after the race. It’s all about the level of the competition, mechanicals and surface. No stage profile of the Absa Cape Epic will say anything of those facts! I look forward to Stellenbosch, because it looks like a tougher one on paper and also because it will finish in my second hometown. Extra motivation!” He reckons the longest stage will be the best to break away. “They also say it’s more like a road stage. There’s no such thing as an easy stage in the Cape Epic. The top teams will make any stage hard from the beginning. For the overall GC (General Classification) riders, even if the pace is moderate, there is constant pressure such as mechanicals, crashing or riding in front of the pack out of the dust. The Cape Epic is the Tour de France for us mountain bikers. My next goal will be the world champs. It’s my motivation to train hard and clever!”
Stefan Sahm, another three-times winner of the Absa Cape Epic with teammate Karl Platt, reckons the new route is the same as every year. “It’s gonna be a painful week on the bike, but that’s how I like it. I think stage 6 will be the most difficult, because you’re almost at the finish line and it’s another long day with lots of climbing. It can also be a good chance to make up time on other teams.” Sahm says stage 5 seems to be the most fun with a lot of single-track. “I just hate walking sections. Any stage is good for a break away, it just depends if the peloton lets you go or not. On the shorter, more technical stages especially, the cross-country riders will try something for sure. Of course we’re gonna try to win a stage, but our focus will firstly be getting one team on the podium in the GC.” He reckons none of the stages will be easy. “Our approach will be to keep the pain and fun in a good balance. Okay, let’s be more serious now. Since I’ll be riding with a new partner this year, Simon Stiebjahn, it’s difficult to say. I think we can race well together – he´s like my little brother – and be good support for Team 1 and 2. But nevertheless, we’ll try our best to get the most out of it. Maybe we’re good enough for one or two surprises.”
For South African rider, Kevin Evans, who finished in second place last year, the new route looks tough as usual. “We wouldn’t expect anything else from my father, Dr Evil and the team. I think the stages around Citrusdal will be the hardest, and Wellington if the weather doesn’t play along. Luckily most of the stages will suit me, as they all have lots of climbing, and also suit our Scott Sparks. I think stage 6 will be the one to watch. By that time the general classification is set, so riders will allow breaks to slip away, if they’re not a threat. We’ll be targeting all 8 stages for a stage win, as there is no such thing as an easy stage on the Cape Epic. We’ll be riding conservatively, and hope for a dash of good luck.”
Urs Huber (of Switzerland), a Swiss Marathon Champion, winner of the Transalp and two times winner of the Crocodile Trophy in Australia (2009 & 2010), is of the opinion that this year’s Absa Cape Epic will be tough. “I don’t find an easy stage in the programme. Three stages look very hard. Stage 2 is very long, which means that everybody will have to ride in the very hot hours around 1 pm. This can be a problem for some professionals coming from cold weather and of course for the amateurs, who will be in the saddle for more hours than us. The profile of stage 5 looks as if we won’t find a rhythm, always up and down. That’s very hard because by day six everyone is tired. And of course stage 6 has a lot of climbing. We don’t know which stage will be best for us. We’ll take it day by day and always bear the GC in mind. Let’s hope our legs stay with us, when it’s time to break away. After one week, I think stage 6 can change the overall standing for the last time. But, there isn’t an easy stage in this event – all are hard.” Huber says stage 4, with its two long climbs before the finish and stage 6 will suit him best. “I think stage 2 will be a good stage to break away. The speed will not be so high in the beginning. The last stage is always very fast because it’s not so long and everybody likes to win it. All in all, I’m excited about this year’s Epic. I’ll be riding with a new partner in a new team, so it will be a new experience for me. I think it will be a good one!”
To Alban Lakata, former European and Austrian Marathon Champion, the new route sounds very interesting. “I especially like the fact that we’ll be coming to Stellenbosch and have a new final stage.” He reckons stage 2 from Citrusdal to Saronsberg will be the most difficult. “145km off-road is better not to underestimate. Stage 6 looks quite good for us, as it includes the most climbing. This is the stage where we’ll do our best to do well and try for a stage win. The last stage seems to be the easiest. After finishing the Cape Epic five times, I should have enough experience to go for gold! What I also really like about this year’s race, is the fact that we’re staying for 2 days in one and the same place!”
Erik Kleinhans, winner in the mixed category with his wife, Ariane, last year, says the route looks challenging, but also fun. “Going to areas like Citrusdal and Tulbagh will most likely mean sandy terrain, corrugation and warm weather. The best was saved for last it seems, going through the Cape Winelands and plenty of single-track. We love this area and terrain, obviously, we live there!” For him, stage 6 from Wellington to Stellenbosch seems to be the hardest. “It’s a tough 100-kilometers with 3 000 meters of climbing and comes late in the race when everyone is riding on tired legs. For us though, we’ll be racing to our hometown, so will have extra motivation heading for Stellenbosch. We live in Stellenbosch and love this town, and also have plenty of friends and followers there. It would be very sad for us not to get a stage win on our home turf. That’s why I’m more scared of stage 1. It always comes as a shock to the system and it looks like some tough climbs await the riders.” With regards to which stage suit them best, he says they always seem to go well in the longer and more undulating stages, so stage 1 will hopefully be a good start for them. “Stage 3 around the Tulbagh valley should be the easiest with no major climbs and not too long, but sandy terrain and dust in your eyes could change my opinion very quick halfway through the stage…” Of their approach to the race, he comments: “Ariane and I have learned so well over the last two years how to ride together as a team, so we’ll just keep on supporting each other to take every day as it comes. Getting your bike through the race without major technicals is always a big task as well as not to overcook it early in the stages. But most importantly, our approach is to put in the hard work before the event to be ready for it physically.”