2014 Cape Epic shaping up to the be the most tightly contested in years

Posted: March 20, 2014 by kirisyko in Bike, Mountain Biking
Tags: , , ,

Christoph Sauser of Burry Stander-Songo leads the chase during stage 2 of the 2013 Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Citrusdal to Saronsberg Wine…

Christoph Sauser of Burry Stander-Songo leads the chase during stage 2 of the 2013Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Citrusdal to Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh, South Africa

The 2014 Cape Epic is shaping up to be one of the most tightly-contested in years, with top teams in both the men’s and women’s categories showing excellent form in recent races.

Men

The Team Bulls pairing of Karl Platt and Urs Huber have emerged as favourites for the Epic – which starts with a prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate, Durbanville, on Sunday – with a series of compelling performances.

On Saturday, they fired another shot across the bows of their rivals by taking first and second at the MTN South African National MTB Series race in Tulbagh. Platt finished the rugged 105km course – which included a huge 2630m of vertical gain – in 4:34:27, a little more than two minutes ahead of Huber.

But they will face a massive challenge from Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser – who, like Platt, has won the Epic four times – and his Czech teammate Frantisek Rabon (Team Meerendal Songo Specialized). Sauser and Rabon did not take part in the Tulbagh event, but both have shown good form in other races. Rabon, a top road racer who has converted to mountain biking, is something of an unknown quantity at this level but is highly regarded by his fellow professionals.

Germany’s Robert Mennen finished third at Tulbagh and his partnership with Czech Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon) is also expected to be a strong in the Epic.

Another team eyeing the top step of the podium when the race finishes at Lourensford Wine Estate on March 30 is Scott-Odlo MTB Racing – brilliant multiple cross country world champion Nino Schurter and South Africa’s African Champion Philip Buys.

“We are definitely going for the overall win,” said Buys. “We have prepared well and have great support and I would love to make it worth everyone’s effort and time. The Epic is a very unpredictable race, so I would say are chances for an overall win can go any direction.”

Buys’s pedigree was on show at the weekend when he won the opening round of the Southern African cross country series at a sweltering Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg.

Women

The women’s race at Tulbagh also suggested a big battle ahead at the Epic. Stellenbosch-based Swiss marathon champion Ariane Kleinhans won the 74km event in 03:17:32, a little more than two minutes ahead of England’s Sally Bigham. The British woman reportedly had technical problems with a shock absorber.

Kleinhans will ride with Dane Annike Langvad (Team RECM) in the Epic while Bigham renews her successful partnership with Swiss Esther Süss (Team Meerendal). Süss and Bigham will be aiming to repeat their 2012 victory, but Kleinhans and Langvad are a powerful combination. The Epic winner should be one of these teams.

Africans

Three all-South African teams seem destined to fight it out for the distinctive Best Africans’ jersey – for the first team of African riders to finish the Cape Epic – but will also expect to be racing at the sharp end of the field this year.

Team RECM’s Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell, Team Cannondale Blend’s Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock and Team Fedgroup/Itec’s Kevin Evans and Max Knox have all shown good form recently. They will all be aiming to wear the red African jersey when they get to the finish and will also be eyeing a place on the overall podium.

No all-South African team has won the race before, although the late Burry Stander won twice – in 2011 and 2012 – with Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser. But the rapid improvement in the standard of South African mountain biking has increasingly seen top local teams among the front riders at the race.

Lill changed partners with just days to go. He had been scheduled to ride with Capetonian Charles Keey, but will instead team up with Woolcock .

“Unfortunately Charles hasn’t been going as well as he would like the last few weeks,” said Lill. “He suggested that it makes more sense for him to ride with Andrew Hill on the RED-E Blend team and for Waylon to partner with me.”

Keey and Lill finished ninth overall last year, but were set back when the latter picked up a stomach bug midway through the race. They had been performing strongly in the opening stages and had a comfortable lead in the race for the African Jersey, awarded to the first all-African team to finish.

Lill said he and Woolcock would have the African jersey “firmly in our sights, and a podium (top three overall) would be great”. He added though that the depth of the international field out for the Epic this year mean that getting on to the podium “will be tough this year … I think even more challenging than last year”.

“I’ve known Waylon through road racing since we were juniors. He’s progressed really well as a MTB rider the last few years,” said Lill, himself a successful convert from road to mountain bike.

Kleinhans won the Epic’s mixed category in 2012 and 2013 riding with his wife Ariane, while Bell has completed the Epic four times and placed eighth overall in 2012. They will, though, have another objective: “The main goal for Nico and I is to look after the Specialized-Songo-Meerendal team of Sauser and (Frantisek) Rabon, as their back up support while they are focussing on an overall title.”

“Our second objective will be to wear the African jersey at the end of the week. Hopefully our support services are not needed and we can focus on goal number two,” said Kleinhans.

The back up role has become vital to the interests of the top contenders in recent years – the support team sometimes sacrificing a spare part – a wheel, for example – if the leading team has mechanical problems.

Stellenbosch-based Kleinhans is looking forward to riding with Bell. “We have similar riding styles, strengths and personalities, which I am sure will help us get through the week easier.”

Evans has stood on the Epic podium before but the top step has eluded him. The Plettenberg Bay rider has had nearly two years of setbacks through injuries and health scares, but is close to his best form again. “Yes, the form is good and our partnership is great. I’m one of the more experienced riders in the Epic, and will use all my various experiences, good and bad, to our advantage.

Evans had planned to ride with Neil MacDonald until just a few days ago, but now MacDonald will partner with Johann Rabie in another all-South African combination.

“We are also not one of the teams to ‘watch’ this year, so it will be great to see the other teams ride with that added pressure for a change,” said Evans.

Another all-South African pairing with an eye on the red jersey will be Team Scott’s Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns, but they are relatively inexperienced and are more likely to challenge in years to come.

See more:http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/cape-epic-2014/preview

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s