Will the 2016 Absa Cape Epic be the year of the long shot?
There are obvious favourites in the elite Men’s and Women’s categories, but it was evident at a Cape Town press conference today (Thursday) that some outsiders will be eyeing the overall podium when the race starts on Sunday.
Among these are Absa Cape Epic novices but world-class marathon riders Periklis Ilias of Greece and Portuguese teammate Tiago Ferreira (Team Dolomiti Superbike). Ilias is a former Marathon World Champion and Olympian while Ferreira is the reigning Portuguese marathon champion.
They have just come off a win in the Spain’s six-day Andalucia Bike Race and Ilias revealed that he had been planning to race the Absa Cape Epic of some time but now he had “found Tiago, who is the right partner for me”.
“Now is the moment,” said the determined looking Greek mountain biker.
Then there is the last-minute super pairing of young South Africans James Reid and Gert Heyns (Team Spur), thrown together after their scheduled teammates had to pull out. “We’re outsiders … but we’re going to roll the dice,” said Reid, the current African and South African cross country champion.
They will be among the many teams hoping to topple the established order at the top of marathon mountain biking. To do so they will have to beat the two favourite combinations, Topeak Ergon Racing’s Alban Lakata (Austria) and Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic) and Team Bulls’s Karl Platt (Germany) and Urs Huber (Switzerland).
Lakata has finished 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd in the Absa Cape Epic while Platt has won the world’s premier mountain bike stage race four times. Platt is seeking a record-equalling fifth win and Lakata a first success to add to his array of championships and successes.
Both riders indicated at the press conference that they were in perfect condition as the big event approaches at Meerendal on Sunday.
“I’m fresh and feeling good and looking for another good year,” said Lakata. “Hopefully we have less mechanicals this year.”
“This year I have been training a lot in South Africa and think my shape is getting better and better,” said Platt.
It was up to their partners to spell out their ambitions for the race: Huber said he was “holding thumbs for him (Platt) to win his 5th time … and my first”. Hynek, a former winner himself, said “my goal is to win again with Alban”.
Sadly, one of the favourite teams, Centurion Vaude by Meerendal’s German pairing of Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess, has had to withdraw after the former broke a collarbone. It was announced at the press conference that they would be replaced by Austrian youngsters Daniel Geismayr and Hermann Pernsteiner.
In the Women’s category it is also clear that several teams have set their sights on the favourite combination of Switzerland’s Ariane Kleinhans and Denmark’s Annika Langvad (Team Spur-Specialized), winners for the past two years.
Among them will be former winner Sally Bigham of England, who told the press conference that “I have had two years of bad luck and I’m hoping to put that to bed … we’re here to try to win the race”. Bigham described her German teammate Adel Morath (Topeak Ergon) as “the perfect partner: we both have similar strengths and we’re both good climbers … I’m really excited”.
Asked about their tactics, the German Olympian laughed: “Full gas every day.”
Also in the field will be mountain biking legend Sabine Spitz of Germany and her young Ukranian partner Yana Belomoina. Spitz has won gold, silver and bronze at the Olympics but this will be her first Absa Cape Epic. She was cautious about making a prediction, but did say that “we don’t want to make it too easy for the other girls”.
Langvad said she was looking forward to the new race arrangements in terms of which the elite women would have a category start of their own, a move designed to make the competition between the women more equal and exciting.
* The 2016 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race takes place from 13 to 20 March and the much anticipated route can be viewed here. The 2016 race will host the 100th stage in the history of the event – the EPIC100 – on Tuesday 15 March.