The 2021 Absa Cape Epic could well be defined by the new rivalries of former partners lining up against each other. While the experienced squads use their settled line-ups to navigate an unusual edition of the Race That Measures All.
On paper, the October Absa Cape Epic has the elements to produce one of the most memorable editions in the race’s 18-year history. Not only do the simple facts of the Covid-enforced postponement make the 2021 race unique. The rescheduled dates, 17 to 24 October, should ensure cooler conditions and, perhaps, muddy rather than dusty trails. While the composition of the elite men’s field ensures a thrilling race is sure to unfold on the trails of Ceres, Tulbagh, Wellington and Val de Vie.
The rocky route which would could well have caused punctures aplenty has been, to an extent, neutralised by the change of dates. Following a wet winter, the trails which would have been sandy and dusty should be hard-packed and fast flowing. With each potentially race-ending rock jutting, clearly visible, into the air; rather than hidden below a layer of fine powder.
Given the cooler conditions, the race may well be better suited than ever for the visiting European superstars. Though this year’s Absa Cape Epic is also the first since the tragic passing of Burry Stander, in January 2013, that a South African has a realistic shot at victory. In fact, two South Africans can be counted among the favourites to claim the final yellow jerseys, on the podium in Val de Vie. Sadly, unlike in 2019, Alan Hatherly and Matthew Beers will not be racing together.
Hatherly is partnered by his Cannondale Factory Racing teammate Simon Andreassen, rather. Both the South African and the Dane have raced the Absa Cape Epic before, placing 5th and 14th respectively, in 2019. They have stage racing success as a partnership to call upon however, having placed 2nd, to Beers and Wessel Botha, in the 2018 Wines2Whales.
“I am feeling really good about the event and I’m looking forward to partnering up with Alan [Hatherly] again” Andreassen bullishly stated. “I already rode the Absa Cape Epic with Susi [Christoph Sauser], and learned a few things back then. I’ve grown a lot since then and I feel ready to race it now. My ultimate goal is to win the Absa Cape Epic – maybe it doesn’t happen this year but everything is possible.”
“For sure it helps racing with a local guy, too” Andreassen continued. “Although I almost consider myself a local as well, after all the training camps and races I’ve done in the Western Cape over the years. But still, it’s definitely going to help having Alan’s home advantage for the whole race.”
Beers, meanwhile, teams up with a new partner for the 2021 race. The South African Marathon Champion will race alongside the 2020 XCO World Champion Jordan Sarrou. The French star will be making his second Absa Cape Epic start, while Beers is seeking to add a fifth finish to his palmarès. How well the pair will communicate, in the heat of battle, could prove decisive in the fight for the yellow jerseys.
“It’s been so long since Alan Hatherly and I raced together and so much has changed” Beers reflected on racing his erstwhile partner. “I’m really excited, now, to get another chance to race with Specialized Factory Racing and Jordan Sarrou. I mean the dude is so good and I think it’s going to be an unforgettable 8 days.”
“We will definitely complement each other nicely” Beers continued. “There’s a lot of climbing and technical descents in this edition. Jordan is so strong on the climbs and obviously his technical skills are world-class. So, following him on descents will help and I’ll do my thing on the flats. My experience racing the Absa Cape Epic for the fifth time will contribute to the partnership, I believe.”
The race will not be all about the battle between Beers and Hatherly, however. Team Bulls start the Absa Cape Epic with the number one bike boards on their machines. Urs Huber is the most recent race winner to be in contention for the 2021 title. He will be partnered by Simon Schneller for the first time. The Swiss/German combination are a reshuffle of the traditional Team Bulls line-ups but have already claimed an Epic Series race win this year, when they dominated the inaugural Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees in July.
“Simon [Schneller] is really a smart person, like I was in his age” Huber joked, as to why he and Schneller get along so well. “We have trained a lot together and have always had a good time, on and off the bike. After the last season, we all got together and spoke about the team composition for the future, which is where we decided on the new line-ups. It’s a big motivation for me to have such a talented rider at my side and I will certainly be giving my best to ensure that we will be super strong team, not only for this year, but also for the next few years.”
“The Absa Cape Epic is very important and every year it is a big goal for us, as a team” Huber confirmed. “It will be no different this year. Racing with Simon is a new situation for me after riding alongside Karl for many years. With Karl, when he was the team leader, nothing other than the overall victory was the goal. As it was for the one edition Stiebi [Simon Stiebjahn] and I contested together. Now with Simon; it’s a bit arrogant to say I’m coming to win, but I’m optimistic that we will have a good week. If we can achieve that, everything is possible!”
Huber and Schneller will be supported by Martin Frey and Simon Stiebjahn. As the German team know all-too-well, having a back-up squad who can provide a wheel, set a tempo or pace the leading team back to the front group can be instrumental in Absa Cape Epic success.
Like Team Bulls, Buff Scott and Trek Pirelli bring established teams to the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race. The always competitive Buff Scott squads will be represented by two teams, with Hans Becking and José Dias as well as Enrique Morcillo and José Maria Sanchez lining up to take on the 8-day, 619-kilometre race. The Italian, Trek Pirelli outfit will only bring one team to the 2021 race. Fabian Rabensteiner, who won the Grand Finale into Val de Vie in 2018, will partner, 2019 third place finisher, Samuele Porro this time out. Former Absa Cape Epic winner, Kristian Hynek also returns for 2021; this time with the world’s top-ranked UCI XCM rider, Martin Stošek, as his partner for Canyon Northwave MTB.
The 2021 Absa Cape Epic also represents perennial Absa African Jersey winners, Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes’ best chance of success. The PYGA Euro Steel team have finished 5th, 6th and
7th together in addition to claiming victory on the Queen Stage last time out, in 2019. They will be backed up by Pieter du Toit and Gert Heyns, of PYGA Euro Steel 2.
Other locals to watch in the Elite men’s category include Nicol Carstens and Jacques Janse van Rensburg, of DSV Pro Cycling, Nico Bell and Wessel Botha, of TypeDev Nanotime, and the First Move / Fundsmith team which sees South African Jaco Venter partnered by Alex Mayer of Mauritius. While the European assault on Africa will be bolstered by Bidon recup – Verhofsté’s Frans Claes and Jens Schuermans, of Belgium, as well as the Spanish Orbea Factory squad of Ibon Zugasti and Oliver Aviles Gilabert. While BMC – KTM’s Filippo Colombo, of Switzerland, and Juri Zanotti, of Italy, both make their Absa Cape Epic debuts.
An interesting sub-plot, to the Elite men’s race story, is added by the return of 5-time champion, Christoph Sauser. The Swiss legend, along with Karl Platt and Annika Langvad, is one of the race’s most decorated riders. He will be partnered by Alex Malacarne for NinetyOne-songo-Specialized 2. The young Brazilian races for Trinity Racing, the development squad who nurtured the current Olympic champion, Tom Pidcock, through the junior ranks. Malacarne turns 20 a week before the race and could well be a star of the future in the mould of Pidcock and fellow Trinity Racing teammate Cristopher Blevins.
Mountain biking fans can follow @capeepic on Instagram or like the Cape Epic Facebook page to stay updated on all the team news in the build-up to the 2021 Absa Cape Epic. More information on the race, its route and its history at www.cape-epic.com.