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Absa Cape Epic favourites show pre-race form

2017-02-21

After a flurry of races in the Western Cape all indications are that the Absa Cape Epic big guns are firing … and the showdown from March 19 to 26 should be a thriller.

The most notable performance in recent weeks has probably been that of Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser, the five times Absa Cape Epic winner who came out of retirement to take on the world-leading stage race again this year.

He fashioned an amazing win at the brutal 121km Attakwas MTB Challenge, coming from behind after a mechanical to catch and beat German Karl Platt and Czech Kristian Hynek.

Platt has himself won the Absa Cape Epic five times and Hynek once. Both are among the favourites for the 2017 title.

Platt will be riding with Swiss Urs Huber (Team Bulls) and hoping to repeat their 2016 triumph. Hynek is taking on the event with Austrian powerhouse Alban Lakata (Topeak Ergon) and they certainly have the firepower to win the Untamed African MTB race.

But both will have noted Sauser’s strength on the rugged Attakwas race and his subsequent win in the National Mountain Bike Series Race in Grabouw, where he was apparently feeling a bit below par but eventually outsprinted South African Max Knox.

Sauser will be racing with 2013 and 2015 winning partner Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec songo Specialized) of the Czech Republic and indications are that they will remain as formidable a pairing as ever.

Talking of Knox, the South African’s performance in Grabouw in his first race of the year would have come as a boost. He will be racing the Absa Cape Epic with multiple Colombian champion Héctor Leonardo Páez Leon (Kansai Plascon) and they will have their eyes firmly set on the podium.

After the Attakwas on January 16 Huber joined Platt for the three-day Tankwa Trek from February 10 to 12 and the Team Bulls pairing dominated the event by winning all three stages.

Sauser was also in the field but his partner, New Zealander Sam Gaze, fell ill on Stage 1 and the Swiss ended up riding alone on the next two stages.

Also in the field were Hynek and Lakata, but they had some technical issues on Stages 1 and 2 and the Austrian was apparently off-colour. They did, however, finish strongly on the final stage, coming home just under a minute behind Platt and Huber.

The Hansgrohe Women’s category race is also shaping up to be a hard fought battle. Three-time winner Ariane Lüthi of Switzerland will probably be disappointed with her fourth place at Attakwas (where she came into the race slightly underdone after two weeks off with an injury during the build-up) and then having to pull out on Stage 1 of the Tankwa Trek with an illness. In-between those though she beat countrywoman Esther Süss – herself a previous Absa Cape Epic winner – into second at the two-day Simonsberg Contour MTB.

Lüthi will be riding with German Adelheid Morath (Team Spur) this year after securing her three Hansgrohe Women’s Category victories with Dane Annika Langvad.

Talking of Langvad, she will not be racing the Absa Cape Epic this year because of study commitments but has been in awesome form, winning at Attakwas and Grabouw from South African Robyn de Groot.

De Groot will be pleased with her performances: she is clearly in great form as the race approaches. She will be riding with German legend Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) and their race against Lüthi and Morath should be an exciting one.

De Groot and her Tankwa Trek mixed category partner Gert Heyns also blasted away the opposition there, winning by 30 minutees after the three days of racing.

Also up there in the women’s race should be the Swiss/Swedish combination of Süss and Jennie Stenerhag (Meerendal CBC), who won the Tankwa Trek after seeing off the challenge of South Africans Mariska Strauss and Yolande de Villiers.

Strauss will be racing the Absa Cape Epic with Briton Annie Last (OMX Pro) and they will be a team to watch.

The third-placed Tankwa Trek finishers, dormakaba’s Vera Adrian of Namibia and South African partner Candice Lill, also look to be well prepared.

South Africans Waylon Woolcock and HB Kruger (Telkom BCX) finished second overall at the Tankwa Trek and are obviously eyeing the Absa African special jersey – for the first all-African team – with real intent.

Another all-South African combination – NAD Pro’s Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell – finished third behind Woolcock and Kruger. Combrinck and Bell will, however, be riding in support of Sauser and Kulhavy.

Stellenbosch’s Erik Kleinhans, who will be riding with American Jeremiah Bishop in support of Lakata and Hynek, will have been pleased with his fourth-place finish at Attakwas.

And finally some hearsay about South African Matthew Beers, who will be riding the Absa Cape Epic with Switzerland’s Konny Looser. The Capetonian has been putting in some serious training and locals who have seen him out on the hills say he is “flying”.

“He passed me on the way up to the mast on the Constantiaberg, above Tokai, and he was motoring,” said one local MTBer. “I felt like I was going backwards.”

Might he and Looser be dark horses?

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