There’s a strong European challenge mounted for the 2016 edition of the Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike stage race, which starts in Mossel Bay on South Africa’s Western Cape coast on Sunday 16th October.
The seven-day event, which carries International Cycling Union (UCI) status, has seen the overall titles in the men’s race swing back and forth between local and European riders over the past few years. Last year’s edition was won by South Africans Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns of SCOTT LCB Factory Racing. Beukes is currently out of action, recovering from a serious fall, increasing the chances of a new winning combination to top the final podium.
The most likely title contenders are last year’s podium finishers – runners-up Roberto Crisi and Emanuele Crisi (Italy) and third place finishers, Bram Rood and Gerben Mos (Netherlands).
However the team that could well upstage them is the Estonian pair of Peeter Pruus and Peeter Tarvus. The Rietumu–Delfin pair will be competing in South Africa for the first time, whereas most of their rivals will be familiar with the conditions, which can range from extremely hot and dry to torrential rain across varying terrain.
Pruus is the current European marathon champion and he finished second to Tarvus at the 2016 Estonian marathon championships, which confirms the strength of both riders
Pruus is hoping for a successful Cape Pioneer Trek in order to further show his ability on a mountain bike.
“European Championships was my only real international race on a mountain bike. I didn’t expect to win and was aiming for a medal. But I had a really good day. I would like to do more mountain bike racing and I hope to show my ability, along with my friend Peeter, at the Cape Pioneer Trek,” said Pruus.
“I am racing mostly on the road for my team, Rietumu Bank Continental team and don’t get much chance to race big mountain bike events. I did start out as a mountain biker though and I do really enjoy it,” said Pruus, winner of the 2015 Tour of Borneo road event.
The Dutch Stappenbelt-Specialized team of Erik Groen and Jeroen Boelen is also likely to be in the podium hunt. Groen is a former Under-23 national champion; while Boelen, a former Crocodile Trophy winner, has a top 10 finish at the Cape Epic behind him.
The top South African hope is the Team NAD pair of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck. The 2012 winners are unlikely to be in contention at Sunday’s short prologue stage, but they could well ride into contention as the week progresses.
They recently won the Isuzu 3 Towers stage race in Mpumalanga, then finished second at the Grindrod Berg & Bush stage race. On Saturday they will contest the final round of the Ashburton Investments National Mountain Bike Series at Rooiberg in the Limpopo province and will then fly first thing on Sunday morning to Mossel Bay for the Cape Pioneer Trek prologue.
Another strong South African pairing is 2014 winner, Erik Kleinhans and Matt Beers. The duo won the Berg & Bush Descent last weekend and have been offered a late entry. They’ll be racing as Team Full Sus/Topeak Ergon/Red E.
“We’re pretty confident we have a good shot at the overall title, but we aren’t too sure about some of the overseas teams and how strong they are. We’re in good form though and I know the region quite well so am looking forward to giving it our best shot,” said Kleinhans.
A dark-horse team to watch is the South African Team Spur pair of James Reid and Julian Jessop. Reid has won stages at the Cape Pioneer Trek before, but Jessop will be a rookie at this event. However, his pedigree is evident by his multiple national XCO titles and the experienced guidance of Reid should benefit the youngster.
“We’re hoping for a good result in the prologue. Both being XCO riders, I think we have a shot at taking the leader’s jersey. Thirteen kilometres is perfect to open up the engine a bit. For the rest of the week we’re just keen to pace ourselves and bounty hunt a few stages,” said Reid.
“If we find ourselves in the hunt for the overall, we’ll pursue it, but Julian is untested over the multi-day format, so we’ll have to box smart and see where we end up. I really like the race format now with shorter, punchier stages, which will make for closer, more exciting racing,” added Reid.
Women to watch at the Cape Pioneer Trek
The women’s race is likely to be a battle between two teams. The very experienced Catherine Williamson (Great Britain) will be teaming up with a new partner in her quest for a third victory. South African Leana de Jager will join Williamson as the Klein Karoo International team.
Williamson won last year’s race with Swiss ace, Esther Suss and won the 2014 edition with Belgian Alice Pirard. De Jager has completed two Cape Epics (2014 and 2015) so has long stage-race experience. However the pressure will be high to help Williamson achieve another title and it will be interesting to see how De Jager responds.
The pressure is likely to mostly come from the OMX Pro pairing of South African XCO specialists, Mariske Strauss and Cherie Redeker. Both have completed long stage races before, including as teammates at the 2015 Cape Epic; and they won the recent Lesotho Sky so will no doubt relish the prospect of ending their year with regular podium visits over the coming week.
The Cape Pioneer Trek once again carries International Cycling Union (UCI) grading, which means guaranteed minimum prize money, television coverage and UCI rankings points for the top finishers. It will cover 503km over seven days and will include a total of 9720 metres of vertical ascent.
As it did in 2015, the race kicks off with a coastal prologue at Mossel Bay. The short opener is just 13km long, but has 320 metres of ascent, most of that coming in the first four kilometres. The early strain the riders will experience will be eased by the singletrack above the Indian Ocean on one of the most scenic mountain bike race routes anywhere in the world.
Most competitors will be racing in two-rider teams, while the growing Solo category promises to be increasingly competitive.