The start of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic is now just days away. Beyond the media machine that is counting down days, rolling out video grabs, and creating excitement via emotive images on Instagram – the best marathon and cross-country riders in the world are fine tuning their bikes, their legs and their kit bags ahead of 8 days of intense racing in the dust, heat and probably one wet day during the Cape Epic.
With no Olympic qualification spots on the line, and the start of the World Cup not imminent, elite riders are out in force. There are previous winners keen to repeat their previous performances, riders who are hungry to add a Cape Epic title to their palmares, and a true clash of the titans as Christoph Sauser and Karl Platt will go head to head with their team mates to see if either can be the first rider to win 6 Cape Epic titles. But there is so much depth in the men’s race, and in the majority of other categories. A quick look through the start list shows just how many champions of the sport are racing.
Men’s teams to watch at the Cape Epic
To be honest, the field is stacked, and picking a clear favourite is hard. Sure, Bulls are back with the aim to win again, and Karl Platt is hungry for a 6th title, and Urs Huber is always hungry to drive it. So it’s obvious to watch the Bulls pairing – they’re hungry for it.
Christoph Sauser is out of retirement to also aim for a 6th title, and has Czech superman Jaroslav Kulhavy with him in the Investec-Songo-Spec. Word is that at the Race of Champions Sauser didn’t look as fast as many of the young kids. But he knows how to race. He knows how to win the Cape Epic – and he doesn’t mind foxing. I see these two as more likely to win than Bulls – but only just.
The danger men are Ferraro and Porro from Trek Selle San Marco. They debuted at the Cape Epic last year and got a stage win and 3rd overall. Now they know more about the race, and are likely to be on the podium. And possibly in the leader’s jersey after the prologue.
Another well-oiled team is Centurion Vaude. Kaufmann and Kaess have been winning stages and races together for a long time. They know each other, know the race, and know how to look after themselves. A stage win could be possible as could a podium place.
And what about Topeak-Ergon? Lakata seems like he’s not firing yet this year, but Hynek looks to be in good form. Will Lakata burst into life after the Prologue?
But there are plenty more. Can Schurter and Stirnemann ruffle feathers, or will they be looking for a good overall finish and a stage win? This is something Cannondale’s Fumic and Avancini will be targeting – most likely on the televised stages which offer the best value for their sponsors. Will the PYGA team of Beukes and Buys not only dig into the top 5 – but be the best African team? And what of Hermida and Rodriguez? Nothing is certain at the Cape Epic – save for an exciting 8 days of racing in the men’s teams.
Women’s teams to watch at the Cape Epic
Some have said the women’s line up doesn’t look as strong this year. No Bigham. No Langvad. No Dahle-Flesjaa. But what about Luthi and Morath in Team Spur? That’s a host of XCM, stage race and XCO experience with excellent support from Specialized – and Ariane knows what it takes to win the Cape Epic.
Of course, there is Sabine Spitz and Robyn De Groot to worry about. Those two are highly-experienced and more than capable of vying for the race win.
Meerendal have two teams in the Women’s race. And the experienced Esther Suess and Jenny Stenerhag is complemented by Cornelia Hug and Hielke Elferink. While it’s likely the two are just riding for the one sponsor and not together – both are formidable teams with a wealth of experience.
One team that has grabbed my attention is the pairing of Belgium’s Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux of France. Both are highly competent racers, and a good partnership could land them on the podium.
Other teams might show greater strength, and there are certainly plenty more. But it’s more than likely that the winners, and each stage winner, will come from this group.
Master’s teams to watch at the Cape Epic
This is where it gets interesting. Masters categories are often the largest, and the results aren’t usually publicised as prominently. You really need to dig around to see who is in form. Which I haven’t done enough of. But let’s look at Brentjens and Azevedo, and consider them standing favourites. Until we consider The Orbea Factory team of Tomi Misser and Ibon Zugasti, who just finished 2nd overall at The Pioneer.
There was some noise about Cadel Evans and George Hincapie racing for BMC, but really, seeing them on the podium would be surprising. Cadel would have the ability, but can Big George handle a mountain bike that well?
The Lamond brothers racing as Podium Sports could prove interesting. They’ve been in top 20 overall before, and have raced the event together, and many times. They could get onto the podium – if not just for a stage win, for the overall.
Spain delivers another strong pairing with Manuel Rojo Nieto and Jorge Lopez Janeiro, and Denmark’s AGU-DesignYourOwn.cc partnership of Kirk and Noerup could also be in the top 5. And what of the Pinarello Team? A windsurfer who has moved to Cape Town to focus on the Cape Epic… could it work?
Australian and British eyes will fall on the SRAM-Pyga team of Anthony Shippard and David Evans. This pair have put high achieving dedication into this race. They’ve been on training camps, sat our local criterium races, they are likely opening doors with elbows and avoiding anything in a bain-marie. Shippard has raced the Cape Epic before, when living in Cape Town, and Evans has the physiology of a grey hound and the mountain bike enthusiasm of a Jack Russell.
Jokes aside, these two have shown immense dedication to the race, and have had immaculate planning. There’s a very good chance they will be on the podium, and potentially near the top. Besides, they have a side bet.
Mixed teams to watch at the Cape Epic
Jenny Rissveds and Thomas Frischknecht.
Ok it’s not a given they will win. But it is hard to bet against them. There’s a very good chance they will finish in the top 30 overall, or even the top 20. It could happen.
And while partnerships like Catherine Williamson and Johan Labuschagne might be up there, I’d be watching Kate Fluker and Mark Williams. They recently won The Pioneer, and placed well inside the top 10 overall. They operate as a team exceptionally, and know why it is so important to ride their own race. could they win? Absolutely.
Grand Master’s teams to watch at the Cape Epic
This is a harder one to figure out. Who can look past old man mountain Barti Bucher, teamed up with Heinz Zoerweg? Well maybe John Bliss and Joel Davis out of the US could be up there too, but really Grand Masters is a hard one to pick – so I’ll go no further.
All the action kicks off on Sunday with the Prologue in Meerendal Wine Estate. There is live tracking, so you can watch the drama unfold. Check back here for the galleries, results and highlights.