Incase you missed the news, Alban Lakata revealed that he has found a new team, and the Austrian powerhouse moves to Team Bulls for 2019. This means that Bull’s roster is stacked with talent – even with plenty of young Bulls in the wings (although to be fair, not a whole lot of women on the squad).
Bull’s Karl Platt has started every Absa Cape Epic since its inception in 2004 and won five times – a record of victories he shares with Swiss legend Christoph Sauser. Alban Lakata has twice finished second – including in 2018 – and also bagged third, fourth, fifth and sixth over his 10 years of competing in the world’s premier mountain bike stage race.
After a decade of being rivals the two will aim to give Platt a record-setting sixth win and for Lakata to add the Absa Cape Epic title to his three marathon world championship trophies. But they’re not there for a safari and wine tour.
“I mean, Karl didn’t ask me just for fun,” laughs Lakata. “Obviously, our goal is to win the Absa Cape Epic, but we know that everything has to come together.”
Platt is renowned for his cool and calculated approach to the eight-day stage race, whereas Lakata is an extremely strong rider given to attacking at every opportunity. The combination should be a powerful one and Lakata believes they will work together well, pointing to their collective experience as an important factor: “Everybody knows how important mental strength is in a stage race.”
He is fired up by joining Team Bulls and riding a new bike this year: “It’s a big motivation. Changes like new equipment, new teammates and support can give you an extra boost. Especially for an older – or let’s say more experienced – guy like me,” he laughs.
Team Bulls will this year also have a second team that has the potential to reach the top step of the podium and a third riding as support. Former winner Urs Huber of Switzerland – he won with Platt in 2016 – will be teaming up with the talented Simon Stiebjahn, who has finished third in the Absa Cape Epic.
The support team will be Martin Frey and Simon Schneller, both from Germany. Steibjahn has ridden support for Platt and Huber for several years but will be hoping for at least a top three finish this year. Stiebjahn is renowned for his technical riding abilities and Huber is extremely powerful over marathon distances.
“It would be wrong to come to the Epic with such a strong team – not only us riders but also the staff that work backstage – and not believe we can win the race,” says Stiebjahn. “But we also know from our experience over the last years that a lot can happen during the eight days. So our goal is to fight for stage wins and at least stand on the podium in GC. For more, we also need that extra bit of luck.”
“I’m happy to have such a strong rider on my side,” says Stiebjahn of Huber. “We raced for the very first time as a team together at this years TransAlp and it worked out perfectly. Winning five out of seven stages and finishing second overall was a good first race.”
Both Lakata and Stiebjahn said their training was going well and they were aiming to arrive at the Absa Cape Epic start line in March in peak form. Stiebjahn is enthusiastic about the 2019 route: “Like always the route looks hard because you have long stages with a lot of climbing and some short stages including a lot of technical singletrack. So yes, it will suit our riding styles, because we both like these combinations.”
Lakata adds that “the route is similar as last year. In terms of profile and distance of the stages … and that will also suit us”.
Can the two veterans do it? Without a detailed start list complete it is hard to say. There are young Italian teams set to light up the race – but the team support is not nearly the same. And what about Cannondale Factory Racing? There are no certainties at the Cape Epic.