The race favourites for the Cape Epic gathered at a media conference ahead of the 2020 edition in South Africa.. The traditional Pre-Race Press Conference is characterised by empty platitudes and vague talk of wanting to do well. But Cannondale Factory Racing’s Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini turned convention on its head, declaring outright that they are going “all-in” for victory.
The press conference started with a light-hearted interview. Lachlan Morton and Alex Howes, of EF Education First Pro Cycling, joked about how out of their depth they are. In response to, host, Robbie McEwen’s question about who they have been asking for advice Morton quipped: “Anyone I can!” “I’ve been watching every YouTube video I can find about the Absa Cape Epic, but it hasn’t helped for the nerves” the Australian WorldTour road racer laughed.
Rising cross-disciplinary cycling star, Tom Pidcock, is in a slightly better position ahead of his first Absa Cape Epic. “I have someone to guide me” the British under 23 multi-discipline champion pointed out. This comment was about his experienced Ninety One Specialized Trinity partner, Florian Vogel. “So, I’m already in a better position than these guys,” he said, teasing Morton and Howes.
Elite women at the Cape Epic
The mood became more serious when the Elite Women took to the stage. Mariske Strauss and Candice Lill have the dual goal of trying to win the Absa Cape Epic, while also securing Olympic qualification. “Currently South Africa is ranked seventh in the world, which would give us two Olympic cross-county slots” Lill explained. “Racing with Mariske [Strauss] is a great way for us both to score UCI points and for us to work together rather than fight each other.” “It makes sense to work together” Strauss added. “We are stronger together. It’s about more than just this year and the Absa Cape Epic. It’s about the last four years; all the years of racing and training which got us to this point. I’m excited to be racing with Candice [Lill].”
Ariane Lüthi is also excited to get racing alongside her new partner, Alice Pirard. “We get along well, are well matched on the bike and share the same values off the bike” the three-time UCI Women’s category winner revealed. “Having a strong partnership is key to succeeding over eight days in the Absa Cape Epic.”
The strongest partnership in the race, in terms of power on the bike at least, is undoubtedly Annika Langvad and Jenny Rissveds. The five-time winner and reigning Olympic champion are a formidable team. Their chances of securing victory are increased by Langvad’s relatively relaxed attitude. “I don’t really feel any pressure to perform” the Dane revealed. “I have proved everything I needed to prove in this race. Now I am motivated by personal challenges rather than results or records. I am motivated by the new partnership with Jenny [Rissveds] and about the opportunity to share this experience with her.”
Past Cape Epic winners target the high finishes
Howard Grotts and Jaroslav Kulhavý continued the trend of teams talking vaguely about achieving good results. Though there is a reason for the Ninety One – Songo – Specialized 1 team to underplay their chances. “I was sick twice in the last month” Kulhavý stated. “So, I haven’t been able to ride at a high intensity. The Prologue and Stage 1 will, therefore, be difficult, but hopefully, I will be better as the race progresses.”
“I have happy memories of Wellington, in 2018” Grotts added, strengthening the case for him and Kulhavý to come into their own later in the race. “Those smoother trails and steep climbs suit me really well.”
Cannondale Factory Racing then bucked the trend. “We are all in” Avancini emphatically stated. “I think coming close, and finishing second, last year was the final piece of motivation we needed. I’m not even thinking about the rest of the season after the 22nd of March. We’ll sit down on the Monday after the Absa Cape Epic to plan the rest of the year.”
“Everyone now knows it’s my last year” Fumic reiterated. “We have finished 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd before. So, the only result missing for Henry [Avancini] and I is the victory.”
There is a major obstacle in the way of Cannondale Factory Racing securing a fairy tale end to Fumic’s storied career: SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing. Nino Schurter and Lars Forster will roll off the start ramp at the University of Cape Town as the five star favourites. “We have prepared very well over the winter and had a good training camp in Stellenbosch, in February,” Schurter said of his and Foster’s preparation for their title defence.
“I’m looking forward to kicking off the season now, at the Absa Cape Epic” finished Schurter.
“I definitely feel the pressure of being defending champions” Foster conceded. “But the experience of last year is valuable and I’m excited to get started.”
Not since 2012, when Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser raced from Meerendal to the Grand Finale at Lourensford Wine Estate to win their second Absa Cape Epic together, has a Men’s team successfully defended their title at the Cape Epic.
In 2020, the Absa Cape Epic sees two undefeated teams line up in a bid to end this long-standing title defence record and claim the honours of being crowned champions of the Absa Cape Epic and Land Rover Defenders of the title.
2018 Absa Cape Epic winners, Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts will race the 2020 edition as Ninety One – Songo – Specialized 1; they did not race together in 2019, meaning that their 2018 victory, as a team, is undefeated. 2019 champions, Nino Schurter and Lars Forster continue their partnership in 2020 and are set to battle it out on the trails from UCT to Val de Vie Estate. Should either of these two teams make it through The Untamed African MTB Race unscathed and cross the finish line at Val de Vie with the yellow Assos Leader Jerseys on their backs, they will be the new holders of the title defence record and will be awarded the Land Rover Defender title – a title designed to honour the stature of any team capable of defending their title.
The 2020 Absa Cape Epic gets underway on Sunday, 15 March, at 06h40. Eva Garrido Castro and Valenti San Juan, of Actitu or Die, are the first team off the start ramp. The first UCI team to start is the She Rides Pwrd by SCOTT pair of Jessica Clarén and Sandra Backman. The Swiss duo kick off the elite racing at 10h52. The UCI Men’s teams are the last to start, with the defending champions last off the line, at 12h36. Mountain biking fans can follow the Absa Cape Epic action throughout the eight days of Untamed racing.