Battle Royal Earmarked for the Prologue
The Absa Cape Epic Men’s category is gearing up for a veritable clash of the titans as world champions, national champions and Olympic medalists prepare to go head-to-head on Table Mountain this Sunday.
This year’s Absa Cape Epic has one of the most competitive men’s fields ever assembled with a host of world-class mountain bikers all hoping to give the overall podium a proper crack. Reigning champions, Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann of Scott-Sram, will be well aware of the impending teams looking to usurp their dominance at the top of the food chain. A brief analysis of Nino’s performance at the Epic World Cup last Saturday suggests his recent training regime has been tailored more around endurance than intensity – validating Scott-Sram’s intentions at defending the crown. The Swiss superstar was in high spirits ahead of his title defense and expressed his relief that last week’s Epic World Cup winner, Sam Gaze, isn’t racing the Absa Cape Epic this year.
“The Epic World Cup was an awesome event and the racing against Sam (Gaze) was a great battle. I’m glad he’s not racing the Absa Cape Epic on Sunday,” laughed Schurter. He went on to pertinently point out his intentions and ambitions for the race: “We (Scott-Sram) have prepared for every stage this year and we showed last year we can do it. I’m looking forward to every stage and Matthias and I have a good team spirit.”
Canyon Topeak’s Alban Lakata has raced the Absa Cape Epic eight times and while the overall victory has always eluded him, he feels this year might very well be the one. “I think I’ve prepared well but this year I’ve done some things a little differently than the past. I think we can get to the top step of the podium. We’re in top shape,” said Lakata. As a genuine marathon racer and reigning XCM World Champion Lakata is well versed in the type of racing and conditions teams will confront over the next eight days – particularly the first four back-to-back 100+km stages. He finished up with a bold warning statement for his rivals: “The marathon racers are going to show the cross-country riders how to race the Absa Cape Epic.”
Amid the heated banter however, team BULLS appear to be flying under the radar. Five-time Men’s category champion, Karl Platt, is feeling positive ahead of the Untamed African MTB race following a few months of uncertainty caused by a broken hip he sustained during training in November last year. Having turned 40-years-old yesterday the affable German joked that maybe he and Urs Huber should race in the Dimension Data Masters category come Sunday. On a serious note he assured his rivals that he’s back to his best and ready to give 2018 a serious go.
“I had great time at home with my family and have fully recovered,” said Platt. “I started training in January and feel I’m in a good way – I had a good Cape Town Cycle Tour and put in some efforts to test the legs. I’m ready.” The BULLS have entered three teams proving the team’s long-term outlook on developing the next wave of stars. “We have a young team here (BULLS 3) and they need to learn a lot from these big races. This year we have another role for our second team (BULLS 2) and Simon Stiebjahn and Tim Boehme can go free and do whatever they want.”
The Absa African Men’s special jersey – a race within the race – will once again add another dynamic to men’s field with several teams vying for the win. While PYGA Euro Steel’s Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes have bigger fish to fry this year – namely the overall podium, their support team of Phillimon Sebona and Julian Jessop will have a genuine shot at securing red. “It was a great experience racing with Julian at Tankwa Trek and the team has invested a lot in us and we feel we can compete at this level,” said Sebona. “The Absa African special jersey gives us a big opportunity which is what we’ve been targeting. It will help us improve our skills and we can go for it.” Sebona and Jessop’s biggest threats – besides their senior teammates – will come from NAD MTB’s Nico Bell and Matt Beers and the Silverback-Volvo partnership of Jaco Pelser and Shaun-Nick Bester.
Who’s going to wear the yellow jersey on Stage 1 in Robertson on Monday 19 March? Well, it’s too tight to call at this point. The Prologue course certainly favours the cross-country specialists such as Cannondale Factory Racing, Investec Songo Specialized and Scott-Sram but the BULLS duo of Platt and Huber as well as the PYGA Euro Steel combination of Buys and Beukes may very well pose an outside threat come Sunday, not to mention Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek who are racing with only one goal in mind – winning. One thing is for sure: this is going to be one of the closely fought Prologues in recent history.