Erik and Ariane Kleinhans of Team RE:CM dominated the 2013 ABSA Cape Epic from start to finish to claim the Mixed Category title with a winning margin of more than two hours. After their victory in the world’s most prestigious mountain bike stage race, they were able to reflect on just how they achieved their success.
“Experience, preparation and exceptional race support,” said Erik Kleinhans. “That’s how I’d summarise our race broadly. But of course it’s all in the details and that’s where I think we had the edge over our rivals.”
It was the couple’s third Cape Epic as a mixed team. That, combined with the fact that they’ve raced in at least 12 stage races together, gave them the experience, for stage-racing in general and the Cape Epic in particular. Many of their podium rivals did not have that kind of experience as partners, some only riding together for the first time in the actual race.
“Generally speaking, mixed is the most technical category because of the differences in strength and skill levels between the male and the female,” explained Erik. “We were fortunate to have a problem-free race whereas some of our rivals weren’t so lucky.”
Erik and Ariane arrived at every refreshment point/tech zone with a strategy that saw them minimise any time wastage. Ariane rode straight to the chain lubrication point, had her chain lubed and then rode on, while Erik gathered spare bottles, food and snacks before having his chain lubed and then setting off in pursuit of his wife. With three of these points on most stages, the time saved with slick, efficient visits can add up to minutes by the end.
“That was our strategy when we were ahead or alone, with no other mixed teams around us. When we were with another mixed team we’d leave when the first of them left. It’s an unwritten rule of sportsmanship in stage races. You don’t ride away from a rival team in a refreshment/tech zone,” explained Erik.
The RE:CM pair won seven out of the eight stages, finishing second on Stage 5, less than a minute behind the stage winners. On the route, Erik either gives Ariane a push or tows her by having her hold onto his jersey pocket.
“Pulling and pushing at the right time just allows Ariane to keep a constant pace. Like getting over a steep bump or cresting the summit of a climb, two instances where you tend to lose momentum and rhythm,” said Erik.
“But, we went into the race well trained and peaking at the perfect time. That’s thanks to our coaches. Christoph Sauser (four-time overall Cape Epic winner) helps me and Andrew Smith is Ariane’s coach. During the build-up we did a few four-day training blocks that simulated the endurance and intensity we’d need to achieve in the race. And we did the three-day Ride the Rock and Grape Escape stage races as build-up events. Those two races were on similar terrain to what we experienced in the Cape Epic and they also got us into the daily rhythm of a stage race.”
For the Kleinhans couple their mindset was also ‘pre-set’ in order to minimise surprises and stress.
“We knew Stage 1 was going to be really hard with lots of sand so we expected the worst. Then we just completed the route as best we could. Any negativity would have been detrimental, so we just stayed positive. In order to do that of course, your sugar levels need to stay constant, so we ensured our nutrition was relevant and consistent. We use Biogen as our supplement brand,” explained Ariane.
Unlike some other teams, who experienced both minor and serious mechanical problems, Team RE:CM had a faultless race.
“Our bikes (Trek Superfly 100s) and our tyres (Bontrager) never once gave us any trouble whatsoever. We were very fortunate this year. A technical problem can mean the end of your hopes of a win in this race,” said Erik.
“It’s important to point out just how much support we got from Lange Sports and RE:CM. Kandice Buys, our manager, and Magnus Gouws, our mechanic, are incredibly experienced and calm. They made sure we just had to pedal and recover as best we could. And we got to stay in buildings, which really makes a difference, especially when it comes to recovery,” said Erik.
“Nothing was left to chance. Every detail was examined and taken care of. It wasn’t only Ariane and I that won this race, we had amazing support and that counts for a lot. More than you can imagine. It’s a great feeling to have been able to defend our title with such control.”
“Erik and Ariane were simply superb. They’re true professional athletes in every sense. It’s a pleasure to have them on our team and their gratitude for our support is refreshing,” said Malcolm Lange, of Lange Sports, the company that owns and manages Team RE:CM.