The 10th edition of the ABSA Cape Epic starts on Sunday with a 22-kilometre prologue time trial starting at finishing at Meerendal Wine Estate near Cape Town, South Africa. In comparison to the remaining seven stages, which average out to almost 100km each, it’s a mere sample. But it’s enough of a sample to reveal who is on form and who isn’t.
Because Sunday’s opener is likely to take the top teams less than an hour and a quarter to complete, it will suit the cross-country (XCO) specialists, who are accustomed to intense 90-minute racing efforts. Among the favourites to claim the stage win are the SCOTT Swisspower team comprising current XCO World Champion, Nino Schurter, and his Swiss compatriot, Florian Vogel, the 2008 European champion.
Although relatively brief, the battle for stage honours and the first Yellow Jersey will be fierce. Current Olympic champion, Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE) and Swiss former XCO World Champion, Christoph Sauser (36ONE-Songo-Specialized), will provide formidable opposition, as will the Cannondale Factory Racing team of Olympic bronze medallist, Marco Fontana (ITA) and current German champion, Manuel Fumic.
“There is a lot of XCO talent in those three teams. I’ll be surprised if any of them are not on the podium at the prologue,” said Kevin Evans (FedGroup ITEC) an eight-time Cape Epic finisher (four times on the overall podium), who is sitting out the 2013 race while recovering from abdominal surgery.
It is only the second Cape Epic participation for Schurter and Vogel, who have said they’ll be racing in search of stage wins. But with no clear favourites this year, they could well find themselves in contention for the overall podium when the race reaches is latter stages.
As a four-time winner of the top African team competition at the Cape Epic, Evans predicts the SCOTT Sports team of Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes will stamp their authority on this competition early on.
“They’re both very skilled racers and Phil just successfully defended his African XCO title last week. With 700 metres of vertical ascent in such a short distance, the climbs are steep and will suit the two of them. I can’t see any of the other African teams being as smooth as them over the technical terrain either,” said Evans.
Other African leader jersey contenders include Brandon Stewart and Neil MacDonald (FedGroup ITEC), Gawie Combrink and Nico Bell (Westvaal Bells Racing) and Darren Lill and Charles Keey (Cannondale Blend).
The African Leader’s jersey is an important competition in the Cape Epic. It was originally established to offer African teams a race within a race, as the gap between the local riders and the overseas riders was initially quite large. That gap has narrowed substantially over the past few years though and the battle for the top African team is now fought by teams that are in the top 10 in the overall race.
“With SCOTT Swisspower, SCOTT Sports and FedGroup ITEC, we have three strong teams racing on SCOTT bikes in this year’s Cape Epic. Teams that will be consistently in contention for podium appearances on a daily basis,” said Brandon Els, Managing Director of SCOTT Sports Africa.
“The toughness of the Cape Epic is unmatched anywhere in the world. The combination of the dry heat, the rough terrain, the long stages and the intensity of the racing, make it a complete test of both the rider and his equipment. Over eight days of racing, there’s a high risk of bad luck striking, but if you’re prepared and have the appropriate equipment, you can minimise your risk of delays. We’re excited and hoping to see a fast, fair contest on the biggest stage in mountain bike stage racing,” added Els.