Epic Insights: the contenders
The CM.com Women’s Category
Every year, in the build-up to the Absa Cape Epic, winner predictions dominates the conversations. In the Cm.com Women’s category, almost invariably, the same questions come up, particularly about Specialized Factory Racing team’s new pairing: ‘Will Langvad and Lüthi gel together?’ ‘Will the young Courtney survive a weeklong stage race?’ ‘Will van der Breggen’s road abilities transfer to mountain biking?’ ‘Will XC racers Frei and Stigger last eight days?’ ‘Will a relatively unknown Villafane handle the pressure of riding for the most successful factory racing team in the history of the sport?’ The answer is best told by the results sheets – yes, and then some.
By now, fans should know better than to omit any team that the king- and queen-maker team puts together in pursuit of the coveted Absa Cape Epic Ciovita leader jerseys. Rivals know all too well that no matter the combination selection, this is the outfit to beat, especially with the all South African team Lill and Strauss pulling out of the race in February. Although many of the team combinations aren’t tried and tested yet, most riders individually have enough Epic experience now to know how to pace themselves throughout the week, deal with mishaps and put together a campaign that would crown any rider’s career.
The dark horse pairing is undoubtedly Cannondale Vas Arabay. Even though the favourites are clear, the other teams will play a significant role over the eight days.
We don’t expect the dominance of one squad, like in the Langvad days, and with the racing being more open than ever before, more can happen. Till last year, stage spoils had typically been shared only by two teams, if that. 2022 saw three teams take multiple stage wins. Expect to see new and even more faces on the podium this year.
The Men’s Category
Mountain bike fans have, simply, never had it better. We’re seeing new generations of riders, and of the sport. We get to watch our favourite star battle the mud in Hoogerheide, tear across Western Cape semi-desert, mix it up on the Czech Republic’s loamy trails and chase up road passes in the Dolomites, all within a few months.
The days of specialisation are over and the ability to transfer skills is an essential… skill.
Whatever the rider’s core discipline is, they now do it all. So when it comes to the Absa Cape Epic, the debate about ‘cross country riders vs marathoners’ has less relevance each year. The 2021 edition saw a pure marathoner pair with the cross country world champion and win, convincingly. 2022 saw newcomers take the race by force, both stage racers who also compete on the UCI World Cup circuit to supplement their skillset.
The racing is fierce, the field is deep and the players are multitalented.
This means the likes of SCOTT-SRAM’s Schurter and Frischknecht can no longer rely on their speed to put the slow burn diesels on the backfoot on the early climbs on each stage. Rivals like Canyon Northwave, Singer Racing and Buff Megamo have that figured out and adapted. Such tactics are likely to backfire now.
Five teams featured here genuinely have what it takes to win on GC. All of them can win a stage. Historically we’ve seen three teams rise to the top by the middle of the week, so we reserve GC predictions till the time trial. There will be casualties – even the big names have bad luck. That’s just the way it goes. We’ll all be watching how those who falter turn that luck around. If any good team has a bad day, they’ll target a specific day for a stage win. This of course will have a significant influence the GC battle, adding another dimension to the racing.
We say with certainly that when so many top riders’ talent, form, ambitions, experience and motivation are all thrown into the pressure cooker that is the Absa Cape Epic, we can expect action, from the very start.