To Watch 

The Elite Men’s teams eyeing the title of The Race That Measures All.

The Absa Cape Epic has always attracted world class-mountain bikers. We’ve seen glorious battles between the wily marathoners and the quickest cross country riders on the planet, and the field has also broadened further to include road cyclists, both former and current stars. This year presents a unique cross section of young UCI World Cup contenders, seasoned stage racers and road racers at the top of their game. We are missing some big names this year – the likes of Nino Schurter and Henrique Avancini. But they make way for a totally new racing dynamic, more drama and a whole new volume of stories and battles.

In the same recurring theme – the cross country riders battling it out with the marathoners – the former had cracked the code in recent editions. The likes of Schurter and Avancini went full gas from the gun, putting the older, less elastic marathoners on the limit and on the back foot – a state from which they rarely recovered. That tactic worked when there were plenty of cross country riders in the front pack who could help maintain the momentum and contribute to the pace. But with less collective firepower and the new dynamic of the ‘roadies’ and their V12 engines, there’ll be a new pattern emerging. There’s no stand-out team that can be pegged, with certainty, as a favourite. And of course the race takes place at a different time of the year. It’ll all be left to the conditions, fate and that ever nebulous factor – form.

2016 winner, multiple GC podium finisher and stage winner Huber is one of the most decorated riders in the race. At 36 he’s still capable of performing at the highest level, which leads us to the conclusion that he’ll choose a partner accordingly. Although an untested partnership at the Absa Cape Epic, they’ve had success at other races, having won Andalucía Bike Race together. In a field of new partnerships, firepower like this is worth taking note of if you’re an ambitious team at the 2021 race. Swiss and German riders are usually known for their methodical approach, but Huber and Schneller prefer to train and race on feeling – less planning, more instinct. They are not pegged as outright favourites, nor are they underdogs. We can expect them to be a major factor in the podium deciding stages. Schneller is well-known for his descending skills and this could be their special weapon.

There has never been a shortage of bike handling skills in the Cannondale Factory Racing team and South Africa’s Alan Hatherly pairing up with teammate Simon Andreassen is no exception. With Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini not racing, they leave behind some big shoes to fill. However, the South African and the Dane are dyed-in-the-wool speed merchant Olympians – Andreassen is a UCI World Cup winner and Hatherly has been performing superbly on the circuit this year, especially in the short track event. The South African Hatherly (like his French rival Sarrou) has a unique opportunity to podium at the two opposite extremes at the top level of the sport — one held over 20 minutes and the other over eight days.

This combination sees former world XCO champion Sarrou partner up with one of Africa’s best mountain bikers Beers. Sarrou competed at the 2018 edition with Victor Koretzky with low-key below-expectation results. Beers, however, has displayed flashes of brilliance at the race in 2019 (riding with Hatherly), taking on the world’s best and placing 5th overall. There’s one question mark hanging over Sarrou. The pressure of peaking for an Olympic year left some riders physically and motivationally empty, so we would forgive Sarrou if the long season blunted his performance at the race. This is in contrast to an underraced Beers (at least at world class level).

Seewald and Stošek. A pairing that will strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned Absa Cape Epic campaigners. As #1 and #2 on the UCI Elite Men Marathon Ranking, and #1 and #2 in the UCI Elite Men Marathon Series Standing, there is simply no arguing the firepower that these two riders bring to the Absa Cape Epic. Not to mention the European Continental and National XCM titles. As trade team teammates, Seewald and Stošek will know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and are sure to use that synchronisation to light the racing up at the front of the field.

Hans Becking and José Dias form the first partnership representing the BUFF SCOTT MTB Racing squad. With two Absa Cape Epic finishes, several top 10 Epic Series finishes and three Dutch National Champion titles to his name, he should, naturally, take on the senior role within the team and lead with vigour from the front. His partner Dias is no slouch, as can be seen by his Portuguese XCO National Champion title. Not to mention his numerous podium position finishes at National XCO and XCM Championships and top five finishes at many of the world’s most exciting stage races.

Buys and Beukes are of the very few top-level overall contenders who’ve been tried and tested as a team. They come well prepared with a high level back up team in multiple stage winner Gert Heyns and Pieter Du Toit. This is the local fans’ best hope for an all-South African men’s GC win, the Buys Beukes combination has proven their class time and again at the Absa Cape Epic with 14 Absa Cape Epic finishes between them, including 7 stage wins and a handful of Absa African Jersey wins. Their local knowledge, seasoned class and second team could be the decisive factors at the 2021 Absa Cape Epic.

In terms of pure athleticism, there are few teams in the world that’ll trump these two, especially with Zwiehoff’s mountain bike background. Their full time jobs at Bora Hansgrohe require them to be on duty at the UCI World Tour on the road (where they’ve performed well, with Kämna winning a stage at the 2020 Tour De France). Their analytical acumen suggests they’ll identify stages that suit them and then go for stages that feature more long open dirt roads and slightly less technical terrain, even though Zwiehoff proved his ability at the Swiss Epic. A lot depends on the experience of their support staff and how well they can communicate the nuances of how small mistakes can amplify to become major issues over eight days – plus their trailside repair skills may require some extra training.