Women’s Cape Epic field heats up

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With news last week that Ariane Luthi would be racing with Christina Kollman, and now word that Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot will return to the Cape Epic, along with Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath – it is clear that the Cape Epic is truly benefiting from making a seperate start for the women’s category. Kate Courtney will be racing with Annika Langvad and we hear Esther Suess will be racing with Jennie Stenerhag. Add in Hielke Elferink and Cornelia Hug and that alone is a premium field!

One of the enduring images of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic, was Sabine Spitz crossing the line with a stick and tape holding her broken handlebars together.

Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot during stage 5 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Oak Valley Wine Estate in Elgin, South Africa on the 24th March 2017
Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

The German star crashed hard 15km from the end of Stage 6, snapping her handlebars which resulted in a significant amount of time being used to fix her bike. Any hope she and Team Ascendis Health partner Robyn de Groot had of winning the Absa Cape Epic were gone. The two eventually won four stages together, but luck deserted them.

“It does feel a little surreal to have won four stages and still finish third overall,” said De Groot. “When we were able to ride without lady luck falling out of favour with us, we made a formidable team and we really raced well together. That’s why Lange Sports have paired us up together again for 2018.”

De Groot was full of admiration for the courage shown by Sabine, the former Olympic gold medallist, in finishing the race after her second big crash of the race, the first happening during Stage 1.

“We both couldn’t believe what had happened in that crash,” said De Groot. “There was no time to waste. It was amazing how we started looking at options to make the bars rideable. We knew we lost a lot of time, but giving up was not an option.”

“We lost our second place that day and the gap between us and Meerendal CBC was impossible to close. We could not dwell on what could have been. We just had bad luck and dealt best with what the race threw at us. In a way, the hardships we endured made our other stage victories that much sweeter, and also helped us realise what a great team we made. Winning the Grand Finale after the handlebar stage was a great feeling.”

MarathonMTB Cape Epic

Absa Cape Epic 2017 Stage 4

While De Groot has had to take some time off to overcome an injury in the build-up to the Absa Cape Epic, she is back on track and has been training with Sabine in South Africa. “She has been paramount to helping me through this injury mentally and physically. Her preparation is going well and she has really enjoyed exploring more of South Africa on her bicycle.”

The South African Marathon Champion has enjoyed much success in Prologues at the Absa Cape Epic, having won it twice and taken a second place in her three races. “I’ve enjoyed the Prologues and really just focussed on enjoying starting a race you prepare so hard for… it always feels great to finally start. It’s a small part of the race, but, none the less, they are hard stages where we push our limits, so winning them is just as big a win as the longer more endurance based stages.

“I wouldn’t say you can jump to conclusions based on the Prologue performances. So much can happen in eight days. Last year was certainly a testament to this for us.”

De Groot Attakwas. Photo: Ewald Sadie

De Groot in action at Attakwas.

De Groot does not like to over-analyse the route of the race too much. She knows the stages will be tough, the drought in the Western Cape will make the trails more challenging, and feels the time trial on Stage 5 will bring a new dynamic to those racing at the sharp end.

Lill and Morath team up for 2018

Top South African mountain biker Candice Lill finished her first Absa Cape Epic in 2017 “hungry for more”. Lill used last year’s race as preparation for 2018, a wise head on young shoulders discovering what it was all about.

“I had a very good experience at my first Absa Cape Epic, which is exactly how I wanted it to be,” said the 25-year-old Lill. “I had no pressure. I was there to experience, learn and grow. I finished most days with a smile on my face because I had prepared and was ready for how tough the race can be.

“The idea for 2017 was to be part of the race, but always have a little bit left in the tank at the end of the stage. Being a relatively young rider, I am so grateful for the advice I took to approach my first Absa Cape Epic like this. I left the race feeling hungry for more. This is why I’m back in 2018 ready to give it a good go. I am sure it will be totally different ball game, but let’s chat afterwards.”

MarathonMTB Cape Epic

Adelheid Morath in the Absa Cape Epic 2017 Prologue

Lill finished sixth in 2017 with Namibian Vera Adrian, but will race the 15th Absa Cape Epic with Adelheid Morath of Germany for Team dormakaba. Morath, who will ride in her third Epic, was fourth last year with Ariane Lüthi, the three-time winner of the Women’s category.

“Take one glance at Adelheid, and you know she can climb, very fast! I am sure I will be suffering up many a mountain. I don’t want to give away too many secrets here, but what I believe is Adelheid’s biggest strength is her honesty, communication and ability to look after a team mate. We have different strengths and weaknesses on the bike, but that can all be optimised with the above three aspects. I look forward to working with her and learning from her.”

MarathonMTB Cape Epic

Absa Cape Epic 2017 Stage 7

Lill finished the Epic with renewed respect for all who finish the race, saying you cannot have ridden it and not built some solid character. “If I meet someone who has finished the Ansa Cape Epic, I immediately know that they must have a strong mind, have the ability to overcome challenges, and be able to endure some level of pain – be it physical, emotional etc.”

The two main lessons she learnt last year were that “you are only as strong as your teamwork” and the “race is looooonnnggg and unpredictable”. “To work as a team is a skill that many people don’t possess. It is not given the emphasis it deserves, because it is possibly one of the biggest factors to achieve success. In every situation, think about your partner- how are they feeling? Where are they? Will it be better for them if I do/don’t do this? Will it give them a mental edge if I let them ride on the front? And they must do the same for you.”

“This race is not won on any single day. Therefore, do not panic if you are having a bad day or losing time because you had to fix a mechanical. Do the best you can do in the situation and never ever give up chasing. The pendulum swings and the next day you might be playing with a completely different set of cards.”

“I think there is a good balance of everything in this year’s route – long stages over 100km, shorter more technical stages, stages with crazy climbing and two ‘time trial’ stages. I am really excited about the Prologue on Table Mountain because I love the atmosphere with the crowds, and the excitement and anticipation in the air. I am also looking forward to the stages in Wellington as I feel they suit my style of riding. I have always enjoyed the trails in that area.”

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