The first big race of the MTB season will take place in 10 days with the Cape Epic. The acquisition of the event by the chinese group Wanda Sport, who owns the Ironman as well, won’t change much to the philosophy of the race. With close to 700km and more than 15000m of positive elevation spread across 8 days, the race will be one of the toughest of the calender. And a simple look to the cover of the program is enough to understand that the Swiss Riders will play again a big role! The Raid Evolénard met with Urs, Christoph and Ariane to learn how they prepared for the race and what are their expectation.
Urs Huber the defending champion of the Team Bulls
Last year you won your first Cape Epic with Karl Platt. Are you following the same preparation this year? When will you go to South Africa and which races will you enter to get ready for the Cape Epic ?
We do nearly the same preparation like last year with a bit of fine tuning. I was already for 11 days on the Canary Island (Gran Canaria) at the beginning of the year. There I was training on the Road bike and with long rides including long climbs I built the bottom for the Cape Epic but also for the rest of the season. But now the preparation goes to e specific way because of the Cape Epic. I flew with the whole BULLS Team to South Africa early February. We trained then in the terrain of the race, checked the course and tested our brand new full suspension bikes we will use at the Cape Epic. We also did the first races of the season and managed to win the Tankwa Trek, a three day team race, where we saw for the first time some of the concurrents at the Cape Epic. Just one week later we didthe Sabie Classic, another race in our preparation schedule. After that we came back home for ten days before moving again to South Africa. Now we are doing some road races for some intensive trainings and also the Cape Argus. A really popular road race around the Cape with close to 40’000 participants. The last week before the Cape Epic we will move back to the mountain bike for the last rides before the big event.
What do you think about the comeback of Sauser, who will try to win a 6th Cape Epic?
His comeback will be good in general for the interest of the race. But winning will be hard for him.
Your team mate, Karl Platt will also enter the race to become the first to reach 6 victories at the Cape Epic. How much importance does this race in the race has for your team?
We don’t think about this before and in the race. First of all the media make big storys about Sauser, Karl and number six. For us only this edition of the race matters.
Nino Schurter will also be in South Africa to take part to the Cape Epic. Do you think his team has real chances for the overall victory against teams with much more experience in this type of race?
For sure Nino and his team will have real chances already this year. He did the Cape Epic already a few times and it won’t be a problem for him to ride over eight days. Stirnemann did also some stage races in the past (Andalucia Bike Race, Swiss Epic) and he made some big steps last season. With a backup team behind them, they will for sure try to go for the overall and it’s not impossible.
Christoph Sauser, ready for a 6th title
You won pretty much everything in your career. Where did you get the motivation to go for a 6th title at the Cape Epic?
Jaroslav asked me a few times to do it with him again and that kept me thinking… plus i love the challenges and the planing that comes with it. a big reason is also that we will have the very best team and equipment around us.
After two wins in two races, you seem to be already in a great shape for your comeback… Everything is going according to plan?
Yes I am super happy with my shape and i surprised myself winning my first two races which were on a very high level. those victories wont make me sit and relax though, it is motivation to keep on training well and smart.
Two other Swiss riders, Huber and Schurter will also fight for the victory. Which team do you fear the most in your quest for a 6th title?
The scott team won’t be predictable. I think they have big fire power, where on the other hand the Team Bulls with Huber will be very steady and if things go wrong with the « fire power » teams they will be in pole position!
A new partner for Ariane Lüthi
How did you decide to ride with Adelheid Morath, your new German teammate?
Adelheid Morath contacted me to ask me if I’d want to race the Absa Cape Epic with her. After speaking to her and hearing how committed she is to go for the win I knew she was the right partner. She’s raced the Cape Epic with Sally Bigham for her first time last year and came third, they’ve beaten Annika and me at the Swiss Epic in 2015 and Adelheid has finished in the top 10 of a XCO World Cup several times. After all Adelheid is not just a world class mountain bike rider but also a very nice person with whom I can very well imagine to spend 8 days in the tight space of a camper van.
How this change affects the way you prepared for the competition and how you will tackle this race?
Adelheid is training here in Stellenbosch already since early February. This is a new partnership and a good team work has to be developed over time. That was basically what we’ve worked on over the last few weeks. By spending time together and getting to know each other we’ve built a good foundation of trust and a good way of communicating with each other on the bike. Also, Adelheid has different strengths in comparison to Annika, which I have to adapt to in terms of tactics. It was good to find that out before standing on the start ramp on 19 March. How exactly our tactics look like, we keep for ourselves, understandably. To figure them out yourself, I invite you to follow the race as close as possible 😉
In this new context, what do you think about your chances to win a fourth title?
Again, I’m very fortunate to have a super strong partner on my side. Adelheid is in really great shape! It was me who had a few hiccups during the preparation, which does dampen my confidence. But when does it ever go perfectly? Even if some days I have my doubts, on most days I believe the win is possible. I hope, my experience of having raced 6 Cape Epics, of which I’ve won 5, having the home turf advantage, since I’m training and racing on this terrain since 2011 and having the best equipment and support one can possibly have with Specialized and Team Spur backing us, won’t just make us favourites on the paper.
Adelheid and I will be pushed to our very limits on this rough terrain of the Western Cape, that’s for sure. That is one reason why I, together with my manager Nic Lamond, put together a so called backup team, a team who is dedicated to possibly give us a wheel or some other spares in case we get a mechanical. Christoph Sauser started to arrange backup teams for him a few years ago and it showed to increase the size and competition of the men’s category. Alice Pirard from Belgium and French rider Sabrina Enaux, a XCO racer who won bronze at last years Marathon World Championships will be part of our setup as Team Spur Foundation. By them riding for this charity we will try and raise money for the Full Tummy Fund who helps underprivileged children from the townships in South Africa. I wish, we get to auction off not just a Team Spur but an orange Cape Epic leader’s jersey for them and last but not least that our competition will follow suit and get their own back up teams in the future to eventually grow the women’s field at the Cape Epic.
Which team do you fear the most on your way to Number 4?
Team Ascendis Health with Robyn de Groot, the South African Marathon champion, and Sabine Spitz, former Olympic Champion and legend of the sport are arguably the biggest threat. But there is also Team Meerendal CBC with Esther Süss and Swedish Marathon champion Jennie Stenerhag, as well as their Meerendal team mates Cornelia Hug and Hielke Elferink, and a number of other teams who will make it a very exciting week of racing.