Cape Town - If there could be a “dream team” in this year’s Absa Cape Epic, the gruelling 698km mountain bike race through the Cederberg, Germany’s Karl Platt and Swiss rider Urs Huber would be it.
But even they know they will need a lot of luck if they are to mount the podium next Sunday and cement Platt’s place as the greatest Epic rider ever, with a fifth win in 10 races.
As the teams were presented to the media on Friday, ahead of the prologue on Sunday, it became obvious that the No 1 Bulls team had it all.
Platt has raced all nine Epics, winning 12 stages and four titles, including the inaugural event in 2004. He has also twice won Germany’s cross country marathon title and the TransRockies event in Canada.
And in former Swiss champion Huber he has a partner with huge experience of gruelling events, including three Epics. Huber has twice won the Crocodile Trophy, Australia’s version of the classic race.
“To win five titles would be fantastic. Then I could retire,” Platt said.
“But since I am still young (25) I’ll keep coming back. It’s such a brilliant race and I can’t really believe I have raced so many.
"I remember in 2004 a friend said ‘There’s this little race in Cape Town, do you want to do it?’. I said, ‘sure, why not, I’ve never been to Cape Town’. And here I am 10 years later.”
The secret of success, said Platt, was “a lot of luck, a good partner and careful management of the race”.
Three of Platt’s wins came with Swiss rider Stefan Sahm, now 36, who this year leads the Bulls backup team, mentoring 22-year-old Simon Stiebjahn. Huber, however, is the perfect replacement.
“Team spirit will make the difference. That, and familiarity with your partner," Huber said.
“Karl knows everything about the race and how to win it. I'm sure that I can profit a lot by riding with him."
Platt and Huber came out for a training camp together in January and have been acclimatising over the past three weeks, and while they are well prepared, they said they would be watching the opposition carefully.
“There are lot of cross country riders in the field who will go out hard for an hour or two, but then we will see how they fare in the heat over long distances,” Platt said.
“I never attack from the start because the picture will change over the first day or two.”
The route, from Citrusdal to Stellenbosch, which involves seven stages of up to 145km and a total climb of 15,650m, will be a great leveller.
The Bulls No 2 team of Tim Boehem and Thomas Dietsch are the only duo among the leaders of last year's race to remain intact, and could offer the biggest threat to Platt’s ambitions.
They have 11 Epics between them, finishing fourth last year, and Boehem threw down the gauntlet when winning the three-day Nashua Grape Escape race by 10 seconds from Huber, who was expecting a difficult challenge.
“Our goal is to win some stages and an overall podium finish, but it won’t be easy," Huber said.
"There’s never an easy stage in the Epic.”