Cape Town - Eleven of the top 15 finishers in the 2015 UCI Marathon World Championships will be racing the 2016 Absa Cape Epic, and two Italians among them are emerging as dark horses for a top step on the podium.
Damiano Ferraro and Samuele Porro finished fifth and seventh respectively in last June's championships - which was won by Cape Epic veteran Alban Lakata. A month later Porro pipped Farraro to the Italian national marathon title and both results suggest they will be a well-matched combination.
Austrian Lakata and his Epic partner, Czech Kristian Hynek, and the German/Swiss combination of Karl Platt and Urs Huber will start as favourites when the Cape Epic start gun fires on March 13. But Hynek finished 10th in the World Championships and Platt 15th and, although not much should be read into one race, it does suggest that the Italian combination might just be able to spring some surprises in their first attempt at the Epic.
Porro and Ferraro will be racing the Absa Cape Epic as Team Trek-Selle San Marco. They will have a strong back-up team in their countryman Fabian Rabensteiner and Spain’s Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez, both accomplished riders themselves.
Porro is 27-years-old and Ferraro 29 - ages at which many riders are comfortable at longer distances. Both are, however, playing down their chances: “I suppose it will be hard to fight for the general classification because this is our first time,” said Porro.
He pointed out that winning the Absa Cape Epic required eight-days of racing without problems or mistakes “but I think we will be strong enough to get some good results in stage finishes”.
Ferraro simply said it “would be nice to win at least one stage” and to do as well as possible in the general classification.
They will be under no illusions about the conditions they will face in South Africa: “It will be the first time for me, but this competition is so famous and with a lot of media interest that it seems to me as if I have already done it,” said Porro.
“I watched every stage of the past editions on TV, so even if I have never been on those routes I can say I already have a good idea of the strategies to adopt.”
Ferraro said he had “heard about the very unusual terrain and paths, with very technical and difficult conditions, but we will be prepared for that”.
He added that the Cape Epic would be a major objective for him in 2016 and he was already training “at my best ... for sure I will be there in good shape”. Porro said the mild Italian winter had meant he could stay at home and train well for the Epic.
The duo have trained together in the past but never raced as a team.
Porro said this would not be an issue: “I know him enough because we are both Italians and we have raced many competitions in the past as rivals. We know each other’s qualities and weak points.”
They will both be riding the new Trek Top Fuel 9.9 in the Cape Epic.
The 2016 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race takes place from March 13-20 and the much anticipated route can be viewed here.
The 2016 race will host the 100th stage in the history of the event - the EPIC100 - on Tuesday, March 15.