Cape Town - No
all-South African team has won the Absa Cape Epic overall, but riders from this
country have enjoyed success across many categories when partnered with
Most notable among these was Burry Stander, who triumphed three
times with Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser.
two South Africans in the 2017 field have put their faith in foreigners: Max
Knox will be riding with Colombian legend Héctor Leonardo Páez Leon (Kansai
Plascon) and young Matt Beers with Switzerland’s Konny Looser
29, represents the current generation of marathon specialists and was in
compelling form in 2016. Beers is only 23 and his natural ability and appetite
for hard work suggest he will be a star of the next generation.
the overall win is our main objective. But with it being a very new partnership
with Leo and being the Cape Epic, where so much can go wrong, that will be a
big challenge, says Knox, who won both the South African marathon
championship and the National Marathon Series in 2016.
we end up on another step of the overall podium that will be good, but the win
is our main objective. Some stage wins may present themselves if we are in the
mix for the overall, we will grab those opportunities of course,” says Knox, a
seven-time Cape Epic finisher.
concurs: “I am going to try and win the race overall. I am going to rely on Max
for the knowledge of the race and the conditions.”
Colombian was leading the Marathon World Championships in 2016 before a
mechanical ended his title aspirations. Now he has set his sights on the
world’s foremost mountain bike stage race.
have heard a lot about the Cape Epic. I know it is the toughest stage race in
the world and the most important one to win. If you are a serious mountain bike
racer you must try to compete in the Cape Epic at least once,” Páez says.
looking forward to this experience. I have seen videos of the race on the
internet and can see that it can be very hot and dry and that the surfaces are
very rough in places. This means you need to look after your body and your bike
every day or else you will be in trouble.”
fact that Knox and Páez are deadly serious is also evident in the fact that
they will bring a support team: Italians Mirko Pirazzoli and Alessandro Gambino
will back them up over the eight days and be on hand to help sort out
mechanical issues if required.
and Beers have been putting in the hours in training but are cautious about
making any predictions: “We are definitely not (among the favourites) for the
overall podium, but I hope we can use this to our benefit and start the race
with little pressure ... which will maybe help us to calm down before the race,”
laughs the Swiss star.
“Personally, I think we should be able to finish the
General Classification somewhere in the top 10, but our main goal will be to
get on the podium on some stages.”
will bring his local knowledge to the partnership, but Looser has also been a
familiar - and often successful - figure at stage races in the
country in recent years.
says of the 2017 route: “I know a lot of the riding in those areas, especially
Grabouw and Hermanus as I've done quite a few local races through those areas.
It’s going to be extremely physically challenging, that’s for sure. You really
have to work the bike on the trails around there. I actually haven't ridden in
Greyton but I've heard it’s tough with super steep climbs.
think the route this year is really going to separate the men from the boys,
and I hope I'm one of those men.”
thinks it will suit him and Páez.
“It looks like a balanced but challenging
route,” he says.
“I like that there is quite a high ratio of climbing and that
there aren’t many places where guys can hide in a bunch. Lots of singletrack
suits us, as does lots of climbing - especially steep, technical climbs.
I think it’s a route that we can do well on.”
and Páez will only train together for total of 10 days before the Cape
Epic, but Knox is not too concerned: “I will meet Leo in person for the first
time in early March when he flies out here to prepare. He is one of the world’s
best marathon racers, having two thirds and a fourth at the Marathon World
Champs in recent years. We are both strong climbers and with cross country
racing backgrounds are both skilled enough to race technical descents and
doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak Spanish, so communication could be
a challenge,” admits Knox.
“But at the end of the day, we are both mountain
bike racers with the same objectives and that will hopefully be enough.”
explained how he and Looser came to race together: “We don't have team-mates
here in SA to partner with for stage races. We have raced (against each other)
in the past and did well and we get on really well, so we chatted at one of the
races and said let’s try be team-mates for stage races in SA. Through the help
and support of my sponsors we managed to get it right.”
partner Looser, a four-time Cape Epic finisher, says his mountain biking dream
is to finish in the race’s top three: “For me, it's still the biggest and most
prestigious race in the world of marathon mountain biking. As long as I'm
riding, it will be my dream to finish this race once on the GC podium. The
race, the route ... everything is so challenging and I really like to test myself
in the hardest race of the world.”
debuted in 2016 with another local rider, Oliver Munnik, and says “how painless
and organised everything is was a real eye-opener ... it really is on another level”.
race itself is insane ... nothing can prepare you enough for just how hard it
really is.”* The 2017 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage
race takes place from March 19-26 and the much anticipated route can be