Cape Town - The much-anticipated 2014 Absa Cape Epic begins with a 23km prologue on Sunday and several teams will be hoping to fire the first shot in what promises to be a huge battle among the world’s top riders.
Absa Cape Epic prologue start times
The race against the clock is short and quick compared with the marathon stages that follow, but answers to some big questions will begin to emerge.
The course through the hills and valleys of Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, contains some fairly technical riding.
František Rabon, the Czech roadie recently turned mountain biker, together with Team Meerendal Songo-Specialised partner Christoph Sauser, will bid to be the first person ever to win the Cape Epic five times.
Rabon has been on an intense learning curve under Sauser’s tutorship and this week claimed his technical riding was “100 percent".
His greatest rival, German Karl Platt - also a four-times winner - and his Team Bulls partner, Swiss rider Urs Huber, hope to live up to their favourites tag.
Team Scott-Odlo's cross country world champion Nino Schurter and South African Philip Buys are excellent over the shorter cross country discipline and their explosive power and skills should come to the fore.
There will also be considerable interest in the combination of German Robert Mennen and Czech Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon). Mennen entered Epic folklore last year when he was taken out by a duiker on stage one, breaking his collarbone. The accident robbed enthusiasts of seeing how one of the world’s more talented riders performed in these conditions.
The South African challenge will come from Fedgroup-Itec’s Kevin Evans and Max Knox, who have the firepower to challenge the world’s best and back up their hopes of a podium finish.
Team RECM's Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell and Cannondale Blend’s ex-roadies Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock are also pairs to watch.
Interest in the women’s race has been heightened this year by what might the strongest field ever, in part thanks to the R700 000 prize purse which is equal to that offered to the men.
Two teams are distinct favourites - Team RECM 2 with Arian Kleinhans (Swiss) and Annika Langvad (Danish), and the Team Meerendal pairing of Swiss veteran Esther Suss and Briton Sally Bigham.
Kleinhans has won twice in the mixed category while Bigham has as many wins in the women’s race, one of those in 2013 with Suss.
Langvad has an excellent pedigree and her partnership with Kleinhans will probably be more explosive and they just might have the edge.
If either falter, Switzerland's Milena Landtwing and Holland's Hielke Elferink (Meerendal Wheeler) will be looking to close the gap.