This article originally appeared on BikeRadar
From the first day of the 2015 Absa Cape Epic, Annika Langvad and race partner Ariane Kleinhans proved why they were the clear favourites amongst a competitive women’s field. Racing for Team RECM 2, the duo were the returning champions, having won the arduous mountain bike stage race in 2014 (the race's first year of a equal prize money between elite men’s and women’s).
Annika Langvad and RECM race partner Ariane Kleinhans celebrate after crossing the line of the 7th stage. Including the prologue, there were eight days of racing in total. Photo credit: Emma Hill / Cape Epic / SPORTZPICS
Despite receiving over an hour’s penalty for a wrong turn on the second stage, it didn’t take the duo long to regain the leaders jersey and keep it till the eighth and final day of racing. If it weren’t for the penalty, Langvad and Kleinhans would have officially won all seven stages and the prologue.
Results like this are the efforts of exceptional athletes, and Annika Langvad owns three marathon world champion gold medals as further proof.
Riding for Specialized, Langvad and Kleinhans both raced the women’s specific S-Works Era full suspension bike – a model that Langvad first displayed to the world by riding a prototype to the 2014 marathon world championship win.
The Era is a cross-country and marathon race bike for women and shares many similarities with the brand’s hugely successful Epic. This includes a the automatically locking Brain suspension technology – which remains locked out until a bump from the wheels opens the valves to soak up the hits.
The frame itself is made from what Specialized dubs ‘FACT 11m’ – effectively a high modulus carbon. The FSR four-bar pivot layout works to provide up to 100mm of rear wheel travel, with the Brain rear shock custom tuned for the lighter weight of female riders.
Wait. There's a brain in there?
Sharing similar technology to the rear suspension, up front the RockShox SID World Cup hides the auto-locking Brain technology within. This fork may not stand-out as much as the RockShox RS-1 upside-down model seen on many of the men’s bikes, but it is the lighter option.
Being a women’s frame design, the Era has one of the lowest standover heights of any dual suspension on the market. Unfortunately, this increased clearance trades off one of the more popular features found on the men’s Epic – the space for two water bottles within the mainframe and a SWAT ‘lunch box’ for flat-fixing supplies.
Specialized makes seatpost clamps to hold an extra bottle
Most Cape Epic stages are over 100kms in severe heat, and so more than one water bottle is a must. For this, Langvad has a second bottle cage mounted to the seatpost with Specialized rear cage mounts.
Langvad’s wining male compatriots, Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser, keep their flat-fixing supplies within a Specialized SWAT ‘lunch box’, something the Era doesn’t have space for. Instead, Langvad taped a spare tube to the top tube of her bike for easy access in the event of a puncture.
SRAM’s 1x11 groupsets no doubt dominated the majority of the elite Cape Epic field, XX1 being the most common. With a single cassette size of 10-42T to use, riders needed to find the best chainring size for the long stages. With her XX1 components, Langvad used a 32T chainring for the entire event, which is still quite large given some of the climbs on route.
A 32T chainring and a Quarq power meter
No doubt a growing trend and one we expect to see plenty more of in 2016, Langvad was measuring power data through a SRAM XX1 Quarq power meter and relaying it to a Garmin on her stem.
With 748km of rugged riding over the eight days, Langvad was using the new Specialized Power S-Works saddle. This shortened length saddle is a hybrid of multiple other models and is a slightly surprising choice given mountain bikers tend to move back and forth along the length of saddle when climbing. This new saddle also offers its on SWAT storage features, which surprisingly Langvad wasn’t using.
Flats are the most common cause for lost time at the Absa Cape Epic and so most riders will err on the side of caution with rubber choice. Langvad was riding a mid-weight Fast Trak Control 2.2in on the front, with an even more puncture-resistant Fast Trak Grid 2.0in version on the back. Both of these were setup tubeless with sealant.
With TV crews there for daily highlights, the Absa Cape Epic organisers required top riders to race with GoPro's mounted
As we saw with Jaroslav Kulhavy’s bike, the additions of a power meter, spares and a GoPro all add up. As result, Annika Langvad’s bike weighed in at 11.6kg (25.52lb).