The new route for the 10th edition of the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, which will happen from March 17 to 24, will be as challenging as previous years. Racers will compete during eight demanding days covering 698km with 15,650m of climbing from Meerendal Wine Estate to Lourensford.
Last year's champion Christoph Sauser will return to the race, but he will be there without his partner Burry Stander, who died in a training accident on January 3. Instead, Sauser will race with another Specialized teammate and 2012 Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy, in memory of Stander.
The 2013 Cape Epic route will visit Citrusdal, Tulbagh, Wellington and Stellenbosch.
Three-time winner Sauser said the stages are well balanced with lots of trails. "There's no specific king's stage when I look at the profiles, but the heat, or difficult sand and rocky surfaces can change everything," said Sauser.
When asked which stage will be most difficult, he said, "That question can only be answered after the race. It's all about the level of the competition, mechanicals and surface. No stage profile of the Cape Epic will say anything of those facts. I look forward to Stellenbosch, because it looks like a tougher one on paper and also because it will finish in my second hometown. Extra motivation!"
Sauser reckons that the longest stage will be the best to break way. "They also say it's more like a road stage. There's no such thing as an easy stage in the Cape Epic. The top teams will make any stage hard from the beginning. For the overall GC riders, even if the pace is moderate, there is constant pressure such as mechanicals, crashing or riding in front of the pack out of the dust. The Cape Epic is the Tour de France for us mountain bikers. My next goal will be the world champs. It's my motivation to train hard and clever."
Stefan Sahm, another three-time winner of the Cape Epic, with teammate Karl Platt, thinks the new route will make for racing similar to other years. "It's gonna be a painful week on the bike, but that's how I like it," said Sahm. "I think stage 6 will be the most difficult, because you're almost at the finish line and it's another long day with lots of climbing. It can also be a good chance to make up time on other teams."
Sahm says stage 5 seems to be the most fun with a lot of singletrack. "I just hate walking sections. Any stage is good for a break away, it just depends if the peloton lets you go or not. On the shorter, more technical stages especially, the cross country riders will try something for sure. Of course we're gonna try to win a stage, but our focus will firstly be getting one team on the podium in the GC."
Sahm will be riding with a new partner this year, Simon Stiebjahn. "I think we can race well together - he's like my little brother - and be good support for Team 1 and 2. But nevertheless, we'll try our best to get the most out of it. Maybe we're good enough for one or two surprises."
South African rider Kevin Evans, who finished in second place last year, said the course looks as tough as usual. "We wouldn't expect anything else from my father Dr. Evil and the team. I think the stages around Citrusdal will be the hardest, and Wellington if the weather doesn't play along. Luckily most of the stages will suit me, as they all have lots of climbing. I think stage 6 will be the one to watch. By that time the general classification is set, so riders will allow breaks to slip away, if they're not a threat. We'll be targeting all eight stages for a stage win, as there is no such thing as an easy stage on the Cape Epic. We'll be riding conservatively, and hope for a dash of good luck."
Swiss Marathon Champion, TransAlp winner and Crocodile Trophy winner Urs Huber said, "I don't find an easy stage in the programme. Three stages look very hard. Stage 2 is very long, which means that everybody will have to ride in the very hot hours around 1:00 pm. This can be a problem for some professionals coming from cold weather and of course for the amateurs, who will be in the saddle for more hours than us. The profile of stage 5 looks as if we won't find a rhythm, always up and down. That's very hard because by day six everyone is tired. And of course stage 6 has a lot of climbing. We don't know which stage will be best for us."
"We'll take it day by day and always bear the GC in mind. Let's hope our legs stay with us, when it's time to break away. After one week, I think stage 6 can change the overall standing for the last time. But, there isn't an easy stage in this event - all are hard." Huber says stage 4, with its two long climbs before the finish and stage 6 will suit him best. "I think stage 2 will be a good stage to break away. The speed will not be so high in the beginning. The last stage is always very fast because it's not so long and everybody likes to win it. All in all, I'm excited about this year's Epic. I'll be riding with a new partner in a new team, so it will be a new experience for me. I think it will be a good one!"
To Alban Lakata, former world, European and Austrian Marathon Champion, the new route sounds interesting. "I especially like the fact that we'll be coming to Stellenbosch and have a new final stage." He reckons stage 2 from Citrusdal to Saronsberg will be the most difficult. "145km off-road is better not to underestimate. Stage 6 looks quite good for us, as it includes the most climbing. This is the stage where we'll do our best to do well and try for a stage win. The last stage seems to be the easiest."
"After finishing the Cape Epic five times, I should have enough experience to go for gold. What I also really like about this year's race, is the fact that we're staying for two days in one and the same place!"
Erik and Ariane Kleinhans will race the mixed category as husband and wife. They will aim to defend their overall title. "Ariane and I have learned so well over the last two years how to ride together as a team, so we'll just keep on supporting each other to take every day as it comes. Getting your bike through the race without major technicals is always a big task as well as not to overcook it early in the stages. But most importantly, our approach is to put in the hard work before the event to be ready for it physically."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Cape Epic.