Norwegian Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) said this week that she was looking forward to competing in the eight-day Cape Epic mountain bike stage race in 2015 and paid tribute to its commitment to women's mountain biking.
Dahle Flesja is arguably the most successful women's mountain biker of all time. She won the cross country gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and is a four-time cross country world champion. In 2013, she won the marathon world championships for the fifth time.
"I'm very excited about participating in the Cape Epic for the first time," Dahle Flesja said. "Nature and wildlife is a big part of my passion for mountain biking, and I believe this race will offer a lot of that."
In 2014, the Cape Epic became the first major event in world cycling to match the men's and women's category prize purses making the women's prize purse the richest in the sport. Organizers announced the route for 2015 yesterday.
"I think the Cape Epic did a great thing for our sport when they announced that men and women will earn the same prize money," said Dahle Flesja.
"The event is famous and known all over the world and with this - it says a lot about how we look at men and women in this sport. It started up back in the late 80s as something everyone could do, no matter their age, size, shape or sex. "We still have to keep motivating women to join us, but having the same prize money gives a signal that this is a sport where we are all treated equally."
Now aged 41, Dahle Flesja has continued to be competitive in both cross country and marathon disciplines. She has yet to confirm her choice of partner for the Cape Epic, but is bound to be competitive in a women's category.
She said her lack of Cape Epic experience meant she would probably not be able to compete for the overall women's title, "but I hope my partner and I can go for a stage win during the week".
"It will be very hard and lots of hours of suffering - a lot can happen during each stage," said Dahle Flesja.
Meanwhile, the Cape Epic organizers announced that this year the women's race will get its own 26-minute television program after the event. In the past this has been included in the broader race coverage.
Cape Epic spokesperson Chris Whitfield said, "The racing in the women's category has become more and more competitive over the years. We thought it was time that there was a television slot dedicated to this race."