With virtually every top South African male marathon racer entered, the 2013 Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike stage race promises to deliver a fierce showdown when it rolls through its weeklong route in the Western Cape later this month.
The start list in the men's event includes the two South African teams that duked it out for the African Leader's Jersey at this year's Cape Epic - the Scott Factory Racing pair of Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes and the Cannondale Blend duo of Darren Lill and Charles Keey.
Ultimately, Buys and Beukes claimed the title and finished sixth overall. Their battle was made easier when Lill fell ill, which saw the Cannondale Blend rider change his focus from trying to win the prestigious jersey to just trying to finish each of the last four stages.
"The Cape Epic was obviously a huge disappointment for us, but the Cape Pioneer Trek is our major objective for the second half of the year and we are going there to try and win overall," said Lill, who had recently been discharged from hospital after sustaining a back injury in a crash at the weekend.
"Hopefully I'll be fully recovered soon because I've been in good form and in a good space mentally. I'm looking forward to the new challenges of the Cape Pioneer Trek, which I've not yet done before. It seems like all the top South African teams will be there so it will ensure some tight racing," added Lill.
In the six months since the Cape Epic, Lill and Keey have only been training for and racing marathon and multi-day events, while Buys has been focussing on cross country racing, competing on the World Cup circuit. Beukes, meanwhile, has raced most of the national marathon series events. Both Buys and Beukes represented South Africa at the recent UCI Cross Country World Championships in Pietermaritzburg.
Defending champions, Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck (Bells Cycling Specialized) will return to defend their title. The pair weren't competitive in this year's Cape Epic due to Combrinck nursing painful injuries following a crash in the prologue. Both have had good marathon racing results this year though, with Bell the current leader of the MTN National Marathon Series and Combrinck in fifth place on the rankings.
Brandon Stewart and Kevin Evans will team up for FedGroup Itec. Evans is a former Cape Pioneer Trek winner (2011) and is eagerly returning to form following a lengthy illness layoff, while Stewart, one of South Africa's most experienced stage racers, is also enjoying a good run of form, making this a potentially formidable team.
Neil MacDonald will team up with Swiss racer, Konny Looser, to form a second FedGroup Itec team.
After dominating mixed category stage racing with his wife, Ariane, in the past few years, Erik Kleinhans will compete in the open men's category alongside his RE:CM teammate, Waylon Woolcock. The latter is the 2011 Old Mutual joBerg2c champion, while Kleinhans is currently in peak form following a three-month training and racing stint in Europe.
Current South African marathon champion, James Reid, who has been focussing on racing the U23 cross country World Cup this year, will start the race with Belgian Jens Schuermans in Team Asrin Cycling. Schuermans is a 20-year-old cross country racer who has been on a number of under 23 World Cup podiums this year, including winning the opening round in the Czech Republic.
"We certainly aren't going into the Cape Pioneer Trek with much stage-race conditioning, but we're looking forward to the fresh challenge. We're keen to be competitive in a couple of the stages if we can't be competitive overall," said Reid.
"It's great to see more and more top South African riders on the Cape Pioneer Trek start list. The route, prize money and media exposure around the event are obviously the main drawcards. But I think we're going to see some of the closest racing in the event's history, which is really exciting," said Henco Rademeyer, of Dryland Event Management, the organisers.
The Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek is a seven-day stage race, taking place in South Africa's Western Cape province October 20-26. It will cover a total distance of 549 kilometres with a total of 11,657 metres of vertical ascent.
The 2013 edition is full, but a waiting list has been established should any team places open up.