Kevin Evans, South Africa's most prolific Cape Epic podium finisher, predicts that the 2013 edition will be a battle of the cross country specialists for early ascendancy, with experience becoming the key factor later on in the eight-day race that gets underway at Meerendal, Durbanville on Sunday.
Evans is recovering from surgery to treat the persistent after effects of abdominal infection caused by a leaking appendix back in December 2011 and will miss the 2013 edition of the world's highest profile mountain bike stage race. It's the first edition in 10 years that he won't be starting as a rider.
"I was feeling pretty down the last few days that I can't be starting the 10th anniversary event, but I've decided that I'll just enjoy the race from the outside as best I can."
In addition to almost a decade of Cape Epic racing experience, which includes three third places and one second place, the FedGroup ITEC team member has some insider knowledge of route details too since his father, Leon Evans, is the course designer. Leon Evans is known to participants as Dr Evil for his lack of compassion when designing the route for the world's toughest mountain bike stage race.
"My dad has once again thrown in some super tough sections that might not break bikes, but will definitely break spirits," said Evans. "It wouldn't be the Cape Epic without those sections, which turn the nicest people into cursing wrecks!"
Evans believes that Sunday's short 23km prologue stage will see cross country specialists contesting the race's first yellow jersey.
"Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel (Scott Swisspower), Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (36ONE Songo Specialized) and Marco Fontana and Manuel Fumic (Cannondale Factory Racing) are sure to be the top three teams in the prologue. The amount of cross country talent in those six riders is remarkable. For a short, sharp stage, I'd be surprised to see any other teams in the top three," predicts Evans.
"Although it's short, the prologue shows you who is in form and gives a glimpse of who the overall contenders might be, especially with 700 metres of climbing," said Evans, who feels that experience will ultimately be the key factor that will decide the overall winners.
"In this race, experience counts for a lot. Experience and good luck! If everything goes fairly well, with no major problems, I see the experience of Sauser, Karl Platt, Thomas Dietsche and Tim Bohme counting in their favour. I'd say the winner will probably come from one of those three teams.
Sauseris a three-time Cape Epic champion, winning the past two editions with the late Burry Stander. With 26 stage wins, he's the most prolific winner in Cape Epic history. He'll be teaming up with Kulhavy, a Cape Epic debutant with a strong cross country pedigree. The former world champion, World Cup champion and current Olympic champion, who is racing in Stander's place - and memory - will do well to temper his enthusiasm and rely on Sauser for guidance in the demanding eight-day race.
Platt has won the race overall four times, including the inaugural edition in 2004. His Team Bulls partner this year is 27-year-old Swiss racer, Urs Huber, who is starting his third Cape Epic. Huber couldn't ask for a better partner, but will need to match Platt's consistency if they are to have any hopes of a win.
And Dietsche and Bohme, also of Team Bulls, have elevated themselves to title contender status for two reasons, according to Evans.
"They've done a total of nine Cape Epics between them, have won stages and were a strong fourth overall last year. Of the top four teams in 2012, they're the only combination still intact. That cohesion between teammates is a very under-rated factor, but very important, especially in a race that's so physically and emotionally demanding," said Evans.
"The other reason I rate them is because they were first and second overall at the recent Nashua Grape Escape three-day race. They were up against some big names on similar kind of terrain to the Cape Epic and they showed strength and composure that's hard to ignore if you're a rival," said Evans.
The four-time winner of the African Leader's Jersey says this jersey will take on greater significance this year for South Africans in the Cape Epic.
"To be honest, no South African team stands out as a potential overall winner this year. I'd love them to prove me wrong of course, but I do think they'll be doing battle more for the African Jersey in the lower half of the top 10 overall," said Evans.
"It's hard to call any standout favourites because there's are some unknown elements and Cape Epic debutantes. But I think we can expect to see my FedGroup ITEC teammates, Brandon Stewart and Neil MacDonald, the Cannondale Blend pair of Darren Lill and Charles Keey, the Westvaal Bells Cycling pair of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck and Phil Buys and Matthys Beukes of Scott Sports all in the daily mix for that podium.