Former winner Hanlie Booyens will team up with rising star Mariske Strauss for the 2014 Cape Epic mountain bike stage race from March 23 to 30 in South Africa. The pair will race as Team Pragma Orange Monkeys.
Booyens, now 40, won the Cape Epic in 2004 with Sharon Laws. That same year, Brian Strauss, Mariske's father, finished second in the masters category. At the time, Mariske was 13 and rode around the race's campsites on her little bike.
Now 23-years-old, Mariske will be undertaking her first Cape Epic. She's looking forward to learning the ropes with her veteran teammate.
The Cape Epic has gone on to grow each year since and it's now one of the best known stages races in the world. Booyens has completed six total Cape Epics, finishing on the podium on five occasions. Her worst finish ever was a fourth place.
Booyens said, "I don't know what makes me come back for more. This is a question I've asked myself many, many times. Maybe the hype, maybe the personal challenge or maybe it's the friends I've made for life. However, 2014 will be my year to try and give back a little as I'm riding with a young novice in Mariske. Perhaps after six years I have gained a bit of wisdom."
Strauss said, "I think it's just one of those races that you have to do. My dad has done five and my older brother has three under his belt, so it's sort of a challenge now. I've known Hanlie since I started racing my bike. The woman's mountain bike field was quite small and she was up there and someone a little girl could look up to and dream of being like. I believe that any situation is as good as you make it and I think we'll get along well."
"Hanlie is definitely a role model and I'm always open and excited to learn. Hopefully, between all the suffering which I'm sure the Epic is going to bring, some of her wisdom will rub off on me."
To Booyens, the most crucial component in completing the Cape Epic is mutual respect and similar goals. "Stage wins or a podium finish will not be our major focus. A top five spot will be a fantastic bonus, but in all honesty we'll be there to give Mariske a chance to get a feel for the rigors of the race without digging her into a pit for the rest of the season. We'll train together as much as possible, but I work full-time and Mariske studies, so our time schedules are not always compatible."
Strauss said, "I hope we can achieve a podium, but I'm honestly not sure what to expect. This will be my longest, and surely toughest, stage race that I've done so far, but with the guidance of my amazing coach [Dr. Jeroen Swart] and the collective knowledge of my family and partner, I'm sure I will make it through in one piece and hopefully with a couple of amazing results."
Booyens believes having fun with your partner during the Cape Epic is very important. "If you can be a positive, happy team you're 80 percent there. Obviously you need the mileage, you need luck with mechanicals and staying healthy and injury free, but in the end you will hate it if you lose joy, whether you race or just ride."
Booyens is looking forward to experiencing the race through the eyes of a youngster with so much energy. "For Mariske, everything will be uncharted waters - I hope I can help her take her first steps to future Cape Epic glory in the years to come.
The pair are hoping to combine Booyen's experience and endurance with Strauss's enthusiam for a successful eight days of racing.
"I've been around as a supporter and am looking forward to the real experience!" said Strauss.