Erik and Ariane Kleinhans, a married couple from Stellenbosch, are aiming to win the mixed category at this year's Absa Cape Epic. The pair will race as Team Contego from March 25 to April 1. This year will be their second Cape Epic together.
"The Absa Cape Epic is the best known mountain bike stage race in the world and very special in South Africa. If you tell people that you're a mountain biker, they always ask whether you've done the Cape Epic," said Ariane, 28.
It will be Erik's fifth edition of the race. "We just love to be part of it," he said. "We feel positive about winning the mixed category after we finished second in 2011. But the competition is always tough, and we'll have to work hard for it."
"We have a bit more experience in stage racing than last year, and I'm also in my second year as a pro rider, with a lot more training and racing in my legs. We really feel we have an excellent chance of winning," said Ariane.
The pair makes a good team, according to Erik, because they live together, train together and sleep together. "I'm sure our best attribute is the fact that we really care about each other and know each other very well," he said.
"With Erik's experience of six stage races in the last year, he knows exactly how to motivate and support me, to get the best out of me," said Ariane. "It's actually very easy to be in a team with him, as he is so selfless and helpful all the time. I couldn't have wished for a better partner."
The two began training to prepare for the Cape Epic this year in December. They started with longer rides and last month added in some intervals.
"Training together motivates me, especially the interval training," said Ariane. "When I see how hard he's racing, I automatically push myself to the limit. When we do long rides, I usually stay in his slipstream or I ride the road bike, while he's on the slower mountain bike."
They've learned from experience to prepare for the inevitable flat tires and to acclimate in advance by training in the heat. Bringing earplugs so its quiet when sleeping in the tents is also key.
Both feel that the early stages of the race are the most difficult. "The first stages are more stressful - you don't know who your competition is yet, so it takes a day or two to get into the swing of things," said Erik, 29.
Ariane believes that the prologue is the most difficult. "The prologue is the deciding factor for the first stage, therefore the tension and pressure is quite high and this makes it difficult on the technically demanding course of the first day."
The two got married the weekend after the 2011 Cape Epic. When asked about married life, Erik said, "Our lives didn't change much since we got married. But we still enjoy each other's company very much and the best thing about it is that we have parallel goals and we can live this amazing life together."
"It's great to share the same passion with somebody," said Ariane. "So yes, I'm enjoying being married very much. Like any other relationship, we also have challenges we have to get through. But that makes us an even better team and I believe this will be our big advantage in the race."
"I still get very emotional when I think back to last year," said Ariane. "It's because of these kinds of emotions that we're so passionate about the sport. Last year was very overwhelming for me. We managed to beat the leading team and current world champion, Ester Süss, in the last stage. I gave everything that day and never suffered so much on a bike before. When we reached Lourensford, there was this amazing crowd and my mother, who came all the way from Switzerland, was waiting for me. I'll never forget that moment in my life."
Erik said he is most looking forward to the atmosphere of the race. "It's so great with everybody fighting to finish and hearing all the war stories. It's definitely the experience I look most forward to." Ariane is also looking forward to seeing her friends from Switzerland at the race this year.
Among their other goals for 2012, Ariane would like to finish in the top five at the marathon world championships, win the MTN Marathon Series, the Swiss Marathons and the JoBerg2C and Sani 2c. Erik is hoping for a podium finish at the South African national marathon championships.
The Cape Epic will cover eight days of racing over 781km from Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville to the Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West.