Five-time Austrian marathon national champion Alban Lakata will participate in this year's Absa Cape Epic with Robert Mennen of Germany as team Topeak Ergon Racing. Lakata was unlucky at the 2010 Cape Epic, when he had to carry his bike for the last two kilometers of stage 3 of the race. This year's event takes place from March 25 to April 1 and will once again take 1200 riders through 781km of some of the Western Cape's terrain.
Lakata, who will participate in his fifth edition of the race this year, is thrilled to have Mennen as his racing partner."We've been teammates since 2009 and have a very good relationship," said Lakata, 32.
Mennen, who is doing his first Cape Epic this year, considers Lakata an experienced rider who knows the race. "Our advantage is that we know each other really well and get along wonderfully. In this kind of stage race, it's very important to know how your teammate feels, without him or her having to say it. It's also important to complement one another," said Mennen, 26.
"After I finished ninth at the marathon Worlds and second at the Kitzalp Bike Marathon, many of my opponents asked why Alban and I don't compete as a team in the Cape Epic - I had no answer to that question," said Mennen. "I'm very excited to participate with a former world champion and hope to learn a lot about the race."
In the 2010 Cape Epic, Lakata participated with one of South Africa's favourites, Kevin Evans. They were in the lead when they started having problems around halfway. They had about four punctures and started running out of tubes and patches. Lakata had to run with his bike on his back for the last two kilometers of the race as his rim exploded. "When I hit the tar, I could feel that it wasn't going to make it - it was already that bad."
Nevertheless, Lakata feels that a podium finish for the 2012 race is possible."Because it's our first stage race together, our goal is to finish in the top five and get a stage win." He thinks Mennen is an intelligent guy who can handle multi-day stage races.
Mennen, on the other hand, is not so confident about a podium finish. "I'm not sure about our abilities of getting stage wins or finishing on the podium overall. It's a very long race where many things can happen. The race is also very early in the season, and last year's season didn't start well for me. Furthermore, the Cape Epic will be my first stage race that is longer than four stages. I have a lot to learn about the race and my body."
As they live in different countries, Lakata and Mennen almost never train together, but feel that it is not really a problem. They know each other really well. "Usually we only see each other at race weekends. I don't think this is a handicap though. Alban is six years older than me, so he needs harder and longer training sessions to get adequate stimulus. In preparation for the Cape Epic, we participate in some of the same races and in March we're doing the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg to get uses to the climate," said Mennen.
Lakata has been doing a lot of strength and cross training during the winter, and currently eats a lot of protein. Mennen does a lot of running and spinning during winter. "As the season starts getting closer, I increase my riding times and the intensity of my training," said Mennen. "I also try to follow a balanced diet. At the end of the day, I need to follow my own training regime as I know my body better."
When asked what the most important ingredient is to complete the Cape Epic successfully, Mennen said, "I believe it's important to know your personal, as well as your teammate's limits. You need a partner that you feel comfortable with and with whom you can communicate well."
Lakata thinks that mental power is the most important factor. "In terms of advice for other participants, I would say don't start out too fast and keep some energy left for the 'king' stage."
Mennen, who spends his free time with his girlfriend, family and friends and who enjoys watching motor sports, gave some advice. "Respect nature, respect other people, enjoy your ride and always have fun." Lakata, who enjoys cooking and reading, suggested that others set high goals and work hard to get them. "Never quit a race," he advised.
In addition to his Cape Epic aspirations, Lakata is hoping to qualify for the Austrian Olympic team and medal at the marathon Worlds. Mennen is focusing on finishing his studies in business administration while also racing a full season.