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Sally Bigham and Karien Van Jaaarsveld (leading ladies) make their way through a deep river crossing during stage 3 of the 2011 Absa Cape Epic
British rider pairs up with Olympic hopeful Süss
The Absa Cape Epic welcomes back last year's women's winner Sally Bigham, 33, of Great Britain and her new partner Esther Süss, 37, of Switzerland for the eight-day mountain bike stage race, which will start on Sunday, March 25. Competing as the Wheels4Life team, the duo will be aiming for victory.
This will be the fourth Cape Epic for Süss. "It's always a good and strong training session which I enjoy. The race is also wonderful and it's a great inspiration with a lot of good experience. I like South Africa," said Süss.
Süss will be riding with Bigham, who will be facing her third Cape Epic. "A race season would not be complete without the Cape Epic," said Bigham. "It's a major part of my race calendar, and I'd be upset if it wasn't. I love the race, the people and South Africa - that's why I keep coming back."
Both Bigham and Süss have many accolades to their names. Süss has been the Swiss cross country champion and the winner of numerous national marathon and cross country races. She placed third in the World Cup in Offenburg, Germany, fifth overall in the 2010 cross country World Cup as well as becoming the world, European and Swiss Marathon Champion in 2010.
Bigham won the British Marathon National Championship in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and placed second overall in the Trans Germany in 2011 and was second at the European Marathon Championships in 2011. Last year, Bigham also was the top ranked marathon rider according to the UCI.
"We've raced each other many times, but we've never trained together or raced as a team before," said Bigham, who prepared for the Cape Epic with a three-week training camp in Gran Canaria, where she was riding between three and six hours six times per week.
Both are unsure of podium finishes this year, but Süss believes that their chances are not too bad. Bigham was reluctant to make any predictions. "I'm a little bit superstitious and I don't want to jinx us! Of course we want to win stages and make the podium in the GC, but there's a lot of hard work to be done and we also need luck to be on our side. Fingers firmly crossed!"
Süss thinks stages 5 and 6 will be the most difficult due to her fatigue at that point in the race while Bigham struggles most with the first stage due to nervousness.
"But when I cross the finish line, it's totally overwhelming. All of the emotions that you've had to keep under control for the last eight days can finally come flooding out," said Bigham. "I get goose bumps just thinking about it."
Bigham's fondest Cape Epic memory was when she and her 2011 partner, Karien van Jaarsveld, approached the finish line at Lourensford Wine Estate to win the Ladies. "This year, I'm looking forward to seeing all the other riders as it's such a great atmosphere. I'm also looking forward to racing with Esther and doing some hard riding."
Süss is hoping the race will give her a good solid base as she continues trying to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The Cape Epic will run from March 25 to April 1. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage.