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Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander of team 36One Songo-Specialized celebrate the overall win during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2011 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race
2011 winners return to defend their title
The 2011 winners of the Absa Cape Epic, Christoph Sauser from Switzerland and Burry Stander from South African will be back this year to defend their title, racing together as team 36ONE-Songo-Specialized.
Sauser was also part of the winning team that took top honours at the 2006 South African event. This year's race, which takes place from March 25 to April 1, 2012, will once again take 1200 riders through some of the Western Cape's most unspoiled territory. The race will kick-off with the prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville and finish at Lourensford Wine Estate.
Commenting on defending their title and riding together for the fifth time, the 35-year-old Sauser said, "It makes no difference being the defending champions or not. It's all about the present future. We have to be at the start line in the very best shape, and have the best team and equipment around us."
Stander, 34, has won a gold medal and two bronze medals in the last four years at a variety of world championships, apart from winning the Cape Epic with Sauser last year. He is also one of the few South Africans who later this year will stand a realistic chance of winning a medal at the Olympic Games in London. He was the under 23 world champion as well as the 2008 and 2009 under 23 World Cup Champion, and finished in third position overall in 2009's UCI World Cup series. In 2010 he was a bronze medalist at the cross country and marathon world championships and in 2011 finished in sixth position overall in the UCI cross country ranking.
Sauser has been racing professionally since 1993, and his many accomplishments include being the marathon world champion in 2011 and 2007, being the European marathon champion in 2007, and being the cross country world champion in 2008, apart from being a six-time Swiss national champion.
Participating in his sixth Cape Epic, Sauser says that he comes back for more as it is a big race to win and he loves stage racing. "It creates stories, rivalry and friendship over so many days. It's tough and a win worth so much compared to a one-day race. Plus the Cape Epic is so well organised with a big hype surrounding it, and we ride through beautiful landscape. Also, we're riding for Songo.info - the charity I started with a friend four years ago. There's a lot of passion and work going into it, which I really enjoy. The Cape Epic gives us the perfect platform to keep songo.info growing!"
Commenting on riding with Stander again, Sauser says that what makes them a great team is that they share the winners' mentality; they get along very well, are balanced and are privileged to have a good team supporting them. "We're very confident like last year that we’ll do well this year, but with confidence and fitness you can probably bet on winning a swimming race - not the Cape Epic. So many unexpected things can happen to anybody. Fingers crossed."
The team does not do any specific Cape Epic training together; instead, they ride together between races and spend a lot of time together enjoying meals, waiting at airports, sharing planes and hotels, and travelling the world together.
"There is just no math to which stages are the most difficult in the race. But most of the time, if I had a bad day, the next is good again. I personally believe it's a mental challenge. When I somehow have the feeling that a certain day is going easy, then I'm not prepared to suffer and end up 'biting' into my handlebar for hours. Nothing compares to the awesome feeling of crossing the finish line, especially if you win a stage or win overall. The last years have always been bittersweet," said Sauser.
Sauser's favourite memory of the race is when they were greeted by the Songo.info children and friends in Lourensford, saying that it was evident that the kids wanted to participate in the Cape Epic someday as well.
"After the Absa Cape Epic, I want to defend my marathon world champion title, and win a medal at the cross country Olympics and world championships," said Sauser, looking ahead to the rest of the season.