After weeks of speculation Christoph Sauser has confirmed that he will come out of retirement and aim for a record-breaking sixth win in the Cape Epic stage race.
The Swiss-born 40-year-old retired from professional mountain biking at the end of the 2015 season but will return ahead of the Cape Epic stage race with a number of preparation races on his schedule. He will link up with former race partner Jaroslav Kulhavy for the South African stage race. The pair won the race in 2013 and 2015 while riding for Investec-Songo-Specialized. In 2017 they will represent the same team once more.
"Every comeback carries a risk especially when you walked out the last time as a winner. It would become the most valuable win of all of them. It terms of what it would mean, it would be right up there with any of my world champion titles," Sauser told Cyclingnews from his base in South Africa.
"It's going to be the hardest Cape Epic because the competition will be at its highest level ever and everyone likes to win. Many more teams have gained experience over the years and will also arrive with backup teams. If you took the two best riders from a physical point of view, but they'd never raced there before, they would never win at their first attempt. It's a fantastic race, since also the weekend warriors can compete against the pros, sharing the same course together, comparing times, racing and more or less the same equipment. It's a very unique sporting event.
Sauser's glittering career includes a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympic Games, a World Championships in cross-country, three world titles at Marathon level and five Cape Epics (2006, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015).
"It's a challenge to go back, but we'll have a really good build up and a great experienced team around us, especially our South African backup team NAD-Specialized with Nico Bell and Gawie Comebrick, and it's very possible that we will sign a second backup team as well. I'm really excited and I love the idea of going back to Cape Epic. Somewhere in the back of my mind thought about coming back to try in 2017, but then Jaroslav asked me a few times during the summer if I would really consider it. From there I started to really think about it."
Although the field is expected to be stronger than ever, Sauser knows that the main opposition will be Scott with its captain Nino Schurter, Ergon-Topeak with Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek and Karl Platt, who is now tied on five wins in the race after he won alongside Urs Huber earlier this year.
Sauser is not just motivated by records though, and is also aiming to highlight his cycling and education charity songo.info and bring on developing riders before finally bowing out of competitive sport for good.
"For me it's not so much about the records," he said.
"When I've raced it's always been about the present and the future. If I won the Worlds and then a few weeks later I didn't have a good World Cup then all I would think about would be how I wasn't riding at my best. There was no consolation about being the World Champion. The record would be the icing on the cake but it's not my major drive."
"2017 will definitely be the last year," he added.
"There won't be a comeback after the comeback but I do feel that having a year's break even when you're around my age is never a bad thing mentally and physically. In preparations for the Cape Epic I will be training in Stellenbosch, South Africa until Christmas. After that I am looking forward to spicing up my winter training in Switzerland with cross-country skiing as well.
"To get into my race mode I travel back to South Africa at the end of January and take part at high level races such as Attakwas Extreme or Tankwa Trek. I am confident that those races will give me the leverage to be able to race on top level again when it is time for our Tour de France for mountain bikers, the ABSA Cape Epic."
The 2017 ABSA Cape Epic takes places between 19-29 March, 2017. Cyclingnews will have complete race coverage.