Seventeen-time World Cup Winner and Olympic medallist Thomas Frischknecht, one of the most prolific winners of cross country events of all time, will be partnering with sporting legend Urs Gerig for this year's Absa Cape Epic. As the World Cup Marathon Champion in 2003 and 2005, as well as the World Cup Cross Country Champion in 1996, Frischknecht will return to the Cape Epic. He cites the special "spirit of the event" as one of his reasons.
Since its inaugural race in 2004, the Cape Epic has grown into the largest mountain bike team stage race in the world - and the only team stage race to be added to the International Cycling Union (UCI) calendar. The race annually hosts the world's most accomplished mountain bike riders. This year, it will run from March 28 to April 3 over 707km.
The 40-year-old Frischknecht needs no introduction. Often referred to as Europe's Elder Statesman of mountain biking due to his extraordinarily long career at the top level of the sport, he established himself as a professional since 1990. "Frischi" finished second in the 1996 Mountain Bike World Championship and has been at the top of his game since then. He has been Swiss Champion for several years and also the 2005 Marathon World Champion. He advocates staying "fit for life" and also encourages dope-free racing and is considered an example of a clean sportsmanship.
His Cape Epic teammate and best friend Urs Gerig, 45, is a former middle distance runner and triathlete, as well as Frischknecht's former masseur and fitness coach. Gerig has written a variety of books on mountain biking, hiking and so forth and is a top finisher in Switzerland's Gigathlon in the last few years.
"Due to the fact that we're best friends - that makes us a team, no matter what happens," said Frischknecht.
"Not so long ago, Thomas was one of the best riders in the world. He is still very fit and rides through the sandy sections very easily. All I have to do is hang on his back wheel all day long," said Gerig.
According to the duo, they would like to enjoy this year's race rather than win it. "Our goal is not to win! Odlo, our sponsor for many years, is launching a new MTB clothing line. We will be part of the test team and ride in the new fabrics at the Cape Epic. We also have a blog and will tell readers about our Cape Epic experiences with videoclips and pictures," said Gerig.
They train together quite often as they live close to each other."I don't really follow a special diet or training programme," said Frischknecht of his preparations. "I ride when I find the time. At the moment, I'm about five kilos overweight."
Gerig also does not follow a special diet. "A lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and fish once a week and everything is low fat."
"Last year, Urs dropped out after stage two as he crashed and had to be taken to hospital, so I was on my own," said Frischknecht. "I hope we get to the finish together this year. I'm also really looking forward to riding in the sun after a long winter."
For Gerig, pacing is important. "Train hard, but don't suffer," he advised other Cape Epic racers. "Don't look for excuses. Take advice from better athletes and see the whole picture of life - sport is only one piece! Strengthen your weaknesses. And yes, most importantly enjoy it."
Gerig is also looking forward to "cutting videos and writing Cape Epic stories, chatting to the other athletes, especially the ones I haven't seen for a long time, but that I know from the old days when I was travelling the world cup with Frischi."
Gerig is also hoping to make it to the start of this year's Gigathlon in Switzerland.