Team DCM racers Max Knox and Brandon Stewart will race the Cape Pioneer Trek in South Africa starting on Monday, October 18 and running through October 23. It'll be their second mountain bike stage race within nine days.
Most riders would consider a six-day mountain bike tour as a tough enough challenge, but then Knox and Stewart (both DCM) are not your average mountain bikers. The two will compete in the Three Towers Tour in Lowveld, which wraps up Sunday, before jetting to the airport to fly to George, where they'll compete in the Cape Pioneer Trek starting on Monday.
When asked whether they were not overdoing it somewhat, Knox's answer was a definite "no".
"We are professional cyclists who are just doing the job we get paid for. I think it will be an interesting challenge," Knox said.
There is a reason why the two will be competing in both tours. Last year Knox and Stewart won the inaugural Three Towers Tour and, being a born-and-bred Lowvelder, it is a matter of pride for Knox to defend their title.
As far as victory in one or both tours is concerned, Knox and Stewart do not venture any predictions. "We are certainly going to race to achieve top results but in mountain biking... nothing can be taken for granted."
Although they often race together, at the Cape Pioneer Trek, the two will not race as a pair. Instead, Knox will race with Switzerland's Thomas Zahnd, while Stewart will team up with Jacques Janse van Rensburg. Both DCM teams will be in the contest for a podium finish.
Kevin Evans, who will team up with Adrian Niyonshuti (MTN-Energade), and Christoph Sauser (Specialized), who will race with Silvio Bundi, will be the other two teams to watch. Sauser was originally expected to pair up with Burry Stander.
Zahnd is no stranger to South African mountain biking. He has competed in four Cape Epic Tours. His best result was winning a stage in 2007. The Swiss rider is also a previous winner of the St Wendel Marathon in Germany.
Knox describes Zahnd as a very strong marathon rider. "I think the first stage, which will be basically the same as the Attakwas ultra marathon, will suit Zahnd to a tee."
As usual, Knox is modest about his own abilities, but his results during the past five weeks speak for themselves. He won the Hill2Hill and 50 Miler ultra marathons. Unfortunately for Knox, he crashed out of the Ride Crater Cruise which took place last weekend.
There is no doubt that Knox is one of the strongest climbers in South African mountain biking. During the Barberton ultra marathon, he made riding away from Evans and Stander on one of the steep climbs look easy.
An interesting statistic which is worth mentioning is that Knox and Evans have won all the important local ultra marathons this year.
Janse van Rensburg, who is equally adapt at racing on tarred roads, was adamant that he would also race to achieve good results. "The ultimate achievement for us would be if Brandon and I could finish in the top three overall. If something should go wrong, our next best result would be to win at least one stage."
According to the high standards he sets for himself, Van Rensburg has not had the best of seasons so far. Breaking his collarbone certainly did not make things any easier for him. He also was suffering a hiatus hernia, which made it difficult for him to eat properly before a race.
"The doctor gave me some medication and I must admit that I can already feel a difference. It is also exciting for me that I can now feel that I am getting stronger after every race."
During the Crater Cruise it was Van Rensburg who made Evans work for his victory. He finished second and Stewart was third.
"The Ride Crater Cruise was a good confidence booster for me because I continued to get stronger as the race progressed. Actually, I have learned an important lesson as far as mountain biking is concerned," said van Rensburg.
"I have made the mistake of often starting too quickly in mountain bike races. That led to me paying the price when it mattered. Now I have learned that it is important to start more conservatively and so preserve your legs for the last few kilometres.
"After studying the route profiles, I am really looking forward to the Cape Pioneer. It will certainly be tough, but what excites me is that only about 5 percent of the route for every stage will be on singletrack. Being a roadie turned mountain biker, this will suit me," van Rensburg said.