The eighth edition of the Fairview Attakwas Extreme mountain bike marathon has attracted a strong field for Saturday's year-opening showdown in South Africa's Western Cape province. In addition to South Africa's best marathoners, top Swiss, German and Czech racers will do battle at the 121km race that starts and finishes just outside the town of Oudtshoorn.
Topping the start list in the men's race is defending champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized Racing). The Swiss rider is the current marathon world champion and a four-time winner of the Cape Epic.
Sauser brings with him new Specialized Racing international teammate, Frantisek Rabon of the Czech Republic. This will be Rabon's first participation in the event in a year where he switches his focus from road racing to mountain biking. He raced previously for ProTour teams T-Mobile and Omega Pharma Quickstep.
A powerful German contingent will also be on the start line. Karl Platt, a four-time Cape Epic winner will head up the four-man Team Bulls squad, which includes compatriots Stefan Sahm, a three-time Cape Epic champion, and Simon Stiebjan. Platt and Sahm have both previously finished on the podium at Attakwas.
Another high profile German that will make his Attakwas Extreme debut is Manuel Fumic. Better known as one of the world's top cross country racers, Fumic was seventh at the 2012 Olympic Games and was runner-up the 2013 world championships in Pietermartizburg. The Cannondale Factory Team racer competed in his first Cape Epic last year, finishing fifth.
Urs Huber, the Swiss who partnered Platt to second place at the 2013 Cape Epic is also confirmed to start the race for Team Bulls.
The South African challenge is led by three-time Attakwas Extreme winner and multiple former national marathon champion, Kevin Evans (FedGroup Itec), who makes a return to racing after a lengthy recovery following complications related to a burst appendix. Evans will be joined by FedGroup Itec teammate Neil MacDonald on the start line.
Other strong South Africans to watch are the Cannondale Blend trio of Darren Lill, Waylon Woolcock and Charles Keey, while Team RE:CM's triple threat comes from Nico Bell, Erik Kleinhans and Lourens Luus, last year's runner-up. Dark horses include Louis Brelser Knipe (PYGA) and Adriaan Louw (SWIFT/Fairview).
The women's field also boasts class and depth with defending champion, Ariane Kleinhans, the current Swiss marathon champion and two-time Cape Epic mixed division winner, topping a quality line-up. She will be joined by new Team RE:CM teammate, Cherise Stander, the 2012 South African marathon champion, who will make her Attakwas Extreme debut.
Current South African marathon champion, Robyn de Groot (Biogen Cycle Lab), will also be in the mix, along with two-time Cape Epic winner, Hanlie Booyens, while Ischen Stopforth, a seven-time Attakwas finisher with multiple podium places and Jeannie Dreyer, the Freedom Challenge champion and record holder, complete the list of high-profile female entrants.
Over 1,200 riders have already entered the event. The 121km race includes a total of 2,900 metres of vertical ascent. Add in the rough terrain of the Klein Karoo, the excessive heat (it can easily reach over 40 degrees Celsius in January) and the traditional headwind in the final 40km for a gruelling year-opener for the world of marathon mountain bike racing.