Their short-term quest is to crush the five-minute barrier on the "Slangetjie" Strava segment in Stellenbosch South Africa; but the primary early 2013 goal of Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel of the Scott Swisspower professional mountain bike racing team, is to shine at the 2013 Absa Cape Epic.
With less than a month to go until the start of the Cape Epic, the world's most prestigious mountain bike stage race, current cross country world champion Schurter and his teammate, Swiss compatriot Vogel are putting in some quantity mileage in the heat of the South African summer.
Based in Stellenbosch, a sport-obsessed university town about a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, Schurter and Vogel have been focussing on almost the opposite of what they did this time last year. Last February, they were lining up Olympic Games success in their sights - Schurter was narrowly beaten to gold in London, while Vogel finished 25th.
But while they excel in short races lasting up to 90 minutes, few would back them to be contenders for the overall win at the 800km, eight-day stage race, which starts on March 17, expecting possibly a stage win and a top-10 final finish. But Vogel and Schurter are backing themselves for a shot at the overall podium in their second Cape Epic participation.
"We have not been training to win just a stage. We have been training and preparing to do well in the overall," said Vogel. "Yes, we are not stage race specialists, but then not many of our rivals are either. We think we have as good a chance as anyone else."
"It is very sad there will be no Burry Stander in the race. And we know that Christoph (Sauser) and Jaroslav (Kulhavy) will get great sentimental support as they race in his memory. But it is still a race and as professional mountain bikers, we are treating it like any other race. In an eight-day stage race a lot of things can happen. We will try our best to aim for the overall," said Schurter.
Schurter and Vogel won't be the only Scott Swisspower riders at the 2013 Cape Epic. Thomas Frischknecht, the Scott Swisspower team manager and his race partner, Urs Gerig, will also be on the start line.
The pair originally had high ambitions, but these were dealt a blow when Frischknecht sustained a serious injury last November. After finishing fifth in the masters category in 2011, they were not only aiming to win the 40-years-and-over division in 2013, but also planned to be a back-up team for Schurter and Vogel. But Frischnknecht's broken foot was in plaster until the end of January.
"I just got back on my mountain bike in mid-February, with only one month left to the start of the Cape Epic. The ambition now is more to finish than anything else. It's tough, I don't want to miss the 10th edition of the event, and I'm sure I will get better from day to day," said Frischknecht.
Frischknecht, who turned 43 on Sunday, February 17, is an international cycling legend who retired four years ago from a long professional racing career that included five world titles (two MTB marathon, one MTB cross country and two cyclo-cross). But he's remained active within the sport, managing the Scott Swisspower team, coaching his son, Andri, and test-riding bikes for Scott Sport.
The team has also been testing equipment on rocky, rutted, and rooty terrain similar to what they will encounter in the Cape Epic itself.
It's uncertain just yet which model bikes and wheel sizes they will settle on for the Cape Epic, but they've been experimenting during their training camp. The last two editions of the race have been won in convincing fashion on dual suspension 29ers. It's a fact that won't go unnoticed in their decision.
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