Cape Town - If determination was measurable, then Englishwoman Sally Bigham’s allocation would be off the scale.
In 2016 she will be back at the Absa Cape Epic with German Adelheid Morath (Topeak Ergon) and aiming to topple the recently dominant Danish/Swiss combination of Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans.
Bigham won the Cape Epic Women’s category in 2011 and 2012 and Morath has recently converted her cross country skills - which have taken her to two Olympic Games - into the marathon discipline.
Riding together, Bigham and Morath won the Swiss Epic in September last year. Significantly the team they beat into second place was Specialized’s Langvad and Kleinhans - convincing winners of the Women’s category at the Cape Epic in 2014 and 2015.
Obviously too much can’t be read into a single result, but both Morath and Bigham were enthusiastic about the way they combined in that event.
“She's a really strong rider and we have shown that we work well together,” said Bigham.
“Sally and I won Swiss Epic and it was the first time racing together for us,” added Morath.
“Normally I am a Cross Country World Cup rider and my focus is not really on stage races. The victory was a great experience for me and has given me motivation for more.”
She said they will be aiming for the overall podium (top three) at the Absa Cape Epic and at least one stage victory.
“If everything goes perfectly for Sally and I maybe we can win the Cape Epic this year,” she added.
“But the Cape Epic is a very hard and long race. Anything can happen every day. Sally and I are highly motivated and we will both be ready to give our very best for this race every day.”
Bigham has, however, not earned the nickname Iron Sally for nothing and will be determined to get back on the top step of the overall podium. She is also excited about the 2016 route: “More singletrack and climbing than ever before. What more can I say? Perfect”
She added that “Adel is a great climber and a fast technical rider” which will suit the 2016 route.
“I read that there will be more singletrack than in other years,” said Morath.
“That is good for me because in cross country we are used to riding on technical courses. The stages will be little shorter than previously but I think if we have more singletrack the race time won’t be shorter.”
She also confessed to hoping to have the energy to enjoy the “the beautiful landscape I also heard about”.
“Sally is one of the best woman marathon and stage race riders. Her strength is definitely her experience in such races,” Morath said.
“She has raced every big stage race before. Her nickname says everything about her: she is physically and mentally a super strong sportswoman ... she can push herself every day to her limit.”
Both said their training was going well: “I had a long break and a great windsurfing and surfing holiday before beginning winter training and preparation for the Cape Epic, so I'm feeling fresh and very motivated,” said Bigham.
The German winter has forced Morath to use an indoor trainer but she had two training camps planned for warmer climes and believes she will be in top shape come March 13.
Asked about the new starting group for elite women - who will no longer start among the men but as a batch on their own - Bigham was enthusiastic: “Starting all of the women together is essential for a fair, exciting and tactical race. The women’s race will now be more professional and thrilling for riders and spectators.”
And what keeps her coming back to the Epic: “The Cape Epic has a charm - the stunning location, the great trails, the incredible atmosphere and the exceptional organisation - making it a race that sits firmly on my annual calendar.”
Bigham will be riding a Canyon Lux and Morath a BH Lynx. Both are full-suspension bikes.
The 2016 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race takes place from March 13-20 and the much anticipated route can be viewed here.
The 2016 race will host the 100th stage in the history of the event - the EPIC100 - on Tuesday, March 15.