Cape Town - German Karl Platt’s name is synonymous with the Absa Cape Epic: he has taken part in all 12 events since it was launched in 2004 and only missed out on finishing once - in 2014 when he was injured in a crash.
More significantly he has won the event four times, second only to the legendary Christoph Sauser of Switzerland, who has five wins to his name, but last year retired from the professional ranks.
Platt’s last win was in 2010 with countryman Stefan Sahm.
Since 2013 he has been teamed up with Swiss powerhouse Urs Huber but they have been plagued by misfortune - particularly in 2014 when they were in the yellow zebra leaders’ jerseys after two stages and perfectly placed to go for the overall win. Platt had crashed that day and injured a knee and pulled out after starting Stage 3 in obvious pain.
That said, they did finish second in 2013 and third last year, but it is evident that their ambition this year is nothing less than the top step of the podium.
“I am always very motivated for the Epic and that’s the reason why I always go 200% for the race,” Platt said. “(Win) Number Five would be awesome, specially with Urs.”
“For sure we’re coming for the win,” added Huber.
The Team Bulls team-mates have contrasting personalities, with Platt being one of the more colourful professional riders and Huber more reserved. But on the bike they form a compelling combination and will start as one of two or three favourite teams to win the 2016 Absa Cape Epic … if they have Lady Luck on their side.
Both riders are highly competitive over marathon distances and among the best in technical terrain.
“The 2016 route should suit us more than previous years. It is very technical with good climbs, so I think we will have a good advantage,” said Platt.
Huber described it as an “amazing route with those trails”, a reference to the fact that there will be more singletrack in 2016 than ever before.
Asked about Huber’s strengths, Platt laughed: “Urs is Swiss, that explains everything ... he loves to suffer.”
The Swiss rider, on the other hand, will be able to rely on Platt’s canny strategic approach to stage races: his wins have been built on a combination of patience and then knowing when to strike.
They will have one other significant advantage over most of their competitors - a support team that it capable of finishing on the podium itself. Simon Stiebjahn and Tim Boehme (Team Bulls 2) actually finished third in 2014 after being freed of their support responsibility when Platt was injured.
Boehme has finished the Absa Cape Epic seven times and Stiebjahn three: their experience and ability could prove hugely beneficial if Platt or Huber suffer mechanical problems along the route and need parts from their team-mates.
In recent years almost all of the winners have benefited from support teams on the route and would almost certainly have dropped back in the field without them.
Platt will line up at the Absa Cape Epic start for the 13th time on March 13, so what brings him back each year?
“Honestly, I just love being there. I grew up with this race and I am a part of it. I couldn’t just stay at home and watch the race from outside.”
Huber will be bidding to finish his sixth race. He keeps coming back for “the atmosphere, the routes and the popularity of the race”.
Platt said his training had been going exceptionally well and he would be spending three months in South Africa before the race: “You will never get rid of this German,” he laughed.
He recently won the 121km Attakwas Extreme Challenge ahead of Boehme and appears to be in excellent form as his big event of the year approaches.
Huber, typically, wasn’t saying too much: only that a “lot of work” still lay ahead.
He obviously plans to let his bike do the talking come March 13.
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.