Cape Town - Denmark’s Annika Langvad and her Swiss partner Ariane Kleinhans (Spur-Specialized) have electrified the Absa Cape Epic Women’s category for the past two years.
Their natural athleticism, outstanding team dynamic and smart tactical approach has seen them dominate in spite of the field getting stronger each year.
In 2016 they will again start as clear favourites, but will know that the chasing pack is a hungry one and contains some excellent combinations.
Perhaps the strongest challenge will come from Topeak Ergon’s Sally Bigham (England) and Adelheid Morath (Germany).
“Iron Sally”, as she is known, has won the women’s race twice before and is a fierce competitor while Morath recently converted her cross country skills - which have taken her to two Olympic Games - into the marathon discipline. Riding together, they won the Swiss Epic in September last year - and the team they beat into second place was Langvad and Kleinhans.
Meerendal Wheeler’s Esther Süss (Switzerland) and Catherine Williamson (England) will also be waiting to pounce should the Spur-Specialized team falter. Süss has won the women’s race twice (in 2011 and 2012, the latter with Bigham) and Williamson once (in 2013, with Yolande Speedy) so knows what it takes.
On paper Sport for Good’s Sabine Spitz (Germany) and Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) have more than enough raw ability to win the Cape Epic. Spitz is a former Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallist, a former cross country world champion and still highly competitive at 43-years-old. She is one of the most decorated women’s riders ever while Belomoina, just 24, has emerged in recent years as one of the best cross country riders in the world.
Both are, however, doing the race for the first time and the Cape Epic tends to favour those with experience of its unique rigours and challenges.
The South African challenge will be led by Ascendis Health’s Robyn de Groot, riding with Swede Jennie Stenerhag. These two finished second last year and are in excellent form in 2016. They have been riding together for some time and appear to be getting stronger each year.
Another team to keep an eye out for might be Team Meerendal Rocky EBE’s Hielke Elferink (Netherlands) and Elisabeth Brandau (Germany). Both have raced the Cape Epic before with other partners and finished fourth.
But all bets will be on Kleinhans and Langvad when the gun goes off at UCT on March 13. Langvad is one of the world’s best mountain bikers in all disciplines - she is routinely at or near the front in cross country races and is a former marathon world champion. Kleinhans is herself an amazing athlete and very strong over longer distances.
* 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.