Cape Town - Former Springbok star Joel Stransky, who crashed dramatically out of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic race, is back on his bike and ready to tackle the 2018 edition in his best cycling form of his life.
The 50-year-old, who scored all South Africa’s points in the victorious final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, has completed seven editions of the Cape Epic, one of the toughest mountain bike races in the world.
But last year he crashed during the opening stage prologue and was airlifted to hospital.
Stransky’s injuries included broken ribs, a punctured lung and extensive facial lacerations, which required plastic surgery to repair.
But determination is one of Stransky’s strengths and he will tackle the 2018 Cape Epic, which starts in Cape Town on Sunday, with one of the event’s most successful riders, Andrew McLean.
Racing as Team Cycle Lab KTM, Stransky and McLean have a combined 15 Cape Epic finishes between them. McLean has won a total of 25 category stages and has twice claimed the Masters (40-49 years) title.
In 2014, the year in which he turned 50, McLean finished in an incredible 15th place overall, with Austrian team-mate Heinz Zoerweg, to win the Grand Masters title.
Stransky has done most of his Cape Epics in celebrity or charity-based teams. Anyone that knows McLean knows he’s always competitive. While the competition is stiff for the Grand Masters title, with many strong South African and international teams in the running for the title, it’s not out of the question for McLean and Stransky to stand on a stage podium and be in contention for the overall Grand Masters podium.
“It’s a different intensity when you race the Cape Epic compared to when you ride it. But Joel has been incredibly dedicated and is in superb condition,” said McLean, who has coached Stransky to peak condition.
“The biggest challenge has been getting him to take some recovery time. He’s just so eager to train. He’s such a committed guy and while that has its benefits, it can also count against you if you get to the race over-trained.
“A lot can happen in eight days of mountain bike racing, especially at the Cape Epic, with its unforgiving terrain and heat. We have prepared as best we can and now just hope that we have more good luck than bad luck during the race,” added McLean.
“The biggest difference this year has been mental. Racing with Andrew means really racing and not riding and getting that to be a priority has taken a bit of a mind shift. But I’m super competitive by nature and I’m relishing the challenge of being under race pressure for the whole eight days,” said Stransky.
“It did take me quite a few months to recover from the injuries that I sustained at last year’s Cape Epic and I have to admit that there have been some moments since then when I’ve taken it a bit easy to rather be safe than take a risk. I was lucky to come away from that crash with a return to full health and I’m looking forward to making the most of this privilege at this year’s Cape Epic,” added Stransky.
After racing the demanding three-day Attakwas stage race in the Cederberg as team-mates last month, Stransky and McLean learned some important lessons, which they’ll bring into the Cape Epic in order to ensure they make the most of their strengths.
“Andrew is an absolute machine, so it’s more a matter of him being mindful of where I’m at and then working with me to ensure we race as efficiently as possible. I’m a true diesel engine and take some time to get warmed up, but once I’m in the groove, I’m able to hold a pretty solid pace. This will be especially relevant on the climbs, where our differences are most evident,” added Stransky.
Stransky and McLean will be competing on KTM Scarps - super-light full-carbon fibre, full-suspension bikes that are made in Austria. With a weight of 9.5kg, it’s one of the lightest full-suspension bikes in the race.