Cape Town - After a year’s break, three-time Absa Cape Epic women’s category champion Annika Langvad is back having “built up the hunger to race and kill yourself”.
The Dane took time off to finish her studies last year and appears to be in ominous form: “Looking at the numbers it looks like I had the best (European) winter training ever,” she said at a Cape Town press conference on Thursday.
That form took her to first place in the Epic World Cup in Stellenbosch last weekend and now she will start as one of the favourites for her fourth win out of four starts.
She will be racing with first-timer Kate Courtney (Team Investec Songo Specialized), but believes the American has “prepared super well”.
“I think we’re among the favourites, which is a role we can take on quite well. Racing with pressure is not new to us,” said Langvad.
They will face formidable opposition, including from German Sabine Spitz and South Africa’s Robyn de Groot (Team Ascendis Health/WIAWIS Bikes). Last year Spitz and De Groot started as favourites, but the German Olympic gold medalist crashed badly on two occasions and they dropped back to third.
Multiple South African marathon champion De Groot struggled for much of last year with a neurological injury, but has got over that and has trained intensely for this year’s Absa Cape Epic, which starts on Sunday with the Prologue on Table Mountain, in the Table Mountain National Park.
“It’s been a really rough time, with doctors saying I should maybe consider other things (to cycling),” she said. But a new diagnosis towards the end of last year got her past that and she will be “skidding in sideways just in time”.
Also pushing for a win will be last year’s second-placed team of England’s Annie Last and South African Mariske Strauss (Team Silverback-KMC).
The Briton is clearly looking forward to the event: “The atmosphere is on another level - everyone is pushing forward and loving mountain biking,” she said.
They are one of the few established partnerships this year and Strauss believes this will be an advantage: “It’s a tricky one, the Untamed African MTB Race and it is an advantage to have the same partner - you know each other and know you will gel.”
Also among the favourites will be three-time winner Ariane Lüthi of Switzerland - all of those with Langvad - riding with Belgium’s Githa Michiels (Team Spur). She had been scheduled to ride with Christina Kollman, but the Austrian pulled out after complications arising from a tooth infection and Michiels stepped in.
“We have a few hurdles to overcome in terms of language,” laughed Lüthi, “but I’m very happy to be ring with her ... she’s very excited about the local trails and conditions too.”
Defending champion Esther Süss of Switzerland will also have a new partner after Jennie Stenerhag of Sweden crashed and pulled out a few weeks back. Süss has teamed up with Austrian Angela Tazreiter (Team Meerendal CBC) and said “we work well together and have the same goal; we will definitely be trying to win”.
This year for the first time there will also be an Absa African Women’s special jersey - for the first team of riders from the continent to finish.
South Africans Candice Lill and Amy McDougall (Team dormakaba) will start as favourites.
They will be riding together for the first time after competing against one another on many local events: “I know her strengths and she knows mine. It’s is going to be very interesting riding together,” said Lill.
“It is so exciting to see how the elite women are racing (at the Absa Cape Epic),” added Lill.
“Over the last three or four years the racing has gone from strength to strength and having the Absa African special jersey for women is very exciting. It is going to inspire other African women to get on the start line.”