The Absa Cape Epic stage race sets off on Sunday from the University of Cape Town for a challenging 20km circuit through Table Mountain National Park. Known as one of the hardest and prestigious marathon mountain bike races, the Cape Epic is raced with teams of two riders, adding an additional element of strategy and teamwork.
The last edition of the race in 2019 saw Nino Schurter and Lars Forster take the win in the men's category with Annika Langvad and Anna van der Breggen winning the women's race. Owing to the date change caused by the COVID-19 pandemic not to mention a jam-packed Olympic year, none of those riders will take to the start of the 2020 edition but there are still plenty of world-class XCO and marathon racers that will to the start line.
For Sunday's prologue, which features 600m of climbing, riders with XCO experience will benefit from the short and intense course known for its rocky and loose terrain. With 600 more kilometers remaining after day one, riders may also not be hitting the top end of their limits quite yet. There's a saying among the top-performing riders that the Cape Epic can't be won on the prologue but can be lost, and this notion will be etched into the psyche of all participants.
In the men's race, we'll have our eye on Team NinetyOne-songo-Specialized riders Jordan Sarrou and Matthew Beers. Sarrou completed the Cape Epic in 2018 but is better known for his XCO racing while Beers, South African national marathon champion, has raced the Cape Epic four times, placing fifth in 2019. After Cannondale Factory Racing's withdrawal (Simon Andreassen underwent an emergency appendectomy earlier this week leaving Alan Hatherley sans a teammate), Team NinetyOne-songo-Specialized will be a firm favorite along with Team Bulls.
Team Bulls features 2016 winner Urs Huber of Switzerland who is teaming up with German Simon Schneller. The German outfit also has the luxury of a backup team, Bulls 2, comprising Martin Frey and Simon Stiebjahn should they suffer any untimely mechanicals along the way. Five-time Cape Epic winner Christoph Sauser has come out of retirement and will race alongside 19-year-old Alex Malacarne. Other notable teams include Trek Pirelli's Fabian Rabensteiner and Samuele Porro and previous Cape Epic winner, Kristian Hynek who will race alongside Martin Stošek for Canyon Northwave MTB.
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The most high-profile women will be Team 91-Songo-Specialized's Sina Frei and Laura Stigger. Frei placed second in the Tokyo Olympic Games XCO, while Stigger was second in the U23 World Championships in Italy. Both riders have never taken part in the race before.
Switzerland's Ariane Lüthi has completed the race eight times and won three of those editions. Her teammate Robyn De Groot has completed the race four times and the two should form a fierce combination having won this year's Swiss Epic back in August.
Team Faces CST's Mariske Strauss and Candice Lill could also factor in the prologue as both have World Cup XCO experience as well as good local knowledge of the terrain and course having completed the race multiple times before.
The course itself starts via the UCT XC Track before hitting the Quarry Climb, which will have some of the steepest extended pitches of the day. Then the grade mellows out but continues uphill towards the high point at Dead Man's Tree. With about 3km remaining, the Plum Pudding section will be the steepest downhill and toughest technical section on course -and from there the racers continue down to the finish line.
After the prologue, riders will tackle a 98km stage in Ceres. On 24 October, the Cape Epic will finish its final day in Val de Vie. Catch all the action and live broadcasts of the stages on the race's YouTube channel. We'll be covering the race with daily recaps as well as pro bike content