Absa Cape Epic top contenders choose partners

Winners from each category from left to right: African, Masters, Ladies, Overall, Mixed, Grand Masters and Exxaro during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2014 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Oak Valley Wine Estate in Elgin to Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West, South Africa on the 30 March 2014 Photo by Warren Elsom/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Winners from each category from left to right: African, Masters, Ladies, Overall, Mixed, Grand Masters and Exxaro during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2014 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Oak Valley Wine Estate in Elgin to Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West, South Africa on the 30 March 2014
Photo by Warren Elsom/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

With four months to go to the 2015 Absa Cape Epic many of the top competitors have chosen their partners … and it is shaping up to be one of the strongest fields ever. Four times winner Christoph Sauser of Switzerland will again be reunited with the Czech Republic’s Jaroslav Kulhavy – the team which won the event convincingly in 2013. Sauser’s pedigree and Olympic cross country gold medallist Kulhavy’s huge talent will ensure that this pairing starts on March 15 as favourites.

Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy will not have the 2015 Absa Cape Epic all their own way. 2014 winner Kristian Hynek, also from the Czech Republic, will be pairing up with powerful Austrian Alban Lakata, known by admiring competitors as “The Albanator”. Earlier this year Lakata finished second to Kulhavy in the marathon world championship in Pietermaritzburg, with Sauser coming third after problems with his bike had set him back. Hynek’s partner this year, Robert Mennen of Germany, is yet to announce who he will be riding with.

Another strong challenge at next year’s race will come from the other four times winner, Karl Plattof Germany, who will be riding again with Swiss powerhouse Urs Huber. In 2014 Platt and Huber began the Epic in commanding form and probably as favourites, but a crash forced the German out of the race.

Germans Markus Kauffman and Jochen Kaess will also be back after their performances during the early stages of 2014 suggested they could take the overall win. A broken frame put paid to their ambitions, but fellow competitors at the sharp end of the field had been highly impressed by their form.

It seems unlikely that a South African will take the overall victory at the 2015 race, but Philip Buys will be near the front with Matthys Beukes – and the experienced pair of Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell will also want to make a mark.

The Women’s category, which since 2014 enjoys the same prize money as the Men’s, has been enlivened by the entry of legendary Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja, the most successful women’s mountain biker ever. The Norwegian has yet to announce a partner, but she is fiercely competitive and not the type to train for an eight-day event without wanting to compete.

Annika Langvad of Denmark and Ariane Kleinhans of Switzerland (but based here in Stellenbosch with husband Erik) won the category in commanding fashion this year and will be back again to defend their title.

Seasoned Epic winners Sally Bigham and Esther Suss will be back with different partners next year and are planning a major assault. Their partners have yet to be announced.