Gearing Up for the Cape Pioneer Trek

Olympian and Under 23 World Championship silver medallist Alan Hatherly is South African mountain biking’s brightest star. Photo by Seamus Allardice.

Olympian and Under 23 World Championship silver medallist Alan Hatherly is South African mountain biking’s brightest star. Photo by Seamus Allardice.

The 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, is nearly upon us and this year’s edition promises to be one of the most exciting yet. The seven day Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) accredited stage race boasts a field of riders from nineteen nations and takes place from Sunday the 15th to Saturday the 21st of October.

The event will also feature the biggest international coverage in its nine edition history; with daily news and highlight productions which will be available globally on Facebook and YouTube. Rather than limit the audience by broadcasting to television; Dryland Event Management have taken the decision to commission daily television quality productions for social media, which mountain biking fans can watch for free at 20:00 throughout the event.

“With international riders making up nearly 30% of the 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, entrants it makes sense to provide their friends and families back home with the opportunity to watch the Cape Pioneer’s daily highlight shows” Henco Rademeyer, of Dryland Event Management explained. “We would like the viewers to make full use of the superb quality of videos Bigshot Media will be producing. If they can only watch the shows on their cell phones or computers that is okay, but ideally we would like people to tune in on their smart TVs or cast the videos from their phones to their TVs in order to appreciate the beauty of the Garden Route and Klein Karoo. And of course to immerse themselves in the racing action, because the elite line up for this year’s race is very exciting,” Rademeyer concluded.

The elite women’s race is arguably set to be more competitive than the men’s race with Team Ascendis Health and Team Spur/Valencia going head-to-head in the battle for the pink jerseys. Reigning four time South African Marathon Champion Robyn de Groot has paired up with one of the most decorated mountain bikers in the world, Sabine Spitz, in the colours of Ascendis Health for the event. Spitz has won a full house of Olympic medals, a World Marathon Championship, World Cup races and multiple European and German titles.

“We are professional athletes, the goal for races is always the same – we are there to race out bikes with the main objectives being stage wins and overall victory. That said the goal is also to enjoy the more relaxed race ‘vibe’ that the Cape Pioneer Trek offers… if you are able to enjoy racing your bike it is always that much sweeter” De Groot stated before the race.

Somehow the most dominant female mountain biker in South Africa over the last two seasons has yet to win the Cape Pioneer Trek, having finish second twice. So she has unfinished business to attend to. “I missed the Pioneer last year, and promised myself it would be an objective in 2017” De Groot concluded, careful not to give too much away.

The Ascendis Health pairing will not have an easy run to the title though as 2013 champion Ariane Lüthi makes her Cape Pioneer Trek return with Amy-Beth McDougall. Lüthi has had a long season but the Team Spur rider is bullish about her form: “I felt that I still had something left in me this late in the season and the Cape Pioneer seemed like the right challenge. It’s a tough race through beautiful terrain with a relaxed atmosphere – in short, perfect. Also the fact that the race has some UCI points to offer was attractive with the UCI World Cup in Stellenbosch in mind, where I would like to start as far in front as possible of course.”

Lüthi’s partner, McDougall, is riding in the colours of Valencia to make up the other half of the Team Spur/Valencia team. “I have had the season of my life so far. Although there is still much room for improvement, things came together really well this year and all the hard work over the years is paying off. Highlights would be winning the National marathon in Drakensburg, placing second at the national XCO at Cascades, fifteenth at World XCM Champs, and ladies winners of La Leyenda in Colombia with partner Sonya Looney” McDougall enthused ahead of the Cape Pioneer Trek.

The experienced women will be challenged for stage victories by an exciting young combination representing Junto. The team of Frances du Toit and Nicola Giliomee might be one of the youngest in the race, but they have the pace and technical skills to challenge for cherry picked stage victories. At just twenty years old Du Toit is the current South African under 23 Cross-Country Champion and the second youngest rider in the race – after nineteen year old Louis Visser, the young road cycling star signed for Dimension Data’s development squad.

“I’m pretty nervous!” Du Toit responded forthrightly. “I haven’t done a stage race longer than three days before and always shorter distances. But I’m racing with Nicky Giliomee who’s got a few Pioneers and Epics under her belt and she’ll help me with pacing myself and eating correctly. It’s so exciting to line up big names like Sabine, Robyn and Ariane! I’ve grown up watching them race, so racing against them for the first time will be a special experience.”

The elite men’s race sees the defending champions, Nico Bell and Gawie Combrink of NAD Pro MTB go up against South Africa’s rising mountain biking star Alan Hatherly; who will be pairing up with 2016’s form ride at the Cape Pioneer Trek, Matt Beers.

Riding in the colours of Red-E, Beers, is half of Team Spur/Red-E. “I wouldn’t say I was the strongest rider but I was very hungry and motivated to win. Unfortunately Erik fell ill on Stage One last year and then we had a really fun battle chasing back time” he reflected on the previous edition of the Cape Pioneer Trek. “I would say I have unfinished business for sure, because I think it is a race that really suits my strengths as a rider. Alan’s riding speaks for itself though! He is an absolute animal and a very clever rider when it comes to racing. We live and train together so we understand and know each other extremely well, which is such a vital aspect in stage racing especially during long, seven day, races. If there is one guy I want to go it to battle with Nico and Gawie against its Alan” Beers concluded.

For his part the Spur representative in the team, Alan Hatherly was a little more circumspect in his pre-race talk: “2017 has been a really great year for me – every important event was targeted and prepared for, which means I have not really been ‘over raced’. I’ve managed to get some really good preparation in so far for the Cape Pioneer and my numbers (watts) are looking spot on. I’m really excited to see what unfolds! Matt and I are a bit unsure of what to expect for Cape Pioneer, but we are definitely aiming for the podium spots. Just how high up on the podium we’ll have to wait and see!”

The international assault on the Cape Pioneer Trek title will come from a strong European field with Netherland, Austria and the Czech Republic well represented. The KTM Pro Team of Manuel Pliem and Moritz Bscherer are making their race debuts while fellow Austrian Lukas Islitzer of the Craft – Rocky Mountain Factory Team has returned for another crack at the event with compatriot Sascha Weber.

Last year’s solo men’s champion, Jiri Krivanek is another rider returning to the Cape Pioneer Trek and this time he has done so with a partner in tow. Marek Rauchfuss completes the Czech combination and the duo will be riding in the colours of Kelly’s Bikeranch. Krivanek was one of the most aggressive riders in last year’s race and he will almost certainly be on the offensive from the starter’s gun in Mossel Bay to the final finish line in Oudtshoorn.

The KMC Fruit to Go team of Bram Rood and Gerben Mos will be starting their third Cape Pioneer Trek on Sunday and Rood has fond memories of the event: “For us as European riders, it’s special to ride in Africa. In Africa there are fantastic trails and a lot of great events like the Cape Pioneer. The organisation is great, it is like a holiday trip with a bit of racing. And it is the perfect moment to end our mountain biking season, especially with the nice weather.”

In 2016 Rood’s partner Mos found himself being chased down a section of singletrack by a juvenile giraffe, during Stage One. While it was a terrifying moment for the organisers the Dutch team looks back on it fondly. “Last year we have an amazing moment with the giraffe” Rood smiled.

The seven stages of the 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, feature two journey stages – from Mossel Bay to George and from George to Oudtshoorn – and five exploration stages, including a mid-race time trial on Stage Four and the Queen Stage on Stage Six. To find out more about the event you can visit www.capepioneer.co.za. The race will once again be live Tweeted by Oliver Munnik on @CapePioneerTrek and mountain biking fans can see all the photos, taken by Zoon Cronje and Oakpics.com, on the Cape Pioneer Trek Facebook page. In addition to that the daily news and highlight videos can be watched online on the Dryland Event Management YouTube Channel and on the event’s official Facebook page. So be sure to follow the action from the 15th to the 21st of October 2017.