Swiss mountain biking legend Esther Süss and Swedish champion Jennie Stenerhag will joined forces for the first time at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic … and might just have a surprise or two up their sleeves.
The Team Meerendal CBC riders have excellent endurance pedigrees. Süss has won the Absa Cape Epic Hansgrohe Women’s category twice and finished the event seven times, while Stenerhag has a second place among her three finishes. The latter is the reigning Swedish marathon champion.
And 42-year-old Süss is unequivocal when asked what her ambitions are for the 2017 event: “Our goal will be to win the Cape Epic … but it will be hard as there are a lot of strong teams.”
Stenerhag, 41, explains how their partnership had come about: “I have known Esther since 2009 when she came to South Africa for a training camp and happened to be my neighbour. Since then we have stayed in contact and we always catch up when she is in SA. We had spoken about doing European stage races together earlier but it has not worked out, so when I was looking for a partner for this year’s Cape Epic it was a given to ask her first.”
Both enthused about the Cape Epic’s recent emphasis on the Hansgrohe Women’s category.
“I have done the Cape Epic eight times (she fell ill and withdrew from the race in 2013) and I’ve seen how the women’s race is growing and growing,” Süss says. “We get better prize money now and also points in the UCI ranking, which also makes it attractive for cross country riders”
Stenerhag adds: “The competition gets tougher and tougher every year and it makes it really hard to finish on the podium. The Cape Epic is setting the benchmark for women’s racing in a lot of ways, which leads to other races following it. I have even seen some changes happening in Sweden due to the Cape Epic.”
Meerendal CBC will also have a second team in the race in Hielke Elerink from the Netherlands and Switezerland’s Cornelia Hug.
Elferink, 30, has two finishes and a fourth place to her name but Hug is a newcomer. Elferink comes off a good 2016 in which she won the Dutch national marathon title and showed strongly in a number of marathons and stage races. Hug won one of the UCI marathon series races and was on the podium for others.
The Swiss rider explains: “I have heard a lot about the Cape Epic … hot, beautiful landscape, hard, top organisation, friendship. I think it will be a great experience and I look forward to coming to South Africa.”
“I think we will go for a Top 5 in the General Classification and podiums in one or more stages if everything goes well,” Elferink adds. “The competition will again be very good, so it will be a tough battle.”
“I am looking forward to it,” says the Durch rider. “It seems like it will be a super hard edition, with quite a few 100-plus kilometre stages. It will take everything from the riders.”
She adds: “It’s cool that we, as team Meerendal-CBC riders, can start with the prologue at our ‘home farm’.”
Asked what keeps her coming back to the Cape Epic, Elferink laughs: “I keep asking myself that question as well. Every year, right after the finish I say ‘Okay, that’s it, no more.’ But a few days later I am starting to think about the possibilities, the options, improvements. I think the Cape Epic is the ultimate challenge – if you do good here it really means something. A world-class field in a world-class, super-tough mountain bike race.”
Asked the same question, Stenerhag says: “I just love the excitement of the training and preparation leading up to it, as well as being part of the event, it is bigger than any other event in so many ways!”
* The 2017 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race takes place from 19 to 26 March and the much anticipated route can be viewed here.