THE 2024 ABSA CAPE EPIC STARTS THIS SUNDAY

America's Howard Grotts and Switzerland's Nino Schurter will join a huge field of international riders vying for the titles in the 8-day South African stage race

NEWS RELEASE

The 2024 Absa Cape Epic is set to be one for the history books. A stacked UCI Men’s field will do battle across eight days on what is arguably the toughest course in the race’s 20-year history. Expect the battle for yellow to go down to the wire …

This was the Elite Men’s start in stage 3 of the 2023 Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Dom Barnardt / Cape Epic

We also see the deepest UCI Women’s field ever to take on the Absa Cape Epic. Not only are there four teams with realistic chances of overall victory, the prospects of battles for each spot on the general classification stretches throughout the line-up.

To watch the racing action unfold, tune in to the daily live broadcast on the Epic Series’ YouTube channel, from Sunday, 17 March. Fans of mountain biking can also share in the excitement of the race by following @capeepic on Instagram or by liking the Cape Epic Facebook page. For more information please visit www.epic-series.com/capeepic or click here to view the full 2024 race register.

Men to Watch at the 2024 Absa Cape Epic

Every Absa Cape Epic field seems to outdo the one before with a deeper range of challengers and more big names assembled in South Africa’s Western Cape to do battle in the world’s premier mountain bike stage race. The 2024 edition is no different. The story lines of 2023 are revisited, with plots of revenge simmering. New would-be heroes, or villains (depending on whose side one takes), have entered the fray. Plus, an aging legend – once the undisputed king of the event – has retuned to wind back the clock.

The Five-Star Favourites
Toyota Specialized NinetyOne, ORBEA LEATT Speed Company, and World Bicycle Relief, start the 2024 race with the distinction of having finished first, second and third last time out. Though it should be said that only Georg Egger and Lukas Baum have maintained their 2023 partnership. Matt Beers pairs up with 2018 champion, Howard Grotts, and will have the honour of racing with the Team 1 number boards.

American Howard Grotts, who won the 2018 Cape Epic, will be racing with Matt Beers this year. (Photo courtesy of Cape Epic)
Matthew Beers  will be one of the favorites this year. (Photo courtesy of Cape Epic)

 

Nino Schurter meanwhile could not convince a SCOTT-SRAM factory teammate to race alongside him and as such will be riding for charity with Sebastian Fini.

Nino Schurter will be fighting for his third win in the Cape Epic, which starts this Sunday (March 17, 2024). In this photo, Nino is seen breaking away from the pack during stage 2 of the 2022 Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic

 

On paper these three teams are tough to separate. There is an added incentive for Beers and Schurter too, not that either need more motivation to win. If Toyota Specialized NinetyOne or World Bicycle Relief win the 2024 Absa Cape Epic, Beers or Schurter will join Jaroslav Kulhavy and Ariane Luthi as three-time winners of the race.

ORBEA LEATT Speed Company fans will point to the dynamic partnership Egger and Baum have forged. The Germans are stronger together than they are in individual races as they feed off each other’s energy. Their friendship and almost telepathic connection could be the difference in the battle against rivals with new teammates.

The Four-Star Favorites
Canyon SIDI, Buff Megamo and Wilier Vittoria Factory are three teams well suited for springing a surprise on the big three. Andreas Seewald was scheduled to race alongside Martin Stošek, but a late switch by the German team pairs the former XCM World Champion with the Swiss XCM Champion, Marc Stutzmann. Nonetheless Canyon SIDI remain arguably the most dangerous of the trio of squads, especially with the support of the powerful Canyon SIDI II team of SPAR Swiss Epic winner, Stošek, and Petr Vakoc. They will however not be as popular champions as any team with Hans Becking in it.

The charismatic Dutch marathon specialist is one of the nicest guys in the peloton and would be an exceptionally popular winner if he and his new Buff Megamo teammate, Wout Alleman, were able to pull off an upset. Both Becking and Alleman have won stages before, but an improvement on Becking’s third in 2021 would require a fault free eight days. Like Seewald and Stošek they will also have the support of teammates to call upon. José Dias and Enrique Morcillo Vergara could thus prove vital.

The Italian combination of Fabian Rabensteiner and Samuele Porro are likewise outsiders for the title. Wilier Vittoria Factory, through their various guises at the Absa Cape Epic, have always been competitive notching up stage wins and top five placings. Porro even stood on the final podium in 2019, while the 2022 European XCM Champion, Rabensteiner, was fourth on two occasions before.

The Three-Star Favorites
The next tier of contenders is a complex mix of teams including Wilier Torpado’s Daniel Geismayr and Jakob Dorigoni, the BULLS Mavericks’ Simon Schneller and Urs Huber, Singer Racing’s Simon Stiebjahn and Jakob Hartmann, and the returning legend Jaroslav Kulhavy and his Superior Lions teammate Filip Adel. Of the group the BULLS Mavericks have the most proven Absa Cape Epic pedigree, in recent years. Like Canyon SIDI they were forced into a late change which could impact their preparation. Axel Roudil-Cortinat suffered a concussion in training, just before he was scheduled to depart for South Africa and thus had to be replaced by the 2016 Absa Cape Epic winner, Huber. The Swiss rider was not preparing for the race however and that will undoubtedly affect his and Schneller’s ability to challenge for stage victories. Kulhavy, meanwhile, could well wind back the clock and shock a few of the fancied teams. The Czeck Express is not famed for his commitment to training, but he is famous for becoming highly motivated by a single exceptional goal. Only he will truly know if this years’ race is one of those moments for him …

Absa African Jersey Contenders
Historically a sixth-place finish, on the general classification, has been good enough to win the Absa African Jersey. Thus, the top all-African team is likely to feature in the top ten overall. Imbuko Pro Cycling A’s Marco Joubert and Wessel Botha would likely be disappointed with ‘just’ a top ten result however, and should be targeting a top five.

They will have fierce competition from PYGA Euro Steel’s Philip Buys and Pieter du Toit, both of whom have won the red jersey competition before. Tristan Nortje, now with Honeycomb Pro Cycling is freed from chaperoning young cyclocross stars around the trails, and will be eager to showcase what he and Marc Pritzen can achieve together.

Toyota Specialized will be a team to keep an eye on too, especially as Alex Miller is one of the riders of the South African early season. He and Johan van Zyl will have dual roles, supporting Beers and Grotts as well as chasing their own Absa African success. Insect Science 1 and 2, Valley Electrical Titan Racing, Imbuko Pro Cycling B, Fuel X, Fairtree DP Cannondale, Pump for Peace, PYGA Euro Steel 2 and Trek SA will also feature in the broader battle. Though the most interesting local team is arguably the returning Julian Jessop. Having won the red jersey alongside Matthys Beukes (himself making a come-back to elite racing and now lining up with Rossouw Bekker for Valley Electrical Titan Racing) in 2018 Jessop stepped away from the sport to complete his accounting articles. He will be racing with The Bike Shop Plett’s Rogan Smart in a combination which will be having more fun than most of their UCI category rivals put together.

Women to Watch at the Twentieth Absa Cape Epic

UCI Women during stage 2 of the 2023 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Hermanus High School in Hermanus, South Africa on the 21st March 2023. Photo by Wayne Reiche/ Cape Epic

In the two-decade history of the Absa Cape Epic there has never been an elite women’s field so deep. In this year’s edition, four teams line up as five-star favourites, three start with podium or perhaps top five aspirations, and four more will be disappointed if they simply fill in the remainder of the top ten places come the 24th of March. Further back there is an unofficial race-within-a-race which could also impact the Absa African Jersey competition. Never mind the route and the wilderness areas it passes through; this year’s UCI women’s race will be Untamed…

Five-Star Favorites
Defending champion Vera Looser was forced into a change in partner, by Kim le Court’s signing for AG Insurance–Soudal in November last year. The Namibian’s search for a new teammate took her to the US and the reigning American XCM Champion Alexis Skarda. Though Skarda is making her Absa Cape Epic debut her palmarès suggests that, much like Sofia Gómez Villafane in 2022, she will take to the race with aplomb. The Efficient Infiniti SCB SRAM team will be racing with the Team 61 number boards on their bikes.

Four-time runner up Candice Lill is seen here during the Prologue of the 2022 Absa Cape Epic. Photo Sam Clark/Cape Epic

 

Four-time runner up Candice Lill and her Cannondale Factory Racing teammate, Mona Mitterwallner, probably shade the favourites conversation. 2024 represents Lill’s best opportunity yet of Absa Cape Epic success and the South African XCO and XCM Champion once again appears to have stepped up a level in the off season, which has arguably been the case for each of the last five years. In double World XCM Champion, Mitterwallner, she has the strongest partner she has ever had for a tilt at the Untamed.

Lill and Mitterwallner will however have to best the 2022 Champion, Gómez Villafane and her new Toyota Specialized NinetyOne teammate Samara Sheppard. Both the Argentinian and the New Zealander are focused on marathon and gravel events in 2024, which should allow them to grow into the race and potentially surge through the final stages. Ghost Factory Racing are likely to take the opposite approach. Anne Terpstra and Nicole Koller are XCO specialists and Absa Cape Epic debutants. Though no strangers to stage races, eight days of successive racing will be new territory for the Dutch/Swiss combination. Starting strong and then conserving over the latter days of the race is perhaps their best route to victory.

USA resident Sofia Gomez-Villafane (who is originally from Argentina and who has raced in the Olympics for Argentina ) is seen here during the Prologue of the 2022 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held at Lourensford Wine Estate, Somerset West, Cape Epic, South Africa on the 20th March 2022. (Photo courtesy of Cape Epic)

Four-Star Favorites
If any of the five-star favourites were to faulter a spot on the podium could be a real possibility for CANNONDALE ISB, e-FORT Private Client Holdings, or Scott Calabandida/Bulls. Monica Calderon finished the 2023 Absa Cape Epic strongly, with a stage victory, and should be more confident going into the 2024 race alongside Tessa Kortekaas for the Spanish CANNONDALE ISB team.

Hayley Preen’s best result at the Absa Cape Epic is a fourth place, in 2022. The South African Time-Trial Champion will start alongside French XCM Champion, Léna Gérault, for e-FORT Private Client Holdings. Together they are capable of matching that result, or improving upon it if their race goes well and others’ derails.

The same could be said for Scott Calabandida/Bulls. Natalia Fischer and Irina Luetzelschwab, at their best are arguably the favourites for fifth, if the race plays out in reality as one might imagine it on paper. That is extremely unlikely however, especially given the nature of the 2024 route. Fifth or better would thus be a good result for the pair, while sixth or lower could be seen as somewhat disappointing.

Three-Star Favorites
Sarah Hill and Hayley Smith, #SheUntamed, Margot Moschetti and Costanza Fasolis, e-FORT, Steph Wohlters and Danielle Strydom, Efficient Infiniti Insure, and the Fortress Investments team of Ila Stow and Laura Stark are likely to battle it out for the remaining top ten places. None of these four teams will be happy simply making up these places however and will be pushing for a top five if possible. The added incentive of the Absa African Jersey competition will also serve as motivation for the #SheUntamed and Efficient Infiniti Insure teams…

Absa African Jersey Contenders
Hill, who won the competition in 2019, is targeting the red jersey race – which would be fitting for her sponsor, Absa. In debutant Smith she has a partner capable of challenging for the Absa African Jerseys, though the battle may well come down to who is the stronger of Smith and Wohlters, of the Efficient Infiniti Insure squad. Wohlters will have her work cut-out for her at the 2024 Absa Cape Epic, as she will need to rein in the exuberant Strydom.

Hot off her best ever season, and having started 2024 well, Strydom will need to exercise more caution than she is naturally disposed to in order finish the race strongly. If she overdoes it early on not only will the #SheUntamed team benefit later, but a group of other teams stand to gain too. These teams will be hunting an Absa African Jersey podium while also engaged in their own race-within-a-race for the unofficial PedalForGood jersey. This prize was created by the Pedal Project, an official Absa Cape Epic charity, to celebrate the women who maintain careers and balance family commitments with their racing and training.

Tarryn Povey and Kylie Hanekom, Juanita Mackenzie and Mandi Augustyn, Nicola Freitas and Robyn Williams, Jessica Wilkinson and Rebecca van Huyssteen, as well as Ricci-Lee Brookstone and Sanchia Malan will compete across both the official Absa African and unofficial PedalForGood competitions. Stow and, her German partner, Stark are also among the Pedal Project’s teams, though they are ineligible for the Absa African Jersey race; given Stark holds a non-African racing licence, despite living and working in South Africa.

How to Watch

To watch the racing action unfold, tune in to the daily live broadcast on the Epic Series’ YouTube channel, from Sunday, 17 March. Fans of mountain biking can also share in the excitement of the race by following @capeepic on Instagram or by liking the Cape Epic Facebook page. For more information please visit www.epic-series.com/capeepic or click here to view the full 2024 race register.

About The Absa Cape Epic
The Absa Cape Epic is the world’s premier mountain bike stage race. The route changes every year, leading aspiring amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world through 700 Untamed kilometres of unspoilt scenery and up 16 000m of climbing.

The Absa Cape Epic is the most televised mountain bike race in the world and the only eight-day mountain bike stage race classed as hors catégorie by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI); this official UCI status makes it a highlight on the professional racer’s calendar. The Absa Cape Epic also attracts aspiring amateur riders wanting to test themselves against the best. It is a full-service race, meaning that everything is taken care of from the start – all riders need to think about is riding.The Absa Cape Epic also attracts aspiring amateur riders wanting to test themselves against the best. It is a full-service race, meaning that everything is taken care of from the start – all riders need to think about is riding.

In 2016 the Cape Epic PTY (ltd) was acquired by the IRONMAN group and is now the pinnacle event of the Epic Series which includes the SPAR Swiss Epic in Switzerland and 4Islands MTB Croatia, and the Andorra Epic in Andorra.

About The IRONMAN Group 
The IRONMAN Group operates a global portfolio of events that includes the IRONMAN® Triathlon Series, the IRONMAN® 70.3® Triathlon Series, 5150™ Triathlon Series, the Rock ‘n’ Roll® Running Series, IRONKIDS®, World Triathlon Championship Series, premier running events including the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon™ and City2Surf®, UTMB® World Series events including the Canyons Endurance Runs™, Tarawera Ultra and Ultra-Trail Australia™, Epic Series™ mountain bike races including the Absa Cape Epic®, and other multisport races. The IRONMAN Group is the largest operator of mass participation sports in the world and provides more than a million participants annually the benefits of endurance sports through the company’s vast offerings. Catering to the full athlete experience, the company portfolio also includes FulGaz® virtual cycling, the most realistic indoor riding experience connected fitness application aimed at preparing athletes for real-world events. Since the inception of the iconic IRONMAN® brand and its first event in 1978, athletes have proven that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE® by crossing finish lines around the world. Beginning as a single race, The IRONMAN Group has grown to become a global sensation with hundreds of events across 55+ countries. The IRONMAN Group is owned by Advance, a private, family-owned business. For more information, visit www.ironman.com/about-ironman-group.

About Advance  
Advance is a private, family-held business that owns and invests in companies across media, entertainment, technology, communications, education and other promising growth sectors. Our mission is to build the value of our companies over the long-term by fostering growth and innovation. Advance’s portfolio includes Condé Nast, Advance Local, Stage Entertainment, The IRONMAN Group, American City Business Journals, Leaders Group, Turnitin, 1010data and Pop. Together these operating companies employ more than 17,000 people in 29 countries. Advance is also among the largest shareholders in Charter Communications, Warner Bros. Discovery and Reddit. For more information visit www.advance.com.

 

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