2019 sees a starting field in the UCI women elite category which ranks amongst the top in the world. Not only are the world best mountain bikers, road cyclists and XCO champions amongst the field, but the South African ladies have also come to show just how strong our mountain biking pedigree is. We take a quick look at each of the registered UCI teams which will line up at the ABSA Cape Epic and give you some insight into just how exciting the women race could potentially be.
The reigning World Marathon Champion and defending Absa Cape Epic titleholder, Annika Langvad, has finished on the top step of the Absa Cape Epic podium in all four attempts she has made at the race. While that fact alone is imposing enough her teammate for the 2019 race, Anna van der Breggen is near as dominant a force on the road as Langvad is off it. The partnership, made possible by Langvad’s joining of Van Der Breggen’s Boels–Dolmans Women’s WorldTour team, is arguably one of the most exciting across all categories of the 2019 Absa Cape Epic.
The three-time UCI Women’s category and two-time Virgin Active Mixed category Absa Cape Epic winner, Ariane Lüthi has joined Kross Racing for the 2019 season. At the untamed African mountain bike race she will partner, two-time Olympic Silver Medallist, 2010 XCO and 2003 XCM World Champion, Maja Włoszczowska; as the pair go in search of victory for Kross-Spur Racing. Lüthi’s palmarès makes her one of the leading women’s marathon and stage racers in the world. With eight Absa Cape Epic starts to her name – to go with the five titles, won in consecutive years across two categories – there is nobody with more experience to guide Włoszczowska through her first attempt at the race. Not that the Polish former Cross Country World Champion will need much guidance. She did, after all, finish third at the 2018 XCM World Championships and second at the 2018 European XCM Championships adding to the marathon world title she won as a twenty year old in Lugano, Switzerland, in 2003. This team are also looking to take overall honours as we ride into Val de vie for the Grand Finale.
Having already enjoyed stage race success, against a stellar international field together, Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath have a base from which to work from. “We can definitely take some confidence from our win at the Wines2Whales” Lill confirmed. “But that being said, the Absa Cape Epic is a completely different ball game; it’s at a different time of year, across different terrain, longer distances, and against other racing pairs. What we can really take confidence from is our communication and how well we worked together as a team. Also having had the opportunity to race together, we could sit down afterwards and point out the areas where we could improve and work on weaknesses during the off season.” Silverback - Fairtree
Mariske Strauss and Jennie Stenerhag team up under the Silverback – fairtree banner. Strauss has also raced with her new Absa Cape Epic partner, Stenerhag, once before. “I think we work well together and have put in some solid work. I believe we are finding our grove as a team and will be a well-oiled machine by the time that start song sounds in March” the South African XCO champion promised. A significant part of that preparation process Stenerhag explained is the route scouting: “I always want to be professional in every aspect and do everything I can to be as prepared as possible. We live close to the route so to check out the parts of the route which is available and open to the public is a given for me in my preparation. This time I am lucky to have my teammate also living in Stellenbosch, so we can easily see it together.” A strong team who will most certainly be in the mix. Galileo Risk
Two riders who will not be able to pre-ride much of the course are the Gauteng based Galileo Risk pairing of Sarah Hill and Theresa Ralph. For Sarah Hill, who will be making her Absa Cape Epic debut the riding is as big a concern as everything which surrounds the race. “The Absa Cape Epic is a huge deal. 2019 is my first year to step out from just being an underdog, to participating and performing in these world class events. Starting my first Epic, is starting an awesome new chapter in my life... one where it becomes a part of my season every year. For a first timer, it's a lot about survival. That's where my teammate comes in handy!” The pair have strong aspirations to place well in the field and gain valuable experience. Theresa’s experience having raced the Absa Cape Epic 7 times will certainly help the pair achieve their goals. Dormakaba Ladies The rivalry between Galileo Risk and Dormakaba for the Absa African Jerseys, and the Hannele Steyn trophy, for the best placed all-African team is sure to be fierce. Especially as McDougall is the defending champion and in Samantha Sanders she has a partner with a similar skill set. The dormakaba pairing will however not just be content with excelling in the Absa African Jersey competition. Both McDougall and Sanders have improved significantly in the last twelve months and will be targeting an outright podium position. This is certainly possible as these two riders are riding high at the moment and if they carry that form into the race, their podium chances are looking good.
Land Rover Jaguars
The last lioness, Hannele Steyn, lines up for her 16thAbsa Cape Epic. An incredible feat on its own. She is riding with her business partner and the founder of Breakaway Rides, Katja Steenkamp for the 2019 race. Hannele says she is blessed to ride with an amazing friend, very accomplished rider and my business partner. Katja is also the winner of Tour du Afrique 2017 and together they will be a great team. Hannele is also the oldest women to ride in the UCI woman’s race at the Absa cape Epic, although she doesn’t like to brag too much about that one. The first prize for this team is to stay in the last lion competition and for Hannele to successfully complete her 16th race in 2019.
Meerendal WIAWIS Rotwild
Germany’s Sabine Spitz is one of the most celebrated mountain bikers of all time. Along with her full house of Olympic medals (Gold in 2008, Silver in 2012 and Bronze in 2004) she won the 2003 XCO World Championships and the 2009 XCM World Championships, the only major win missing from her palmarès is the Absa Cape Epic. After three attempts at the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race, it appeared that Spitz would miss the 2019 edition as she struggled to find a suitable partner. Then, in stepped her country woman Nadine Rieder.
As a proud German – and the winner of twenty national titles in cross-country, marathon and cross-country eliminator – Spitz is excited by the prospect of racing with a fellow country woman. In fact, other than the three all-South African teams the Meerendal WIAWIS Rotwild combination is the only pairing of riders from one nation in the UCI women’s field. It is not surprising then that Spitz has dubbed them the “German Dream Team.” We could certainly see them on the podium this year.
Sonya is one of the world's best endurance mountain bikers. She has built a strong personal brand through social media influence, a prolific podcast, as a professional writer and blogger, speaker, and photographer. Catherine Williamson has savoured victory in the Women’s category of the Absa Cape Epic.
The freakshow Scott pair will be aiming to be in the mix with the leaders and bank on their extensive marathon stage racing experience.
Make sure you follow @capeepic for all the action. The race will be broadcast live from their website www.cape-epic.com and their Facebook page.