Marathon mountain biking stars Ariane Lüthi and Amy Wakefield have teamed up in the colours of IT company Symbtech ZA and cycling charity Pump For Peace at the Andalucía Bike Race. The pair will use the six-day Spanish adventure as a dress-rehearsal for the 2022 Absa Cape Epic in March.
Swiss Marathon Champion and five-time winner of the Absa Cape Epic, Ariane Lüthi and her South African racing partner, Amy Wakefield (née McDougall) are in Spain and ready to light up the hills of Jaén and Cordóba at the 2022 Andalucía Bike Race from 21-26 February.
"Andalucía is about testing our shape against a strong women’s field and dialing in our teamwork. This will be our main focus," Lüthi says. "It will be important to not completely kill ourselves over the six days since Epic starts just three weeks later."
The six-day Spanish mountain bike stage race is held over 300km of rugged trails and will tackle more than 10,000m of climbing. The event will be a dress rehearsal for Team Symbtech ZA-Pump For Peace, who have their sights set on this year's Absa Cape Epic in late March.
The Cape Epic is the world's premium mountain bike stage race and typically attracts the most talented women's marathon racers. It is held over eight grueling days and explores the hostile landscape of South Africa's Western Cape province.
Lüthi and Wakefield are no strangers, having raced against each other over many years. The pair even teamed up together at the seven-day Cape Pioneer Trek in 2017, where they were victorious over a classy field, with the slimmest of winning margins. It was in this nail-biting run for the line that a deep respect was forged and a genuine friendship blossomed.
"I still talk about that race to this day," Wakefield confesses, laughing. "Ariane and I won the first two of seven stages and had a 5-minute lead by day two. Robyn de Groot [seven-time South African Marathon Champion] and Sabine Spitz [multiple World and Olympic Champion] chipped away at our lead every day as I suffered with breathing difficulties. Every day Ariane pulled me through and I just hung in there and suffered. We started the final day with just over a 2-minute lead and Robyn and Sabine rode away as usual. Then Ariane decided she was a motocross rider and tried a backflip, landing flat on her backside, breaking her saddle. We just rode our hearts out to hold onto that GC [General Classification] position and maintained it by about a minute in the end. The never-say-die attitude and teamwork from us both is what makes me confident that we will make a great team again."
"Amy is an obvious choice as a stage-racing partner, as we are well-matched in our strengths and skills. That was so clear to me during the Cape Pioneer in 2017 – both on and off the bike," Lüthi says. "We worked so hard for that victory day in and day out, but I laughed at least as hard as I suffered while racing. Amy has a wealth of experience in stage racing and knows how to race as a pair which is important."
"Amy rides both physically and technically extremely well and is someone who isn’t too proud to show her vulnerability. Being open, honest and a good communicator is what makes her a great racing partner. I also just love her humour. I still laugh when I think back to our time in the campervan in 2017."
Wakefield is excited to partner with Lüthi for Andalucía and Epic and share resources for a number of other international one-day and stage races this season.
"I am ready to compete overseas on a more regular basis," Wakefield, says. "The Cape Epic is the biggest stage race in the world and what we are training and working so hard for. Our goal as pro riders is to podium, or win. Anything can happen, and everyone will have that goal, so we are preparing to the best of our abilities to give ourselves the best shot!"
"For me the Epic is a huge challenge – the intensity, racing against the best in the world, experiencing the most incredible trails everyday and, of course, not having to cook for a week!" Wakefield admits. "I am looking forward to racing hard because I know Ariane will be super strong and also good technically."
"Ariane and I have the same goals, and have targeted the same events. We get along well and make a great team as we saw in the Cape Pioneer, so it really makes sense to build a partnership. And yes, we have fun and laugh too which is so important."