Annika Langvad is already, statistically, the most successful pro rider in the history of the Absa Cape Epic. Her perfect five race wins have come from just five starts. Currently, she shares the top spot on the all-time victory list with Karl Platt and Christoph Sauser, who took thirteen and ten starts respectively to reach five wins. Langvad, though, sits above them and could move clear if she starts the 2020 Absa Cape Epic with Jenny Rissveds.
With all due respect to Platt and Sauser, who will both be riding in 2020, they are now unlikely to add to their title hauls. Father time waits for no man after all, and both legends are in their forties now. Langvad seems unlikely not to add to her list of wins. Especially as she is partnered by an Olympic champion. Their participation in The Race That Measures All was not a guarantee, however.
"When I sat down and looked at the 2020 calendar, I wasn't sure about racing the Absa Cape Epic" Langvad confessed. "So, I asked myself: what or who could motivate me to race again? This year's Cape Epic is Jenny's and my adventure together. This is all about shaping it the way we want. I feel that we have a really good connection and understand each other on a lot of levels. That's my motivation for this year!"
The Dane rides for the Specialized Racing XCO team, the American manufacturer's factory outfit. The Swede meanwhile races for her own Team 31, aboard Specialized bicycles, to raise awareness of the United Nation's Article 31. "I've always liked Jenny's approach to being an athlete. Yes, we're on the same bike but really this is a personal choice" Langvad explained. "Well, obviously there is a connection with regards to Specialized but this was all about the connection between Annika and me. We simply wanted to do it together" Rissveds concurred.
A large part of Langvad's five previous victories has been the association with the Kayamandi based charity, songo.info. She has ridden to raise funds for the education and cycling charity, which is situated in a township on the outskirts of the mountain biking mecca of Stellenbosch, in two of her five Absa Cape Epics to date. After those races, her winning bike was auctioned off to raise funds for the organisation. songo.info echoes Rissveds' passion for Article 31, which "creates a specific right for all children to have rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to their age and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts." Langvad and Rissveds will race the 2020 Absa Cape Epic as Team 31: Outride. Outride, a North American-based program, has set out to prove cycling benefits your brain. Through research, school-based cycling programs, and grant giving activities, Outride provides evidence-based cycling interventions to improve social, emotional, and cognitive health.
It appears that it will not just be the children of the world who are encouraged to play and have fun in 2020. Langvad, who has tended towards being stoic and serious at the Absa Cape Epic, seems eager to take a more light-hearted approach into this year's race. "The Absa Cape Epic can be a good primer for the rest of the season, but it can also take a lot out you. The psychological aspect, in particular, shouldn't be underestimated" the 2016 Cross Country World Champion pointed out. "Having the right team and settings to make you comfortable is key and I'm already thriving on this year's setup. Jenny and I are looking to define the experience in our own special way. And that's what motivates me."
For the defending Olympic champion, the 28th of July 2020 looms large. That is when she, Langvad and the rest of the world's best women cross-country racers will line up to battle for a gold medal, in Tokyo. "I discussed at length, with my coaches and with the rest of the team, how the Absa Cape Epic would fit into my schedule during an Olympic year" the Swedish Cross-Country Champion said. "The way we look at it, we believe it can be a really good part of the overall schedule. I am not changing anything really."
Change for Langvad, though, seems to be as good as a holiday. Rissveds is her fourth Absa Cape Epic partner. Each of whom has ridden away from Val de Vie, after eight days of racing, with the final orange women's jersey. Each of whom has had their name engraved on Isabel Mertz's iconic trophy alongside Annika Langvad.
It is tough to bet against Jenny Rissveds following that trend. Not that Langvad is too perturbed. She does not count victories. "If I raced for the sake of records only, I would've burned out long ago" she concluded.
Yet the records keep on tumbling.