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  • Writer's picturedirtyheart

Women to Watch at the Twentieth Absa 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 Favourites

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 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.

 

Four-Star Favourites

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 Favourites

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.

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