Howard Grotts of the United States will team up with Czech Kulhavy, the two-time Absa Cape Epic winner, replacing Christoph Sauser on the Investec-Songo-Specialized team. The 25-year-old American is highly regarded as a climber and believes Kulhavy’s ability to drive the bunch hard could give them the edge this year.
“Jaro is an incredible rider with a huge diesel engine – pretty much perfect for a race like the Absa Cape Epic where being able to sit at a consistently high pace for four to five hours every day is the name of the game,” said Grotts. “I’m generally known for my climbing, so the route's 44,000 feet (13530m) of ascending should suit me well. And for everything in between I’m just planning on hanging onto Jaro’s wheel and sitting in the draft as best as I can!”
Grotts rode his first Absa Cape Epic in 2017 as the back-up team in support of Kulhavy and Sauser, the latter having come out of retirement to attempt to be the first to win the Untamed African MTB Race six times. He was forced to finish alone after his partner, Paolo Caesar Montoya, withdrew after the Stage 5. The United States champion is a year wiser.
“I expect (2018) to be a whole lot harder, for one thing,” said Grotts. “But honestly, I’m just going to approach it day by day. I’ve begun my training earlier this year in preparation for the race and I know that if things fall into place I’m capable of riding at the pace necessary to be in the lead bunch. Doing that day after day is the big question of course, but we’ll see.”
“The course changes every year, but I think racing the Absa Cape Epic last year gave me a good feel for the type of terrain that we’ll be covering. I also got a good feel for the nutrition and recovery needs at a stage race, which seemed almost as important as the on-the-bike work. I have a general idea of what the pace will be at the front of the race so it shouldn’t seem overwhelming once we actually get down to it.”
Kulhavy, the 2012 Olympic gold medallist, believes that Grotts has what it takes to step into the shoes left behind by Sauser.
“Howie is probably the best rider in US for cross-country and marathons right now,” said Kulhavy. “He is still young but he is an experienced rider. Last year he did the Absa Cape Epic as back-up so he has experience of the event, which is important. Of course, Christoph was a big matador and a legend of the race but Howie can be really strong now, and in the future.”
“Last year the race was super-fast and it all changed so much. There were many cross-country riders so the stages were more intense, it was really different than the usual ‘marathon’ tempo and that caused problems for a lot of the marathon riders. I like the 2018 route. There are more flats and a lot more single trails. I mean, it looks better for me than 2017. The time trial will ensure bigger gaps between the teams. I think it is good for the race and a very interesting move by the organisers. My preparation is almost the same as for last year, perhaps a little bit more intense and dynamic to set up for the Epic World Cup in Stellenbosch. I want my best cross-country shape to come more in April-May but the season will be long and hard.”