The defending champions in the Men’s and Women’s categories, Nino Schurter and Esther Süss, will be the first to wear the Leopard jersey for UCI-registered riders who have lost their teammates during the race and decided to continue as individuals. Both will move a few starting spots back, lining up with a batch behind the elite men’s and women’s groups. They will not be allowed to race with the elites.
“The Leopard jersey has been introduced to replace the Outcast jersey,” said Sarah Harrop, head of marketing and communications at the Absa Cape Epic. “We wanted a symbol that aligned with the untamed nature of Africa and the race. Its distinct and unique design, ensures custodians of the Leopard jersey cannot interfere with the racing."
“It is a decision that shows the esteem these riders hold for the Absa Cape Epic. The Leopards are magnificent solitary cats, who forge their own paths, surviving and thriving. The Cape Leopard Trust became one of the official charities of the Absa Cape Epic in 2016. Some of the routes take place through territories that are home to the Cape Leopard, so it fits in with the DNA of the event.
“We have so much respect for Nino and Esther, who have been such an important part of the story of the Absa Cape Epic, and for them to want to finish the race shows their character and why they are such incredible champions.”
There have been many elite riders who have continued to ride the Absa Cape Epic solo. Marathon World Champion Alban Lakata was an individual finisher in 2013 after his partner, Robert Mennen broke a collarbone after colliding with a duiker. Former cross-country World Champion Jose Hermida carried on in 2014. In the same year, Urs Huber continued on after Absa Cape Epic stalwart Karl Platt was forced out.
Süss lost Meerendal CBC partner Angelika Tazreiter after she dislocated her shoulder in a crash on Monday, coming together with another rider. It has been a hard time for Süss after her teammate from 2017, Jennie Stenerhag, injured her leg the week before the Absa Cape Epic and had to withdraw. Süss, a two-time winner, is taking part in her ninth Absa Cape Epic.
“I feel so sorry for Angelika to have to go out like that,” said Süss. “It just hasn’t been my year, but the Absa Cape Epic is a special race and, for me, it is a race I love. Even though I am not competing for the title this year, I can use the race as the best training for the rest of the season, riding on some of the best trails in the world.”
Schurter’s Scott-Sram partner, Matthias Stirnemann, struggled with illness overnight, which affected him so badly during the stage he was forced out and treated for severe dehydration. The two won last year’s Absa Cape Epic in grand style, with the Swiss Schurter admitting that the win had come a year earlier than they had expected. The win was the first victory in a perfect year for Schurter as he went on to win all six legs of the UCI World Cup and the Cross-Country World Championships in Cairns, the fifth time he has been crowned World Champion.
As they crossed the line in Robertson yesterday, Schurter put his hand on the back of his fellow Swiss for the courage he had shown in getting to the line on the tough first stage through the sandy, rocky Robertson valley. “Matthias was very sick last night and could not keep anything down,” said Schurter. “He wasn’t able to carry on, but I will for sure keep on going.”