The Specialized Racing duo of Jaroslav Kulhavý and Howard Grotts missed their chance to defend their 2018 Absa Cape Epic title last year. Grotts’ late withdrawal, due to illness kicked off a year of disappointing results for Kulhavý and of soul searching for Grotts. 12 months on, they are refreshed and ready to take on the Absa Cape Epic once again, approaching it as a fresh start and a new challenge; to take the battle to SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing, Cannondale Factory Racing and Co.
Kulhavý, in particular, has always performed well in The Race That Measures All. From five starts, the Czech Express has three victories and a second-place finish to his name. “The long-distance events are good for me and I like these multi-stage events” Kulhavý explained, of his success at the Untamed African MTB Race. “The Absa Cape Epic is the Queen of the stage races and it’s also my favourite stage race.”
The disappointment of 2019 is still fresh in his memory. After Grotts’ withdrawal, Kulhavý was partnered by Sam Gaze; but a crash, which left the Kiwi with a concussion, on Stage 1 meant the pair never really got going. “It’s hard to say if Sam and I would have made a good team or not” Kulhavý mused. “We didn’t really have the chance to try it, but I am sure about Howie’s [Grotts] quality. He is really strong on the climbs and consistent on the flats. That combination was perfect for our attacks two years ago. This year he is also more experienced.”
Grotts’ experience is not just in bike racing, however. The American underwent a year of personal growth and reflection, leaving him arguably better prepared for the emotional and psychological challenges of the Absa Cape Epic. Explaining his 2019 step back from racing, Grotts said: “Last year I ended up burning out before the season even really began. So, I knew it was time to take a step back and re-evaluate my approach to training and racing. I ended up coaching with the local youth programme, Durango Devo, and that was largely what helped rekindle my joy for just riding my bike.”
“This year, the Absa Cape Epic will be my biggest race, and the rest will be relatively low-key in comparison” he continued. “But I'm looking forward to having more time to coach and to not travelling as much. I've also applied to two Universities for graduate programmes in Mathematics. If I were to get accepted, that would begin in the fall.”
In 2018, Grotts came into his own as the race progressed. By the time the route crossed Bainskloof to Wellington, he was arguably the strongest rider in the field, eclipsing even his powerful partner. “I think the smoother trails and the amount of climbing suited me well in the latter half of the race” Grotts stated.
“The early stages featured a lot of sand and gravel which is hard for a smaller guy like me” he added. In 2020, the early stages will once again feature a fair amount of sand, but the additional element will be rocks rather than gravel. It could again make the going tough for Grotts, but the two stages in Wellington will suit him perfectly.
During the 2020 Absa Cape Epic, the Specialized teams will be turning out in a range of jerseys. Kulhavý and Grotts will wear the Ninety One – Songo – Specialized 1 colours, while Annika Langvad and Jenny Rissveds will represent Team 31: Outride. Christoph Sauser and his South African partner, NAD Pro MTB’s Wessel Botha, will represent Ninety One – Songo – Specialized 2. All the teams will still have a link to Sauser’s songo.info programme however, as the American bicycle manufacturer continues their support of the Kayamandi based education and cycling charity.
“The collaboration with songo.info is a good idea, especially for a big event like the Absa Cape Epic; where we can really help raise funds” Kulhavý reflected. “I’m glad we can help with the promotion of the charity and serve as a source of motivation for the children in the programme too.” For Grotts, the songo.info link is equally important. “Ultimately, my motivation for bike racing has to be intrinsic, but racing to support the songo.info program is certainly one of the worthiest causes out there” the American pointed out. “Personally, really just seeing anyone discover the joy of riding a bike is gratifying.”
The Absa Cape Epic has supported songs.info for a number of years and offers the organisation free entries into the race so riders can compete for the Exxaro jersey.
To follow Kulhavý and Grotts’ rediscovery of the joy of riding, and racing, bikes throughout the 2020 Absa Cape Epic visit www.cape-epic.com. Every stage will be streamed live, from the 15th to the 22nd of March.