No all-South African team has won the Absa Cape Epic since 2007. That 14-year drought could come to an end in 2021 however, as Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss start the women’s race as favourites for the overall title. The Faces CST pairing have a realistic chance of claiming not only the orange Elite Women’s leader jerseys, but the red Absa African Women's jerseys and the Hannele Steyn Trophy, too.
In the Elite men’s race, meanwhile, Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes are in the second tier of overall favourites. Perhaps not as highly rated as some of their international rivals, but one would be foolish to write the PYGA Euro Steel team off as they have, after all, won stages and placed fifth overall before. In a strange Absa Cape Epic, after a long and difficult year of racing, the South Africans could have more than just a home advantage; they could be better conditioned too.
“2021 has been a busy year, with many highs and lows” Lill pointed out when asked about her season. “Traveling, as a South African, was challenging to say the least. The standard of racing in Europe was also incredibly high and it’s taken everything to be ready to compete at that level. But I really believe that this will stand Mariske and myself in good stead for a race like the Absa Cape Epic. Though our preparation has been ‘untraditional’, we are both highly motivated to excel at such a high-profile race on our home territory.”
“We all want to see an exciting women’s race” the 2019 Absa Cape Epic runner-up added. “Annika [Langvad] was always a strong and smart competitor, at the Absa Cape Epic, and I’m sure there will be other women who step-up to follow in her footsteps. With her retirement though, I think it makes the women’s race ‘wide open’ as to who will win. In my mind there’s no clear favourite.”
There may be no clear favourite for the overall women’s race in Lill’s books, but the Faces CST team will find it hard to argue that they are odds-on to win the Absa African Women’s jersey, however. That said, anything can happen over 8-days of Untamed racing. As Theresa Ralph and Samantha Sanders know all too well.
In 2019, Ralph and Sanders, were racing against one another. Ralph and her then partner Sarah Hill (who will race alongside Namibia’s Vera Looser at the 2021 Absa Cape Epic) were awarded a time penalty on the Prologue and appeared out of the running for the red jerseys. Three days later it was Sanders, and her then partner Amy McDougall, who were out of the race. McDougall had fallen ill during Stage 2 and could not complete Stage 3. This handed Ralph and Hill the Absa African competition lead, a lead they clung firmly to all the way to Val de Vie Estate.
In 2021, the Galileo Infiniti SPOT team be made up of Theresa Ralph and Mauritian Kim Le Court and they’ll seek to keep the pressure on Faces CST throughout. They will, however, have to be mindful of not focusing all their attention up the trail, as there are several teams that will be in the shake up for the Absa African Women’s jerseys. Hill and Looser will be racing as Liv-Lapierre Racing and are not to be written off, a fact Ralph will be well aware of. The Honey Custom Apparel team of Nicky Giliomee, the 2018 Virgin Active Mixed Category champion, and Cherise Willeit are not to be underestimated either. Especially if a chance arises for them to outperform one of the more favoured teams.
Mari Rabie and Hayley Preen, racing as the Land Rover Ladies, are an unknown quantity in the Absa African Women’s jersey equation. The pair are unquestionably talented athletes, with Rabie having represented South Africa at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. While Preen is the reigning national road racing champion, decorated local trail runner and recently raced the Road World Championships in Belgium. How the triathlete and the road racer will fare on the Absa Cape Epic’s Land Rover Technical Terrain remains a mystery. They could well surprise the established mountain bikers even.
In the men’s race, Buys and Beukes will have to be weary of a number of strong rivals. None more so than the DSV Pro Cycling, First Move/Fundsmith, TypeDev Nanotime and Imbuko Giant teams.
Jaco Venter and Mauritanian Alexandre Mayer, of First Move/Fundsmith, will likewise be seeking to challenge Buys, Beukes and Co. They are, however, not as motivated to claim a final big victory over PYGA Euro Steel as Nico Bell. Bell’s long career has seen him dual with Buys and Beukes for the Absa African jerseys with Erik Kleinhans, Gawie Combrink and Matt Beers, over the years. At 37, 2021 is potentially Bell’s final opportunity. In Wessel Botha he has one of the most promising young marathon and stage racers in the country alongside him for TypeDev Nanotime.
Imbuko Giant is the other squad which warrants close attention. There is no doubting Marco Joubert and Nambian Tristan de Lange’s talents. Though the pair have sometimes struggled to string together consecutive consistent days. If they can avoid making rash errors, the Imbuko Giant pair could be in the hunt for red approaching Val de Vie Estate.
Further down the list of favourites, former Absa African champion Arno du Toit is paired by Alan Gordon. The leading Insect Science Pro have the support of Carel [CP] Van Wyk and Keagan Bontekoning to call upon, though it is unclear if the Insect Science Pro squad will institute any team orders from the Prologue, or wait for the race to develop. Matthew Keyser and Jacques Janse van Rensburg are also sure to add their names to the mix of potential jersey wearers.
A team that will be racing for their leaders is the PYGA Euro Steel 2 outfit. Gert Heyns is a former red jersey winner; but in 2021 he and Pieter du Toit will be looking after the interests of Buys and Beukes. If misfortune were to befall the PYGA Euro Steel team early in the race there is no reason why Heyns and Pieter du Toit would not be able to step into an Absa African challenge of their own.
The final three teams, in the category, are the Singletrack Cycles, Cycle2Ride and Computer Mania MTB teams. Singletrack Cycles’ Erick Heyns and Barend Burger would be content with a top 20 place overall and any placing they achieve in the Absa African jersey competition as a result will probably be seen as a bonus. For Phillimon Sebona and Jan Montshioa the race is a chance to prove themselves beyond the Exxaro category. The pair were the 2015 Exxaro jersey winners and though Sebona has gone on to compete in the Elite men’s race, this will be the first time he does so without the responsibility of team duties for his former squad, PYGA Euro Steel.
Youngsters, Daniel van der Walt and Johan van Zyl complete the list of riders to watch in the Absa African category. Both come off seasons of U23 World Cup racing and will be making their Absa Cape Epic debuts. With the 2022 edition just around the corner, the 2021 race serves as the perfect opportunity for the 20-year-olds to gain valuable experience.