Cape Epic MTB Race 2023 - riders to watch
The 2023 Cape Epic will see a return to the dry and dusty northern trails of Cape Town, for a prologue at the historic Meerendal wine estate. Thereafter the route goes deep into the Overberg region, where coastal headwinds could drain the ambitions of even the strongest riders.
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Last year saw a dramatic final stage win for young German upstarts, Speed Company Racing. Formed by Lukas Baum and Georg Egger, the Speed Company Racing outfit was comically understaffed, with no support roles of any mention. Baum and Egger even washed their own bikes.
The Speed Company Racing win was a hugely popular result among Cape Epic fans. Much is expected from the team this year, competing under a new name, as Orbea x Leatt x S.C. But who will they be racing against? And which teams are the favourites for that winner’s medal at the Val de Vie finish? One thing is certain: the podium lingua franca of the Cape Epic will continue to be German, either of the standard or Swiss variety.
Men’s race contenders
Orbea x Leatt x S.C
The defending champions and an absolute crowd favourite. Lukas Baum and Georg Egger have proven they have the lungs, fitness and risk appetite to succeed at the Cape Epic.
For this year, they have added one or two support staff, which should make their Cape Epic campaign a lot comfier. Interestingly, both Baum and Egger will have their fathers as part of the support team.
The team’s bikes have changed slightly from last year. Orbea x Leatt x S.C’s Baum and Egger will again be campaigning on Spanish brand, Orbea, riding the Oiz lightweight dual-suspension cross-country bike. Geometry and construction changes have happened for the 2023 model year Oiz. The bikes also have more suspension travel than last year, increasing from 100- to 120mm, which should reduce rider fatigue and increase traction on those long, loose and fast descents.
Nino Schurter has ten UCI XCO World Championships to his name. And two Cape Epic wins. There is no other rider in the field who can match his palmarès or drive.
Schurter is intimately familiar with the Western Cape’s trails. During the northern hemisphere winter, he uses Stellenbosch as a counter-seasonal training base. Dust. Heat. Wildlife on the trails. None of these are issues that unbalance the Swiss mountain biking legend.
What did unbalance Schurter at last year’s Cape Epic, were tyres. The Swiss rider suffered a bizarre frequency of punctures, choosing to roll a very lightweight Maxxis tyre casing. Schurter might not choose to make that mistake again, this year.
His riding partner is fellow Swiss, Andri Frischknecht, son of former World Champion, Thomas, who is the team manager. Frischknecht is rumoured to be in the shape of his life and he and Schurter will start the prologue on 19 March with one goal only - the win.
Specialized has a proud history of Cape Epic wins, with all of Christoph Sauser’s five victories coming aboard Specialized Epic framesets. This South African/American team mixes the experience of Matt Beers (the 2021 Cape Epic champion), with Christopher Blevins’s explosive power.
The team took two stage wins at the 2022 event. After strong gravel bike racing results in America, including a second at the Californian Belgian Waffle Ride, Beers will be keen to defend his status as the fastest domestic rider at this year’s Cape Epic.
An interesting question is which bike the team will be racing on. Specialized has a new prototype dual-suspension cross-country bike, spotted at select events during the last few weeks. Could this be the secret weapon for Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne 1? Possibly.
Last year’s runner’s up will be determined to chase an overall win. Andreas Seewald and Martin Stošek don’t have much Cape Epic racing and riding experience, with only three finishes between them, but their inherent speed and endurance are not in doubt.
Seewald has a rainbow stripe jersey to his credit, having won the 2021 UCI XCM World Championship. At the Cape Epic, XCM credentials count for more than XCO wins, which makes Seewald one of the most naturally gifted riders in the off-road peloton.
The Canyon Northwave duo of Seewald and Stošek managed a single-stage win at last year’s Cape Epic. The odds are that they will add some more this year.
An inexperienced team, but never underestimate Spanish riders at the Cape Epic.
Spaniards have better heat tolerance than many other European and North American racers. The natural riding and training terrain in southern Spain, is closer to that of the Cape Epic’s route, than any other location in Europe.
David Valero Serrano and Pablo Rodríguez Guede might lack Cape Epic experience (only Serrano has done the race, once), but they could be the surprise team. Especially if extreme heat becomes an issue at this year’s Cape Epic.
Women’s race contenders
It is improbable that any of the rival women’s teams will match the pace and intensity of this Argentine-Czech duo.
Sofia Gomez Villafane and Katerina Nash have unrivalled credentials. Villafane is defending Cape Epic women’s category champion, and although Nash is a Cape Epic newbie, she has eight UCI XCO and cyclocross World Cup wins to her credit.
Villafane comes into the event on a tremendous run of off-road riding form, having won the Unbound Gravel 200 last year. Only a significant mechanical issue could derail the likelihood of a NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized win.
Team e-Fort Symbtech
Amy Wakefield is a South African with four Cape Epic finishes, partnering with Swiss Cape Epic newbie, Irina Luetzelschwab.
This team should be good for a persistent podium finish at the event. If things go awry for NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized, Team e-Fort Symbtech will be the prime beneficiary.
Wakefield has a lot of Cape Epic racing experience and finished second back in 2017, competing in the mixed category.
Team Efficient Infiniti Insure
Despite the team’s riders racing under Maurtian and Namibian flags, both Kim le Court and Vera Looser spend a lot of time training and competing in South Africa. They know the weather, terrain and tactics of South African mountain bike stage racing very well. Not to mention the extreme heat.
Looser, especially, should have excellent heat adaption for the Cape Epic, considering her Namibian roots. Although Le Court and Looser have only three Cape Epic finishes between them, they should not be underestimated. Le Court is a three-time winner of the world's largest sportive race, the Cape Town Cycle Tour, she unquestionably knows how to lay down the watts on flatter terrain.