After a thorough search, three-time Absa Cape Epic winner, Ariane Lüthi, has announced her new teammate to join her on Team Spur for the 2017 edition of the world’s most prestigious mountain bike stage race.
By Sean Badenhorst
Photos: Dino Lloyd/Nick Muzik/Ewald Sadie
Germany’s Adelheid Morath will support Lüthi’s attempt to become the only female rider to win four titles. Morath replaces Denmark’s Annika Langvad, who has won the past three editions with Lüthi. The 32-year-old Morath is predominantly a XCO racer, but did compete in the 2016 Cape Epic, partnering Great Britain’s Sally Bigham to third overall.
Morath, a former German XCO champion and two-time Olympian, also won the 2015 Swiss Epic with Bigham, beating Langvad and Lüthi into second place in the process. In replacing Langvad, who is the current XCO World Champion, Morath finds herself in a position of high pressure, but Lüthi believes she’ll be up for the challenge.
“When Annika said that she wanted to focus on her studies this year and would have to miss the 2017 Cape Epic, I made a long list and asked a lot of athletes, including current and former Olympic and World Champions. What struck me about Adelheid was her commitment,” explained Lüthi.
“Adelheid isn’t as well-known as some of the other women I spoke to, but her motivation and commitment really stood out and that is what helped me decide. She is also a great rider. I have raced against her. I have beaten her and lost to her. She is an excellent climber and is regular top 10 finisher at XCO World Cups, which confirms her pedigree,” added Lüthi.
Morath will arrive in South Africa early in February in order to compete at the Momentum Tankwa Trek, a tough three-day stage race, widely considered the perfect Cape Epic preparation event. She will remain in South Africa until after the completion of the Cape Epic, a period of seven weeks.
“The fact that Adelheid is prepared to be here for that long means that she is fully committed to our objective of winning the Cape Epic. We each have our strengths as riders, but the most important thing is for us to learn how we are going to combine our strengths. During the Tankwa Trek and the weeks after that, we will focus on that,” explained Lüthi, the current Swiss marathon champion.
With two previous wins in the Mixed category (with Erik Kleinhans) and three women’s titles, Lüthi is the most successful female racer in the history of the Cape Epic. She is also one of the most experienced female stage racers in the world and concedes that changing her Cape Epic teammate is going to bring a fresh challenge, but one that she’s relishing.
“Look Annika is a freak! She is special on a different level. She is so solid as a rider and teammate. There are few like her. Adelheid is a different rider, a different person, but teamwork and commitment are usually the key factors for stage race success.
“I have raced with many different teammates in stage races over the years and I feel that I’m adaptable. It requires a mutual understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and a shared objective. Obviously the pressure is high on me to win again. I can’t know until I get to the start what my condition will be exactly, but I’m determined that the time leading up the race will be used wisely to ensure that Adelheid and I are as matched as possible. It’s a new challenge, which I am looking forward to,” added Lüthi.
“I am very happy to get the chance to race with Ariane. I am very motivated to be a good teammate. I will give everything I have for this race because we are aiming to win and that is the highest possible goal you can have. I am super thankful to Ariane and Team Spur for showing confidence in me for this big challenge,” said Morath.
For Morath, participation in the 2016 Cape Epic was a late decision and she wasn’t appropriately prepared. But she’s determined to change that this year.
“I was humbled by this event last year. My focus was the XCO season, which required a different kind of preparation. I think the Cape Epic was the hardest race I’ve ever done. But I knew that after finishing in third that I wanted to return with better preparation one day.
“I’m doing a lot more endurance training now. I live in Freiburg in the south of Germany where the winters are long. Normally I would be doing XC-skiing for training in January and February, but this year I’m going to Gran Canaria to train on the road bike and then I head to South Africa in early February,” explained Morath.
“We will race the Tankwa Trek from 10–12 February. At that race we will see how compatible we are in race conditions. After that we have a few weeks to work on things we can improve. It’s super important that we get to know each other because in the Cape Epic you must be able to support your partner and make your partner feel stronger than she is. We are both strong riders, but we must become strong teammates,” added Morath.
Lüthi and Morath will be competing on Specialized Epic full-suspension 29er bikes. Morath is a Specialized ambassador in 2017, which makes the equipment match-up simpler. Another existing match-up is language. Lüthi, who is Swiss, can speak German.