Partnerships are the key to success in the Absa Cape Epic, where two-person teams do battle in what has become the world’s most prestigious mountain bike stage race. Ideally teammates should share similar strengths, have compatible temperaments, agree their strategies upfront … and then be able to adapt to the inevitable travails of the sport. – By Chris Whitfield
For the past three editions of the Cape Epic, Ariane Kleinhans has raced alongside her husband Erik, a top South African professional rider. They won the mixed category in 2012 and 2013 after finishing second at their first attempt together, and their teamwork has become something of a benchmark for efficiency and compatibility.
She happily acknowledges his contribution: “He tries his best to make me the best … to get the best out of me”. And she obviously enjoyed the experience: “Doing the Epic together has given us the best memories you could get as a couple … not just like going on a holiday, but memories you will never forget.”
This year, though, Kleinhans is taking a step into unfamiliar Epic territory with a new partner and racing for the women’s jersey: she will be partnered by Danish marathon rider Annika Langvad in Team RECM 2.
They rode the Cape Pioneer Trek together in October last year, comfortably winning the women’s race, and Kleinhans believes they combined well in that event. “She was a machine. She’s a complete rider – a good climber and very good technically.”
They will have their work cut out though. This year prize money for the women at the Epic will match that of the men – R690 000, the most for any event in women’s cycling in the world – and it has attracted a strong field.
She believes that the favourites “on paper” would have to be the formidable and experienced pairing of Switzerland’s Esther Suss and England’s Sally Bigham (Team Meerendal 3). Another strong challenge will come from Switzerland’s Milena Landtwing and her Dutch partner, Hielke Elferink (Team Meerendal Wheeler 18).
Although there is no obvious South African challenge for the top step of the podium, South Africans have adopted Swiss-born Kleinhans, who lives with her husband in Stellenbosch, as one of their own and will be rooting for her.
She reciprocates their sentiment: “Stellenbosch is special … it is cosmopolitan and feels like being at home. South Africans are very welcoming. I have more and more friends here now.”
She married Erik in 2011 after a whirlwind romance – they met at the 2010 Cape Pioneer Trek when she lost her water bottle on a stage and he gave her his water. She became a professional mountain biker in 2011 under the Contego banner after previously focussing on swimming and triathlon in her homeland.
This year she will be racing for Team RECM and continues to have a special focus on the Absa Cape Epic. It is the “world championship of stage racing” and “definitely the event we get the most out of … 90% of my followers on Twitter and Facebook are there because of the Epic”.
In spite of the tough competition, she freely acknowledges that her ambition this year is “definitely to win it. We are aware that we have to beat the best ladies in the world there (at the Epic)”.
To that end she has been putting in “base training’ weeks of up to 25 hours on the bikes but recently dialled that down to “a little lower than 20 but more intense”. These typically are sprint sessions or challenging rides on difficult technical sections.
In spite of her achievements she says she is still “learning every day” and this year took skills lessons. Although she is comfortable on difficult technical sections – typically rugged, rocky trails – she is striving to be “faster and smoother” on them.
As far as professional athletes go, Kleinhans might be one of the most amiable around. But her opponents will be making a mistake if they fail to recognise the steel behind that facade.
Source: Purple Pine PR