Nino Schurter, the world’s top-ranked cross-country mountain biker and reigning World Champion, is on a mission – to win the 2014 Absa Cape Epic with South African partner Philip Buys.
“We’re going to try to be on the podium … to try to win the race,” he told a press conference in Cape Town today (20 March 2014).
The Swiss rider has made a name for himself as the world’s best in the shorter discipline – cross-country events traditionally last about 90 minutes – but will be taking on something more substantial after Sunday’s 23km prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate.
The seven stages of the race after the prologue include four of more than 100km – effectively a series of marathon races over several days.
Buys is also regarded more as a cross country specialist – he is the reigning African and national champion – but showed great potential in last year’s Epic and has been performing strongly over longer distances recently.
“It’s an honour to ride with the fastest rider in the world,” said Buys. “We are definitely going for the overall win… we have prepared well and have great support and I would love to make it worth everyone’s effort and time.
“The Epic is a very unpredictable race, so I would say our chances for an overall win can go any direction. I will be content with a GC podium spot and a few stage wins as a bonus.”
Schurter described Buys as “super strong” and said they had been doing some training together in Stellenbosch recently: “It’s a pleasure to ride with him.”
Buys said: “We had a two-week training camp together in Stellenbosch a few weeks ago and I would say that our riding styles do complement each other. We are both quite efficient on the bike. Efficiency saves energy and assures less – or no – mechanical breakdowns.”
Schurter and Buys (Team Scott-Odlo) will be pitted against many of the top marathon racers in the world from Sunday.
These include four times winner Christoph Sauser of Switzerland, the reigning World Marathon Champion, who will be riding with the Czech Republic’s Frantisek Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized). The latter is an accomplished road rider who recently switched to the off-road discipline and has been on a sharp learning curve.
Yesterday, though, he said “I believe I am now 100 percent with my technical skills”.
Also vying for a fifth win will be German Karl Platt, who will be riding with Swiss Urs Huber (Bulls).
They finished second last year but have shown dominant form in recent races. Huber said yesterday: “We’ve had really good preparation and I’m feeling really strong. Karl is really strong too … I haven’t seen him so strong before.”
By Chris Whitfield