Each year the Kayamandi based cycling and education charity, songo.info, hosts a mountain bike race with a difference on an urban course around their clubhouse. Known as the Champions’ Race it is the traditional final race before the Absa Cape Epic and attracts the world’s best mountain bikers to race for a good cause. The 2018 event, which takes place on Wednesday the 14th of March, boasts the most impressive field yet – with World and Olympic Champions gracing the preliminary start list.
The songo.info Champions race follows a cross-country format, with the junior men and women (dubbed Future Champions) taking on a shortened course before the elite men and women take to the streets, fields and songo.info BMX track for their races. The racing is exceptionally spectator friendly, with riders racing by at close proximity and the Kayamandi community turning out en masse to ensure a festive atmosphere.
For the 2018 event the confirmed star entrants, from a field which reads like a UCI World Cup start list, includes Julien Absalon, Jaroslav Kulhavý, Sam Gaze, Simon Andreassen, Howard Grotts, Victor Koretzky, Matthias Stirnemann, Maxime Marotte, defending champion Nicola Rohrbach and of course the charity’s co-founder Christoph Sauser in the men’s race. The women’s race features Annika Langvad, Kate Courtney, Julie Bresset, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Esther Süss and defending champion Flora Duffy. Both the elite men’s and women’s fields are likely to be supplemented by a number of late entries. With many riders only deciding on the day if they will race or not; it is highly probable that a number of South African stars will also join the field, as well as international super stars like Ariane Lüthi.
The presence of first-time Champions’ Race competitor Julien Absalon on the start list should ensure a highly competitive men’s race as the double Olympic and multiple world champion is one of the sport’s all-time greats. Meanwhile Investec-songo-Specialized’s Jaroslav Kulhavý will be eager to retain the title he lost to Nicola Rohrbach last year as he builds towards attempting to join the illustrious three time Absa Cape Epic winners’ club – in the Investec-songo-specialized colours alongside Howard Grotts.
The experienced pair will face stern competition from Kulhavý’s Specialized teammates Sam Gaze and Simon Andreassen. Gaze made the step up from under 23 to elite racing look easy, at the opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup on Saturday the 10th of March. The young New Zealander dominated age group racing internationally and won his first elite race, at the first attempt, holding off multiple world champion Nino Schurter to do so. Andreassen meanwhile is a three-time junior world champion and finished fourth in the Under 23 category at the recent Mountain Bike World Cup, despite a serious crash in training the week before. With a few more days of healing under his belt the Dane is sure to give an excellent account of his talents on a course which suits his powerful riding style.
The women’s race is set for a show-down between, three-time Absa Cape Epic winner and multiple world champion, Annika Langvad and, multi-disciplinary world champion, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. The pair raced wheel-to-wheel throughout the opening round of the Mountain Bike World Cup and the French champion is sure to want to get the better of the Danish champion after Langvad came out on top on Saturday. Ferrand-Prévot’s presence on the start line adds an element of glamour to the event as she is one of cycling’s greatest stars, with a cross-over fan base beyond the sport arguably exceeded only by Peter Sagan.
Lining up against Langvad and Ferrand-Prévot will be 2012 Olympic champion Julie Bresset, defending Absa Cape Epic champion Esther Süss, multiple Xterra and ITU World Champion Flora Duffy and Langvad’s young Investec-songo-Specialized Absa Cape Epic partner and under 23 star Kate Courtney.
The racing starts at 16:00, while registration opens for the junior races – which all under 14 and under 18 age group riders are eligible to enter – at 15:00. Entry is free for spectators and secure parking will be available on the Kayamandi Sport Field. If you cannot attend in person you will be able to follow the action live on Twitter, @songoinfo, and recap on the highlights on the charity’s Facebook page, songo.info. For more information and directions to the venue please visit www.songo.info.