Cape Epic 2020 preview: Great rivalries between champions

EF Education First moves from WorldTour to world's hardest cross country stage race

February 21st, 2020 by | Posted in MTB | Tags: , , , ,

After some smaller pre-season skirmishes, Cape Epic is back to properly kick off another year of cross country racing. Several giants of the sport return to South Africa again this year, hunting to extend winning streaks or to reignite last year’s rivalries.

The South African stage race, known as the Tour de France of mountain biking. And for good reason. Over eight days racers will cover 647 kilometres of South African trails. Along the way, the teams of two will accumulate an astounding 15,550 metres of elevation gain. Unique for 2020, the Tour de France of mountain biking will include a team that has raced the actual Tour de France. EF Education First has continued is diversification, sending a team of two to test their off-road skills at the Epic.

Cape Epic
Nino Schurter of Scott-SRAM leads the race during stage 5 of the 2019 Absa Cape Epic, with Henrique Avancini riding third wheel.
Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic
2020 Cape Epic – Men: Renewed rivalry

With the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, every match up matters. Never one to let a win slip from his grasp, Schurter is back at the Cape Epic aiming to kick-start his Olympic campaign with a win. Schurter’s perfect 2017 season started in South Africa with an Epic win.

In the 2019 Cape Epic, the only team to ruffle the Scott-SRAM team’s feathers was the Cannondale Factory Racing squad. The rivalry was fierce, and tempers flared even after the finish line. Henrique Avancini, the passionate and outspoken Brazilian champ, objected to a tactical moment in the race and shared his thoughts on Twitter. Schurter’s response online was restrained, but his response on the bike was emphatic. The Swiss powerhouse pulled teammate Lars Forster to a clear, and decisive win at the Cape Epic. Avancini and Fumic did manage to steal a stage win but had to settle for second overall.

Both teams are back for 2020. Fumic and Avancini continue to grow as a team and will be hungrier than ever to finally nab a Cape Epic win. Scott-SRAM is also looking strong, with Forster taking his first World Cup win between the 2019 Cape Epic and now.

EF Education First is the wildcard in the mix. A WorldTour team on the road, the squad has slowly been expanding into gravel and off-road racing. Can Alex Howes and Lachlan Morton hang with the full-time World Cup mountain bikers? It wouldn’t be unprecedented. In 2019, road world champion Anna van der Breggen won the Cape Epic. She did have one big advantage over the EF Education First boys, though. Van der Breggen was paired up with fellow Specialized rider Annika Langvad. The hyper-focused Dane is undefeated at the Cape Epic and, with five wins to her name, is the ideal teammate to guide another rider through the harrowing race.

Cape Epic
Annika Langvad and Anna van der Breggen of Investec-Songo-Specialized celebrate winning the 2019 Absa Cape Epic.
Photo by Shaun Roy/Cape Epic
2020 Cape Epic Women: Long reign Langvad?

Langvad is back again for 2020 but without van der Breggen this time. Instead, Jenny Rissveds, the 2016 Olympic gold medallist will team up with Annika Langvad. Racing under Rissveds’ Team 31 banner, the duo will hunt for an incredible sixth title for Langvad. Rissveds will be a powerful ally for the Dane. On top of her Olympic and World Cup pedigree, Rissveds already has a Cape Epic win to her name, in the Mixed Team category.

Langvad’s three-time Cape Epic winning teammate Ariane Lüthi will be one rival to the all-star duo. Lüthi is partnering with Alice Pirard of Belgium for the Andermatt Spur team.

There are a host of other teams that could pounce, should Rissveds and Langvad falter. The legendary Sabine Spitz of Germany is teaming up with South Africa’s own Amy McDougal for dormakaba’s Red team. World Cup racers Anne Terpstra (Netherlands) and Barbara Benkó (Hungary) are another power-house combo. Past-Cape Epic podium finisher Mariske Strauss continues her quest to win her home country’s iconic race. Strauss is partnered with fellow S.Africaner Candice Lil, for the Faces CST squad.

2019 Absa Cape Epic Stage 5 Nino Schurter Lars Forster
Nino Schurter (SUI) and Lars Forster (SUI) of team Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing during stage 5 of the 2019 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race.
Photo by Greg Beadle/Cape Epic
2020 Cape Epic Livestream Schedule (South Africa local time)
Prologue: 09:00 – 14:00        March, 15
Stage 1: 08:30 – 12:45           March, 16
Stage 2: 08:30 – 12:45           March, 17
Stage 3: 08:30 – 12:30           March, 18
Stage 4: 08:30 – 13:00           March, 19
Stage 5: 08:30 – 12:30           March, 20
Stage 6: 08:30 – 12:45           March, 21
Stage 7: 08:30 – 13:00           March, 22