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Top teams flex muscles ahead of Cape Epic

The 2014 Absa Cape Epic is shaping up to be one of the most tightly-contested in years, with top teams in both the men’s and women’s categories showing excellent form in recent races.

The Team Bulls pairing of Karl Platt and Urs Huber have emerged as favourites for the Epic ÔÇô which starts with a prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate, Durbanville, on Sunday ÔÇô with a series of compelling performances.

On Saturday they fired another shot across the bows of their rivals by taking first and second at the MTN National MTB Series race in Tulbagh. Platt finished the rugged 105-kilometre course ÔÇô which included a huge 2630 metres of vertical gain ÔÇô in 4hr 34min 27sec, a little more than two minutes ahead of Huber.

But they will face a massive challenge from Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser ÔÇô who, like Platt, has won the Epic four times ÔÇô and his Czech teammate Frantisek Rabon (Team Meerendal Songo Specialized). Sauser and Rabon did not take part in the Tulbagh event, but both have shown good form in other races. Rabon, a top road racer who has converted to mountain biking, is something of an unknown quantity at this level but is highly regarded by his fellow professionals.

Germany’s Robert Mennen finished third at Tulbagh and his partnership with Czech Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon) is also expected to be a strong in the Epic.

Another team eyeing the top step of the podium when the race finishes at Lourensford Wine Estate on 30 March is Scott-Odlo┬áMTB Racing┬áÔÇô brilliant┬ámultiple┬ácross country world champion Nino Schurter and South Africa’s┬áAfrican champion┬áand 2012 Olympian Philip Buys.

ÔÇ£We are definitely going for the overall win,ÔÇØ said Buys. ÔÇ£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 are chances for an overall win can go any direction.ÔÇØ

Buys’s pedigree was on show at the weekend when he won the opening round of the Southern African cross-country series at a sweltering Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg.

The women’s race at Tulbagh also suggested a big battle ahead at the Epic. Stellenbosch-based Swiss marathon champion Ariane Kleinhans won the 74km event in 3:17:32, a little more than two minutes ahead of England’s Sally Bigham. The British woman reportedly had technical problems with a shock absorber.

Kleinhans will ride with Dane Annike Langvad (Team RECM) in the Epic while Bigham renews her successful partnership with Swiss Esther Süss (Team Meerendal). Süss and Bigham will be aiming to repeat their 2012 victory, but Kleinhans and Langvad are a powerful combination. The Epic winner should be one of these teams.


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