While the Men’s category is dominated by returning teams, and thus an element of the expected, the Women’s category in this year’s Absa Cape Epic is far more open. Of the top combinations only the 8capital team and the newly formed e-FORT.net | SeattleCoffeeCo have completed an Absa Cape Epic together before. So it stands to reason that we can expect the unexpected in the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race.
The women to watch
Such is the flux in the CM.com Women’s category ahead of the 2023 Absa Cape Epic that only three of the competitors in the field have stage wins to their name. The defending champion, Sofia Gomez Villafane, holds a significant psychological advantage going into this year’s race. Not only has the Specialized Factory Racing women’s team won every edition they have entered, but the Argentinian is a senior figure in the peloton too.
Katerina Nash has an exceptionally talented and experienced racer alongside her, for NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized. The Czech rider notched up eight MTB and Cyclocross World Cup wins during her illustrious career. This also included three trips to the Olympic Games, culminating in fifth place in Rio 2016. Nash also has stage racing experience, having won the six-day Breck Epic in Colorado.
Their top-ranked rivals are the Absa Cape Epic debutants, Greete Steinburg and Monica Yuliana Calderon Martinez, of Cannondale Vas Arabay. The Estonian and Colombian are both marathon specialists. Steinburg notched up an Epic Series podium already at the 4Islands MTB Croatia in 2022. Though the step up from an Epic Series Legend race to the Pinnacle event can be a significant one.
e-FORT.net | SeattleCoffeeCo has been a late addition to the 2023 Absa Cape Epic. Amy Wakefield was set to race with Irina Lützelschwab, however, an early season crash and resulting complications left Lützelschwab unable to race and Wakefield without a partner.
Wakefield has paired with recently crowned South African XCM Champion Candice Lill (who was also left without a partner when Mariske Strauss was diagnosed with Myocarditis) and the team that won the inaugural Absa African Women’s jersey in 2018 has reunited and is set to give it their all for the category win and the Absa African Women’s jersey once again.
Partnerships to watch
Efficient Infiniti Insure
The Efficient Infiniti Insure team is also a pairing to watch. Kim le Court and Vera Looser, of Mauritius and Namibia respectively, are the second-ranked Absa African squad in the field. They recently showed why as they claimed first and second at the Cape Town Cycle Tour in a nail-biting sprint finish. They won the Epic Series event, Wines2Whales, in October after placing third and winning a stage in the SPAR Swiss Epic earlier in 2022. Le Court and Looser are enjoying a smoother run into the race and are having more Epic Series experience than the Cannondale Vas Arabay team. They could prove to be the fiercest competitors to NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized.
8capital and She Untamed teams
The 8capital and She Untamed teams, meanwhile, are unlikely to challenge for the outright victory but will be highly motivated to race for a podium place should any of their more fancied rivals stumble. Janka Keseg Stevkova and Martina Krahulcova, who finished sixth together in 2022, are the only returning partnership and have the benefit of a shared Absa Cape Epic experience. Sarah Hill and Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius will have to trust what they learnt racing together in late 2022 and early 2023.
Bester Performance and Valley Electrical
Though further down the number allocation, two interesting teams are the Bester Performance and Valley Electrical squads. Valley Electrical has found a highly competitive teammate: Tiffany Keep. The young combination’s strengths oppose one another’s, but this could prove beneficial rather than a source of concern. To surprise some of the teams, teammate Hayley Preen will need to follow Keep’s wheel through the technical terrain. Keep will need to follow Preen on long climbs.
If the Bester Performance team play their cards smartly, there is even a possibility that they might snatch a stage victory, or at least a stage podium late in the race.
Among the eight women in the final four teams, there are only three Absa Cape Epic finisher medals. Tarryn Povey, of Echo Pentest, accounts for two-thirds of those. She and Kylie Hanekom will undoubtedly be engaged in an entertaining tussle for the minor places with the CSE, Engineering Hub and Garden Route Cycling Tours teams.
Watch this space
The competition will however remain friendly, as they are also well aware that they are unlikely to be competing for the Women’s leader jerseys. Rather, the Absa Cape Epic for them is about executing to the very best of their abilities. Robyn Williams and Linda Hitchings will be making their debuts in the race, as will Nicola Freitas and Rethe Mostert. Only Juanita Mackenzie’s Engineering Hub teammate, Sarita Louw, has started an edition of the Absa Cape Epic before. Though that was back in 2016, when she finished as an individual rider after her mixed category partner dropped out.