Four times Absa Cape Epic winner Christoph Sauser will take on the 2014 challenge with Frantisek Rabon – a former roadie – for the first time. The partnership between Nino Schurter and Philip Buys will also be another new South African/Swiss combination. Mixed category champion Ariane Kleinhans will be riding in the Women’s category for the first time with Annika Langvad. No doubt that all eyes will also be on Karl Platt, another favourite who won the Absa Cape Epic four times, when he partners again with Urs Huber as the old “tried and tested” team.

New Partnership: Christoph Sauser and Frantisek Rabon

Riding as part of team Meerendal-Songo-Specialized, Sauser is arguably the world’s most celebrated mountain bike rider with both marathon and cross-country world titles (apart from being an Olympic medal champion and four times Absa Cape Epic winner title holder). Although 2014’s new partnership with Rabon is untested, the same could be said of him and Czech teammate Jaroslav Kulhavy before they dominated the 2013 event.

Says Sauser: “I’m delighted that I’ve found a very strong partner in Rabon. He has a great character and personality. He’s also committed to win the 2014 Absa Cape Epic. However, many unexpected scenarios can happen, which we’re very aware of.” Rabon adds: “It’s such an honour to ride with Christoph. He’s such a legend and we’ve become really good teammates, so I feel really good about us riding together.”

Nino Schurter and Philip Buys will be competing as team Scott-Odlo Racing. Schurter is a specialist when it comes to short course cross-country races, where races last 90 minutes. As a world champion, there is little doubt that his immense physiology and skill will carry him to an elusive stage win and perhaps a podium spot overall. In turn, local lad Buys demonstrated he is up to this monumental task when he dueled José Hermida and Rudi van Houts to the finish line in Lourensford last year.

New Partnership: Nino Schurter and Philip Buys

Says Schurter: “We’re racing together for the first time and I’m really looking forward to it. Philip has great experience with stage races in the African heat and I’ve got experience in cross-country races. This will make us super strong.” Buys adds: “I feel honoured to ride with the fastest rider on the planet. Although slightly nervous, my excitement overpowers it.”

Mixed category winner Ariane Kleinhans has foregone her partnership with husband Erik to participate this year with Annika Langvad in the Women’s category. Langvad might be seen as a newbie, but the two-time marathon world champion, Danish cross-country and time trial champion, is a good match.

Kleinhans comments: “Annika and I previously participated in a stage race where we won every stage as well as the overall. It was a very good test for our new partnership. We made a really good team both on and off the bike. We’re very motivated to go for the overall win.” Langvad adds: “Even though we’re two very different riders with two completely different histories, somehow everything just fits together.”

Karl Platt and Urs Huber will ride together for the second time as the Bulls. The Swiss/German team proved last year that they never give up fighting.

Tried and Tested: Karl Platt and Urs Huber

Says Platt: “I think we had a very successful partnership last year and we’re looking forward to this year’s event.” Huber adds: “Our second place in the 2013 Absa Cape Epic was a sign that we’re a good team. Our goal is to win, which means we have to be focused and concentrate during the whole week, without making any mistakes.”