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The race’s ripple became a tidal wave and grew into the most prolific mountain bike stage race in the world. Hanlie went on to complete 6 Epics, finishing on the podium on 5 occasions with 4th her ‘worst’ finish ever. And Mariske?

She has become one of mountain biking’s rising stars! Turning elite in 2014 she will team up with Hanlie to get her first taste of the race she grew up with. It will be a chance to learn the ropes from the old guard without expectation and pressure. A stepping stone for the young one and farewell for the elder!

The legendary eight-day mountain bike team stage race which attracts the world’s most accomplished and seasoned riders will take place from 23 to 30 March 2014. With the Ladies’ division set to be as competitive as the Men’s following the announcement of an equal prize purse.

Forty-year-old Hanlie Booyens will be participating with newcomer Mariske Strauss (23) as teamPragma Orange Monkeys.

“I don’t know what makes me come back for more. This is a question I’ve asked myself many, many times. Maybe the hype, maybe the personal challenge or maybe it’s the friends I’ve made for life.However 2014 will be my year to try and give back a little as I’m riding with a young novice in Mariske. Perhaps after 6 years I have gained a bit of wisdom.” Booyens said.

Mariske Strauss has been SA Cross-Country Champion in her respective category from 2002 to 2011 and on the South African team for World Championships 2008 to 2013. This will be her first Absa Cape Epic as part of the Pragma Orange Monkeys team. “I think it’s just one of those races that you have to do. My dad has done 5 and my older brother has 3 under his belt, so it’s sort of a challenge now. I've known Hanlie since I started racing my bike. The woman’s MTB field was quite small and she was up there and someone a little girl could look up to and dream of being like. I believe that any situation is as good as you make it and I think we’ll get along well. Hanlie is definitely a role model and I’m always open and excited to learn. Hopefully, between all the suffering which I’m sure the Epic is going to bring, some of her wisdom will rub off on me.”

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To Booyens, the most crucial component in completing the Absa Cape Epic is mutual respect and similar goals. “Stage wins or a podium finish will not be our major focus. A top 5 spot will be a fantastic bonus, but in all honesty we’ll be there to give Mariske a chance to get a feel for the rigors of the race without digging her into a pit for the rest of the season. We’ll train together as much as possible, but I work full-time and Mariske studies, so our time schedules are not always compatible.” Strauss adds: “I hope we can achieve a podium, but I’m honestly not sure what to expect. This will be my longest, and surely toughest, stage race that I’ve done so far, but with the guidance of my amazing coach (Dr Jeroen Swart) and the collective knowledge of my family and partner, I’m sure I will make it through in one piece and hopefully with a couple of amazing results.”

For Booyens, it is all about balance. “The focus of our training will be endurance (December), strength/endurance (January) and then speed (February).” Strauss confirms that she will be following a similar training program as Booyens. “But I’m not just focusing on this event and seeing as I’m actually a cross-country rider, I have to get some speed in as well. This is a new experience so I’m soaking everything up, trusting my mentors and giving it my all.

Booyens believes having fun with your partner during the Absa Cape Epic is very important. “If you can be a positive, happy team you’re 80% there. Obviously you need the mileage, you need luck with mechanicals and staying healthy and injury free, but in the end you will hate it if you lose joy, whether you race or just ride.” Strauss also believes that you have too have faith, a good relationship with your partner and a strong head.

Booyens says she’s looking forward to experiencing the race through the eyes of a youngster with so much energy. “For Mariske everything will be uncharted waters – I hope I can help her take her first steps to future Absa Cape Epic glory in the years to come. Strauss reckons there is so much to look forward to. “I’ve been around as a supporter and am looking forward to the real experience!”

Booyens’ strength lies in her consistency and patience. “I can ride steadily for long periods of time and believe that during the Absa Cape Epic, good things come to those who wait.” Strauss sees the “positive side of things even when things get tough.” Her advice to others is to “never give up on your dreams and don’t be afraid to dream big. Something that I had to learn the hard way is find your balance in life.”