Image credit: Nick Muzik

Buys, the current Elite men’s South African and African Cross-country champion and Beukes, a former Elite men’s national cross-country champion, surprised many with their sixth place overall at the Cape Epic earlier this year. They also achieved a third and a second place stage finish and secured the top African team prize in the process.

Both resumed their focus on cross-country racing after the Cape Epic and both competed at the UCI XCO World Championships for South Africa in Pietermaritzburg in August. Beukes did contest some marathon races too, but neither has been in the stage-race spotlight since their impressive Cape Epic performance and they’re planning to change that on Sunday.

“We’re definitely aiming to win the Prologue stage. It is after all only 14.8km long and on the trails I built myself, so I know them better than anyone else. We must make the most of that advantage,” smiled Beukes, who has recovered fully from a bout of illness.

“Phil and I did the Lesotho Sky stage race about three weeks ago, which was good, hard riding at high altitude. I was a bit sick after that, but planned to rest anyway, so I’m feeling very fresh ahead of Cape Pioneer Trek. We’ll aim for a couple of stage wins, and see how we are placed in the overall. It would be great to go for the overall win if we can,” added Beukes.

The Cape Pioneer Trek is a seven-day 549km stage race around the Klein Karoo region of the Western Cape. It’s largely a semi-arid area with dramatic geography and a significant variety of terrain. In general, the stages aren’t as long as many of the Cape Epic stages, but they’re intense, which is likely to suit Beukes and Buys.

“We have been doing longer rides and races recently, so the distance shouldn’t be an issue for us. The key is conserving as much energy as possible and using what we need to at right time. We used that strategy at Cape Epic and will use it again here,” explained Buys.

Stage 2 (Day 3) sees the riders tackle the iconic Swartberg Pass to a mountain-top finish. With R100 000 (US $10 000) for the stage win, it’s become a major prize in mountain bike stage racing, and a significant distraction to competitors who believe they’re in with a shot at it. At 92km, the stage is relatively short, but there’s a total of 2760 metres of ascent, 1100 metres of that coming in the final 12km.

“I’ve heard some teams are considering doing the entire Cape Pioneer Trek on lightweight hardtails just so that they can have an advantage up the final climb on Stage 2. We’ve decided that the risk of fatigue and mechanicals is too high and have stuck with our trusty SCOTT Spark dual-suspension bikes, which are still pretty light,” explained Buys.

“We’d obviously like to win that stage, but to get to the final big climb there’s some rough terrain, as well a the whole of Stage 1 and the Prologue. We’re playing it safe with our equipment, just as we’ll be doing for the whole race. It’s worked for us in the past and we think it’s our best strategy to use if we have any chance of winning the race overall,” added Buys.