Two-time KAP sani2c winner De Groot has teamed up with the young cross country specialist after seeing up close how her new teammate can “suffer”, and how well she works in a team scenario.

Having battled it out against one another at the recent Absa Cape Epic, Team Ascendis Health's Robyn de Groot (pictured) will join forces with cross country powerhouse Mariske Strauss in an effort to win the overall women's crown at the upcoming KAP sani2c from 11-13 May. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media

De Groot and Strauss are both South African champions: De Groot as a marathon rider while Strauss has become the country’s leading cross country specialist, but the youngster has proven she can battle it out over the longer distances as well.

The new Team Ascendis Health pairing were in opposite trenches last month when they traded mountain biking blows at the ABSA Cape Epic, an encounter which was won by Strauss and her English partner Annie Last when they clinched a narrow second place in the women’s category, just ahead of De Groot and her German partner Sabine Spitz.

“With my team set up at the moment I always need to be looking for partners for the big stage races,” said De Groot this week. “So just before the Epic I asked (team principal) Malcolm Lange to keep an eye on Mariske at the Epic, with a view of me doing the sani with her.

“She was so good at the Epic and so after that he chatted to her and has put something together for us to race.

“We both had very good form at the Epic, but a lot can change in the time between the Epic and sani, however, I am really looking forward to racing with Mariske and I think we can do really well.

“I don’t see any problems with our compatibility as a team, and I think we will work really well together. She can suffer a lot – we saw that at the Epic – and I believe I will enjoy riding with anybody who can suffer like that because I think I can also suffer.

“Mariske is a person who will do anything for her teammate. At the Epic she had times when she was taking strain and there were times when Annie was hurting, and when Annie was in trouble Mariske looked after her partner. I like that.”

The 34-year-old De Groot will be hoping her partnership with Strauss will bring a change in fortunes after a series of mishaps have cost her potential race victories over the past two years.

Last year at the KAP sani2c De Groot and Swedish partner Jennie Stenerhag ended their victory hopes when a navigational error handed the lead to Candice Neethling and Vera Adrian. And a few weeks earlier, at the 2016 Epic, Stenerhag suffered heart palpitations when leading the women’s category with De Groot and they were forced to retire.

And finally, Last and Strauss, who turns 26 three days after the KAP sani2c, inherited second place at the recent Epic from De Groot when her German partner crashed and broke her handlebars on the penultimate day.

“We are certainly going for the win at the sani2c and I think we have a good chance. I think if we don’t go for the win then questions need to be asked, especially as a professional rider you have to always go for the win,” added De Groot.

This year is the 13th edition of the KAP sani2c, the world’s largest mountain bike stage race, which takes place from Himeville to Scottburgh during the second week of May. There are three races which form the event. On May 9, the Trail riders set off from Himeville for MacKenzie Farm near Ixopo.

Then on the next day, while they are heading for Jolivet Farm in Highflats, the Adventure riders take on stage one. As the Trail riders dash to Scottburgh on May 11, the serious Race riders set off on their three-day journey from Himeville.

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