Both Lakata and Mennen boast an impressive list of victories behind their names. Lakata was the Craft Bike Transalp winner last year, the 2010 Marathon World Champion, silver medalist at the 2009 Marathon World Championships, the 2008 Marathon European Champion, five times Austrian Marathon National Champion and has one World Cup win behind his name. He has won two Absa Cape Epic stages and finished in third place overall in 2010 with Kevin Evans. Mennen is also last year’s winner of the Craft Bike Transalp, silver medalist in last year’s Marathon German Championships, bronze medalist in the Cross Country German Championships last year, the 2012 Bike Marathon Willingen Winner and finished in 12th place at the 2012 Marathon World Championships. He also finished in 2nd place at the UCI World Series Kitzalp Marathon.

Third place team Alban Lakata and Robert Mennen during the Prologue of the 2012 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville outside Cape Town, South Africa on the 25 March 2012. Photo by Sven Martin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Copyright: Sven Martin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Weighing in at 79kg and with a height of 1.84m, Lakata only started mountain biking in 2000. “My career goal is to win this prestigious race,” he says of the Absa Cape Epic. Twenty seven year old Mennen weighs in at 70kg and is 1.8m tall. “I started mountain biking in 1998. The Absa Cape Epic is one of the most beautiful bike races in the world and only a real mountain biker can win this race,” he says.

Having won last year’s Transalp with Mennen, Lakata is confident of their abilities. “We won the Transalp, which is also a tough race, and last year we finished in fifth place in the GC, only 1 minute and 25 seconds behind the third team. This year finishing on the podium is a goal!” Adds Mennen: “The route looks tough, but every time I watch last year’s DVD, I want to do this event again.”

To the questions of how often they train together, Lakata jokingly comments: “We’ll do the Andalusia Bike Race together this month. That should be enough. We’re not married.” Mennen comments that they know each other very well. “We also get along very well. Alban is a very experienced and clever rider, and we’re both focused and know how hard we can push each other. We believe that we have more potential than finishing in 5th place again. Last year was my first Absa Cape Epic and I learnt a lot. Until now my training has gone very well and Alban is also on the right track. Our aim is to improve last year’s results and finish on the podium!”

Alban Lakata and Robert Mennen during the Prologue of the 2012 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville outside Cape Town, South Africa on the 25 March 2012. Photo by Karin Schermbrucker/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS.

Copyright: Karin Schermbrucker/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Lakata’s training programme consists of two gym sessions per week, 2 interval training sessions on the bike per week and two longer rides (4 to 5 hours) per week on the road. “With regards to my diet, I eat carbs in the morning, a mix of carbs and protein for lunch, and protein for dinner. I think being healthy is the most important factor in the Cape Epic.” Says Mennen: “Where I live, it was winter and now it’s spring. We don’t have much snow and most of the time it’s between zero and 10 degrees. I do running, spinning, biking as well as long distance rides on the road.”

Lakata is looking forward to the two stages in Stellenbosch. He finds the last stages more difficult “because you struggle with the lack of sleep. And crossing the finish line is like getting handcuffs off! My hardest Absa Cape Epic was in 2008, when I got really ill in the middle of the race and my team forced me to carry on! And my favourite memory was when Kevin Evans, my partner in 2010, helped me to get through the last stages of the 2010 Epic. I know it’s a team event, you win and also lose together, but at that time he behaved like a real friend! Riding in the leader jersey is fantastic, and losing it is not all that great!” To him, the one word that describes this iconic event is ‘awesome’. Mennen reckons you need “a big portion of luck, be well and fit, and have good legs”.

Lakata’s advice to youngsters is “set realistic goals and try to reach them. When you have, set new realistic goals…”

Lakata says finding the right person to share his life was his greatest achievement off the bike. In his free time, he enjoys drinking coffee. His other ambition for 2013 is “to win a medal at the World Marathon Championships in my home country”.

Robert Mennen and Alban Lakata of Topeak Ergon Racing sprint for second place during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2012 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Oak Valley Wine Estate in the Elgin Valley to Lourensford Wine Estate, South Africa on the 1 April 2012. Photo by Karin Schermbrucker/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Copyright: Karin Schermbrucker/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS