Five-times Austrian National Marathon champion Alban Lakata (32) will participate in this year’s Absa Cape Epic with Robert Mennen (26) as team Topeak Ergon Racing. Lakata was unlucky at the 2010 Absa Cape Epic, when he had to carry his bike for the last two kilometers of stage 3 of the race. This year’s event takes place from 25 March to 1 April and will once again take 1 200 riders through 781km of some of the Western Cape’s most beautiful terrain.

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Alban Lakata on his way to the finish line with his bike on his shoulders in the 2010 Absa Cape Epic.

Photo: Gary Perkin

Lakata, who will participate in his fifth Absa Cape Epic this year, is thrilled to have Mennen as his racing partner. Says Lakata: “We’ve been team mates since 2009 and have a very good relationship.” Mennen, doing his first Absa Cape Epic this year, says that Lakata is an experienced rider who knows the race. “Our advantage is that we know each other really well and get along wonderfully. In this kind of stage race, it’s very important to know how your teammate feels, without him or her having to say it. It’s also important to complement one another,” explains Mennen.

Mennen (from Noervenich, Germany) is very excited to participate in the Absa Cape Epic for the first time. “After I finished 9th at the Marathon Worlds and 2nd at the Kitzalp Bike Marathon, many of my opponents asked why Alban and I don’t compete as a team in the Absa Cape Epic – I had no answer to that question. I’m very excited to participate with a former World Champion and hope to learn a lot about the race,” says Mennen. According to Lakata, the Absa Cape Epic is the most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world and a must for every marathon rider.

In the 2010 Absa Cape Epic, Lakata participated with one of South Africa’s favourites, Kevin Evans. They were in the lead when they started having problems around halfway. They had about four punctures and started running out of tubes and bond. Lakata had to run with his bike on his back for the last two kilometers of the race as his rim exploded. Says Lakata: “When I hit the tar I could feel that it wasn’t going to make it – it was already that bad.” Nevertheless, Lakata feels that a podium finish for the 2012 race is possible. He says: “Because it’s our first stage race together, our goal is to finish in the top five and get a stage win.” Mennen, on the other hand, is not so sure about a podium finish. “I’m not sure about our abilities of getting stage wins or finishing on the podium overall. It’s a very long race where many things can happen. The race is also very early in the season, and last year’s season didn’t start well for me. Furthermore, the Absa Cape Epic will be my first stage race that is longer than four stages. I have a lot to learn about the race and my body,” says Mennen. According to Lakata, Mennen is an intelligent guy who knows how to handle a multi-day race.

As they live in different countries, Lakata and Mennen almost never train together, but feel that it is not really a problem, as they know each other really well. “Usually we only see each other at race weekends. I don’t think this is a handicap though. Alban is six years older than me, so he needs harder and longer training sessions to get adequate stimulus. In preparation for the Cape Epic, we participate in some of the same races and in March we’re doing the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg to get uses to the climate,” explains Mennen.

With regards to his training, Lakata says that he does a lot of strength and cross training during winter, and currently eats a lot of protein. Mennen does a lot of running and spinning during winter. Says Mennen: “As the season starts getting closer I increase my riding times and the intensity of my training. I also try to follow a balanced diet. At the end of the day, I need to follow my own training regime as I know my body better.”

When asked what the most important ingredient is to complete the Absa Cape Epic successfully, Mennen responds: “I believe it’s important to know your personal, as well as your teammate’s limits. You need a partner that you feel comfortable with and with whom you can communicate well.” Lakata feels that mental power is the most important factor. “In terms of advice for other participants, I would say don’t start out too fast and keep some energy left for the ‘king’ stage,” says Lakata.

Mennen, who spends his free time with his girlfriend, family and friends and who enjoys watching motor sports, says: “My advice for young athletes is to respect nature, respect other people, enjoy your ride and always have fun.” According to Lakata, who enjoys reading and cooking, “one should always set high goals for yourself and work hard to reach them – never quit a race”.

In terms of other achievements in 2012, Lakata would like an Olympic qualification and a medal at the Marathon World Championships. Mennen would like to focus on finishing his studies in Business Administration, apart from his career goals on his bike.

Mountain biking enthusiasts not participating in the Absa Cape Epic are invited to enter the Vineyard Races, which consist of the Vineyard Ride and Vineyard Run, both sponsored by Cape Times. These races promise participants breathtaking scenery and spectacular mountain biking terrain. The Vineyard Run offers a fun run (6km) and a trail run (15km) and the Vineyard Ride offers a 27km and 50km race. Interested riders can register online at www.vineyard-races.co.za.

Visit www.cape-epic.com for more information.