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Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå.
The Norwegian said this week she was “very excited” about competing in the eight-day stage race and paid tribute to its commitment to women’s mountain biking.

Dahle Flesjå is arguably the most successful women’s mountain biker of all time. She won the cross country gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and is a four-times cross country world champion. In 2013 she won the marathon world championships for the fifth time.

“I’m very excited about participating in the Absa Cape Epic for the first time,” Dahle Flesjå said this week. “Nature and wildlife is a big part of my passion for mountain biking, and I believe this race will offer a lot of that.”

In 2014 the Absa Cape Epic became the first major event in world cycling to match the Men’s and Women’s category prize purses making the Women’s prize purse the richest in the sport.

“I think the Absa Cape Epic did a great thing for our sport when they announced that men and women will earn the same prize money,” said Dahle Flesjå.

“The event is famous and known all over the world and with this … it says a lot about how we look at men and women in this sport. It started up back in the late 80s as something everyone could do, no matter their age, size, shape or sex.

“We still have to keep motivating women to join us, but having the same prize money gives a signal that this is a sport where we are all treated equally.”

Now aged 41, Dahle Flesjå has continued to be highly competitive in both cross country and marathon disciplines. It will be the first time she has taken part in the Absa Cape Epic. She has yet to confirm her choice of partner, but is bound to be competitive in a Women’s category that has grown from strength to strength in recent years and was given a significant boost when Sasol sponsored the increased prize purse for the 2014 event – making it the highest prize purse for women’s cycling globally (including road races).

She said her lack of Absa Cape Epic experience meant she would probably not be able to compete for the overall Women’s title, “but I hope my partner and I can go for a stage win during the week”.

“It will be very hard and lots of hours of suffering … a lot can happen during each stage,” said Dahle Flesjå.

Meanwhile, the Absa Cape Epic have announced that this year the women’s race will get its own 26-minute television program after the event. In the past this has been included in the broader race coverage. Epic spokesperson Chris Whitfield explained: “The racing in the Women’s category has become more and more competitive over the years. We thought it was time that there was a television slot dedicated to this race.”