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“It is amazing to see how it has grown since the first edition in 2004. When I worked as a volunteer at that first one I did not even dream that I would stand on the podium of this race one day, so it makes it special for me.”

This year she will be back with De Groot (Team Ascendis Health) on the starting line on March 13.

In recent years De Groot has dominated South African women’s marathon mountain biking while Stenerhag has done much the same in Sweden.

The latter lives and spends much of her time in South Africa, where the two of them have become good friends and regular stage race partners.

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Stenerhag believes that their friendship is key to their successes: “Robyn and I make a very good team since we get along very well both on and off the bike and we are good friends, which helps when racing. We have done a lot of stage races together and know each other very well. We do have different strengths and complement each other in a good way.”

De Groot concurred: “Jen and I have been fortunate enough to race a number of stage races together, and develop a really good friendship and understanding over the years. She got me through the Epic last year when I hit some very low times on a bicycle, and wouldn’t leave my side.”

On a bike “Jen’s strengths would be that she never gives up, always gives 100% to the partnership and is highly motivated to perform … she is also able to keep everything in perspective and smile at the end of every day.”

De Groot laughed when asked what her objective might be: “To survive again. No … well not just that: if opportunities arise to go for stage wins that would be something we would aim towards. If these opportunities arise and put us in a winning position overall, that would be a wonderful bonus.”

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Stenerhag said: “Our goal for the 2016 Absa Cape Epic is to finish on the podium after the eight days. We managed to do so last year and it would be a great achievement to get back on to that same podium.”

“Watching the route launch certainly got my heart beating faster,” admitted De Groot. “With an increase in the amount of singletrack in the 2016 route, I have no doubt we will need to work harder. The route looks extremely challenging, which is what the Absa Cape Epic is all about.”

Stenerhag added: “As much as I have seen of the route it looks like a very nice one, a bit shorter but more intense with more single tracks … which I think will make for a more fun race, but it will be tough.”

De Groot was looking forward the seeing the impact the new starting batch for women would have on the racing: “From what I understand it may change the racing a little, and potentially lead to longer days out on the bike.”

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Both said they had been training well and their first (De Groot) and second finishes at the Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge earlier this month was a “good sign since it means that we are on the same track for the Epic,” said Stenerhag. They were 12th and 13th overall and only minutes apart in that 121km race, suggesting that they are in excellent shape as the Absa Cape Epic approaches.

And what keeps them coming back each March for eight days of gruelling riding?

“It’s the ultimate MTB challenge,” explained De Groot. “You suffer out there, but the sense of accomplishment at the end of it all is worth it.”