Married couple, Erik (29) and Ariane Kleinhans (28), of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, will participate in the Mixed category of this year’s Absa Cape Epic as Team Contego.

The Absa Cape Epic will once again take 1 200 riders through some of the Western Cape’s most unspoilt territory. The race, which takes place from 25 March to 1 April, will kick-off with a prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville and finish eight days and 781km later at the prestigious Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West.

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Erik Kleinhans during last year’s Absa Cape Epic.

Photographer: Sven Martin

This year will be Erik and Ariane’s second Absa Cape Epic. Says Ariane: “The Absa Cape Epic is the best known mountain bike stage race in the world and very special in South Africa. If you tell people that you’re a mountain biker, they always ask whether you’ve done the Cape Epic.” This will be Erik’s 5th Absa Cape Epic. “This is the premier mountain bike stage race in the world and we just love to be part of it,” he says.

Erik and Ariane are very determined to win the Mixed category this year. “We feel positive about winning the Mixed category after we finished second in 2011. But the competition is always tough and we’ll have to work hard for it,” explains Erik. According to Ariane, they have some unfinished business at this year’s race. “As passionate stage riders, Erik and I want to win the Mixed category. We have a bit more experience in stage racing than last year, and I’m also in my 2nd year as a pro-rider, with a lot more training and racing in my legs. We really feel we have an excellent chance of winning,” says Ariane.

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Ariane Kleinhans at last year’s Absa Cape Epic.

Photographer: Gary Perkin

According to Erik, there are various reasons why they make such a good team. He explains: “We live together, train together and sleep together – I’m sure our best attribute is the fact that we really care about each other and know each other very well.” Ariane explains that they are together 24/7. “With Erik’s experience of six stage races in the last year, he knows exactly how to motivate and support me, to get the best out of me. It’s actually very easy to be in a team with hm, as he is so selfless and helpful all the time. I couldn’t have wished for a better partner.”

Always training together in preparation of the event, the team’s training started in December with some easy, longer rides and from January they started to focus on specific interval training. Explains Ariane: “In between the races, we try to rest as much as possible and keep working on our interval training. Training together motivates me, especially the interval training. When I see how hard he’s racing, I automatically push myself to the limit. When we do long rides, I usually stay in his slipstream or I ride the road bike, while he’s on the slower mountain bike.” In terms of their diet, they focus on eating as healthy as possible. Says Erik: “We eat plenty of veggies, salads, good carbs and lean meat. We always try to keep it simple.” They love to cook together and according to Ariane they kick-off their days with a “kleinhansmuesli”.

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Ariane Kleinhans hugging her husband Erik, at the end of last year’s prologue.

Photographer: Karin Schermbrucker

Ariane’s advice for other participants is to put sludge in your tyres, to tape a plug on your stem and to take enough spares. “It’s also important to train in the heat before the race – it gets really hot at the race. Also, those who sleep in tents, take some earplugs along.” Erik reckons the best advice he can give to others is to ride within yourself. He explains: “Don’t push yourself over the limit, and most importantly, eat on the bike.” Both Erik and Ariane and believe preparation and training are the most important ingredients to complete the Absa Cape Epic successfully.

Both also feel that the first stages of the race are the most difficult. Says Erik: “The first stages are more stressful - you don’t know who your competition is yet, so it takes a day or two to get into the swing of things.” Ariane believes that the prologue is the most difficult. Says Ariane: “The prologue is the deciding factor for the first stage, therefore the tension and pressure is quite high and this makes it difficult on the technically demanding course of the first day.”

Erik and Ariane, who got married the weekend after the 2011 Absa Cape Epic, spend a lot of their free time cooking. “I also enjoy reading (mostly fiction), watching movies, working in my veggie garden and making coffee,” says Erik. Apart from cooking, Ariane enjoys swimming and hiking in the Swiss mountains. When askied about married life, Erik responds: “Our lives didn’t change much since we got married. But we still enjoy each other’s company very much and the best thing about it is that we have parallel goals and we can live this amazing life together.” Adds Ariane: “It’s great to share the same passion with somebody. So yes, I’m enjoying being married very much. Like any other relationship, we also have challenges we have to get through. But that makes us an even better team and I believe this will be our big advantage in the race.”

Ariane says that crossing the finish line at Lourensford Wine Estate on the last day is very overwhelming and is definitely her fondest memory of the race. “I still get very emotional when I think back to last year. It’s because of these kinds of emotions that we’re so passionate about the sport. Last year was very overwhelming for me. We managed to beat the leading team and current world champion, Ester Süss, in the last stage. I gave everything that day and never suffered so much on a bike before. When we reached Lourensford, there was this amazing crowd and my mother, who came all the way from Switzerland, was waiting for me. I’ll never forget that moment in my life,” says Ariane. According to Erik, it feels great to cross the finish line, especially in 2011 when they won the final stage in the Mixed category.

When asked what message he would like to send out to young athletes, Erik responds: “Train hard, rest well and keep on loving the sport.” According to Ariane, sport is such a great world. “It’s so emotional and it teaches one a lot of things. It doesn’t matter what you do and how hard you’re doing it, it’s important to just have fun. And if you’re an ambitious person like me, always believe in yourself,” says Ariane.

According to Erik, the thing he looks most forward to for this year’s race is to be part of the atmosphere of the race. He explains: “It’s so great with everybody fighting to finish and hearing all the war stories. It’s definitely the experience I look most forward to.” Ariane is looking forward to seeing her friends from Switzerland at the race this year.

In 2012, Ariane would also like to finish in the top 5 at the Marathon World Champs, win the MTN Marathon Series, win the Swiss Marathons in June and July and win the JoBerg2c and the Sani2c with Erik. “A podium finish at the SA Marathon Champs would be super,” concludes Erik.