Photo credit: Ewald Sadie. Absa Cape Epic. Sportzpics.

Maybe it’s their off-the-wall sartorial direction or perhaps the occasional tail-whip that has endeared them to fans all over the world, but one thing is for sure – the showmanship of Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini is indisputable. Last year the team celebrated an amazing run of form winning two stages and spending four successive days in the yellow zebra jersey before a string of mechanicals and poor luck all but put an end to their 2017 podium ambitions. This year they will be looking to reverse 2017’s shortcomings by riding smarter and playing to their strengths, particularly when it comes to the Prologue which has become a happy hunting ground for the cross-country specialists.

“We’re really looking forward to the Prologue on Table Mountain. It’s not every day you get to ride on one of the natural wonders of the world,” said Fumic. “The Stage 5 time-trial is also new and should mix up the racing in a big way. The goal for us, of course, is the overall podium. We need to see how it goes over the days, but I think this year’s Absa Cape Epic will become really tactical. There are so many new teams and big names, and it’s not easy to single out any particular threat, but it will sure make for some good and intense racing.”

As national XCO champions of their respective countries – Germany and Brazil – Fumic and Avancini are a lot alike and complement each other on and off the bike. While they lack the stage-racing polish of some of the more established teams, such as the BULLS and Investec-Songo-Specialized, they’ve grown considerably as a unit over the past two years and feel better prepared than any of their previous visits to the Absa Cape Epic.

“Last year was a good learning process for Cannondale Factory Racing,” says Avancini. “I wouldn’t say we don't train specifically for the Absa Cape Epic, but I believe Manny (Fumic) and I are going to be in good shape. We’ve ridden well together in the past and know each other well. Last year we had some good results and it would be great to be in the mix again on the GC.”

Photo credit: Nick Muzik. Absa Cape Epic. Sportzpics.

For that to happen however, the Cannondale Factory Racing outfit will have to target the shorter stages and that would mean a calculated approach to the Prologue and the Stage 5 time-trial in Wellington. That’s not to say they won’t be competitive on some of the longer days. Who can forget last year’s Stage 1 victory in Hermanus? Or their stellar ride on the Grand Finale of 2016 – where they pulled away from the chasing peloton and snatched victory from the Centurion Vaude squad just moments before the finish line.

This year’s polarising route has been a big talking point with the general consensus leaning more towards a course that favours the marathon riders. Might we see one of the closely contested Absa Cape Epics ever? Well, on paper there are some exceptionally strong teams looking to do damage, and Avancini reckons the racing will naturally be aggressive with more teams fighting for positions on the GC than ever before.

“It's a route that suits the endurance riders a lot better than us, so the race pace is probably going to be even more aggressive than last year,” said Avancini. “Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek are looking good. So are Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann who return as defending champions. And then there’s the Investec-Songo-Specialized team of Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts who can’t be written off. Personally, I would love to see Karl Platt do well again. I have a massive respect for him and would be nice to fight with him in the front.”

But it’s not all business for the boys in baggies. The two are very much fan-favourites here in South Africa and want to entertain the crowd just as much as target results.

“Honestly, I enjoy riding bikes. I enjoy riding bikes fast and I just like to share that with people. I race knowing it’s my job and I want to make this wonderful sport better. Manny and I just enjoy what we do and it’s nice to see that people like that,” quipped Avancini.

Will we see the boys rocking their baggies again this year?

“Baggies are a favourite in our team but let me tell you the girls prefer the lycra so maybe you’ll see us in lycra on some of the stages this year!”