Along the top teams’ duties ahead of the 2024 race was to provide their professional opinions on the course, the competition, and the impact of the Absa Cape Epic over its 20-year history. The common consensus was that this year’s race will be one of the toughest in the history of the race, not only because of the exceptionally steep and singletrack-filled route, but also because of the standard and depth of the elite teams. Both the UCI Men’s and UCI Women’s fields are the biggest they have ever been, with 54 men’s teams toeing the line on Sunday, while 19 elite Aramex Women’s category teams will be contesting for the orange CIOVITA jerseys.

Cape Epic

Registration for the 2024 Absa Cape Epic took place at Lourensford Wine Estate on Saturday, 16 March. Photo by Dominic Barnardt / Cape Epic.

Men’s Category Impressions Ahead of the 2024 Absa Cape Epic

Defending champion Matt Beers and his Toyota Specialized NinetyOne teammate, Howard Grotts, were the first to share their thoughts on the 2024 race. “We’re here to enjoy the craziness of the Absa Cape Epic,” Grotts smiled. “Currently I’m feeling a mix of excitement and nerves,” his teammate Beers continued. “It’s a harder course this year and I expect that it’ll be brutal. I’m excited to figure things out with Howard. He brings very strong climbing, so hopefully I can pull him through the valleys and then drop him off at the foot of the climbs. Then I just have to try to hang onto his back wheel.”

Beers’ personal history with the race goes back to near the very beginning. “It’s amazing to see how far it’s come,” the South African XCM Champion reflected. “I grew up just outside Knysna, and went to an Absa Cape Epic race village when I was 10 or 11. That was either 2004 or 2005, in Saasveld, and I remember all the cool sunglasses stands. It’s amazing to think that I’ve now won it twice. I was a little kid riding motorbikes, being a professional cyclist wasn’t exactly on my radar. Then motocross injuries steered me to cycling and though I’ve had my fair share of injuries from cycling you just carry on.”

Champions Race

Matt Beers and Howard Grotts got their legs going in the Champions Race, on Wedneday evening ahead of the 2024 Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Max Sullivan.

“The Absa Cape Epic has changed my life, completely,” Beers noted. “It’s one if the biggest mountain bike races in the world and conveniently it takes place in South Africa. As a South African it can be hard to perform overseas so the Absa Cape Epic is a great opportunity to showcase what we can do. And I must say the South African riders have upped their game in the last few years.”

“It’s a crazy race and anything can happen,” Grotts said, when asked what the Toyota Specialized NinetyOne team’s aspirations are. “You must focus on what you can control and do those things right. Then the rest is up to lady luck.”

Nino Schurter returns to the Absa Cape Epic, but races alongside Sebastian Fini for World Bicycle Relief, rather than his SCOTT-SRAM trade team. Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic.

This was a theme which the World Bicycle Relief combination of Nino Schurter and Sebastian Fini expanded upon. “Over the years we’ve learned a lot at the Absa Cape Epic,” Schurter acknowledged. “We’ve learned about mechanicals and punctures, about our equipment, and especially about feeding and fuelling, as well as what tools you carry on the bike.”

“I believe Sebastian [Fini] and I have the potential to win this race. We are both strong and similar riders, and we can support each other well,” the 10-time XCO World Champion stated. “But this is the Absa Cape Epic, so many things can go wrong. Like two years ago when my back wheel collapsed 2 kilometres into the Prologue. You need a bit of luck to win too.”

“I’ve wanted to come back to this race since my first participation in 2019,” Fini added. “But I also wanted to come back and give my all to win the race. To win the Absa Cape Epic would be really big, but to do it alongside Nino [Schurter] will be even bigger.”

Sebastian Fini

Sebastian Fini returns for the first time since his debut in 2019. Photo by Lapierre Mavic Unity.

Turning their attention to their rivals Fini speculated: “The start list has some big names on it. I’m expecting a really tough race and because of the likelihood of bad luck affecting everyone at some point, I think the [Toyota] Specialized [NinetyOne] team is the one to watch. They are always well-prepared and have great support, which helps them cope with the unforeseen circumstances the race produces. I watched the last two races very closely from home and [ORBEA LEATT] Speed Company made the racing very exciting, they smashed it every day. There are always unexpected teams who could do well too, you can’t write anyone off. Especially before the Prologue has even started.

Buff Megamo are one of the teams World Bicycle Relief are concerned about. For 2024 Wout Alleman, a two-time Absa Cape Epic stage winner teams up with the ever-popular Hans Becking. “It’s the biggest race of the year for us and there’s a super strong field this year,” Becking said. “I’ve been excited since last year. The route looks a bit similar to 2021, and from that experience I know we’ll have to save matches for later in the race.”

Buff Megamo

Hans Becking will be partnered by Wout Allemann, for Buff Megamo this year. Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic.

“You need good luck here, and I hope for good luck and good legs,” the Dutch XCM Champion grinned. “The goal to be on the podium. Which I believe we can achieve if we have good luck and perform to our best. The competition is super tough this year, with [Toyota] Specialized [NinetyOne], [ORBEA LEATT] Speed Company, Wilier [Vittoria], Canyon [SIDI], and so many other strong teams.

A team that looks particularly fighting fit are the Canyon SIDI squad. A change from the original line-up of Andreas Seewald and Matin Stošek was made behind the scenes weeks ago but was only confirmed on the race register a week out from the start. Stošek will be replaced by his SPAR Swiss Epic winning teammate, Marc Stutzmann. “Martin [Stošek] struggled with illness this winter,” Stutzmann explained. “He will now partner Petr Vakoc for Canyon SIDI 2, and I will race with Andreas [Seewald].”

Canyon SIDI

Andreas Seewald’s 2021, 2022 and 2023 partner, Martin Stošek, has been replaced in the Canyon SIDI 1 team by Marc Stutzmann. Photo Sam Clark/Cape Epic. 

“The fact that you race in a team of two makes the whole race different. In fact, it even makes the preparation different,” Seewald explained. “You don’t focus as much on your own strengths and weaknesses but rather on how to be fastest as a team. Having a support team will, I hope, play in our favour. But the marathon standard is very high this year. I think Buff Megao and Willier [Vittoria] will be very competitive and that it will be a bigger group, for longer, at this year’s Absa Cape Epic.”

A man who is aiming to be part of that larger group is the returning hero of three editions of the race, Jaroslav Kulhavy. The 2012 Olympic Champion rides for the Superior Lions alongside fellow Czechia rider Filip Adel. “I love South Africa and the Absa Cape Epic, won it three times, and finished second once. But now it’s a new chapter, I’m getting older and the goals are different,” Kulhavy allowed.

Jaroslav Kulhavy

Jaroslav Kulhavy is back in search of a top 10 GC placing. Photo by Superior Bicycles.

“I have great memories from the race,” the Czech Express continued. “My first edition in 2013 was very special, riding for Burry [Stander, who passed away two months before that year’s race] and winning with Christoph [Sauser] created lasting memories. Now, returning from retirement and having raced off-road triathlons last year, my goals are different. A top ten overall would be great.”

When pushed for a prediction as to who may win Kulhavy said: “The start list is very strong with a lot of great riders from both XCM and XCO backgrounds. Honestly, any team could win. I believe the team who do not experience any setbacks will win the race.”

ORBEA LEATT Speed Company are a team that knows all about things going right and things going wrong. “Last year, after crossing the finish line in Val de Vie, we now know how to win and how to lose,” Lukas Baum reflected. “I looked back at last year’s race and calculated that we lost 11 minutes on Stage 6 – backtracking to the water point, fixing the derailleur and riding back to where the incident happened. Our stage time, minus that, was actually faster than the day’s winners. But then Specialized also had bad luck, last year, with a bad stomach on the first stage. So, maybe luck evens itself out.”

Lukas Baum and Georg Egger will be brining their usual aggressive racing tactics to the Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic. 

Baum and Georg Egger are one of the few pairings that remain unchanged from 2023 and are the only consistent combination among the race favourites. “The pro teams have been shuffled this year, and we are one of the most consistent teams which I think is a big advantage,” Egger stated. “It was already an advantage last year, that we knew each other so well. But maybe there’s a lucky new duo who can play off each other, like we did in the last two years. I think we’ll know more after the Prologue.”

“Watching the promotional videos for the 2024 Absa Cape Epic made us realise that we have become part of the race like it has become part of us,” Baum allowed. “We have good memories from here, in Lourensford in 2022. Two years ago, we started this adventure with good form and lots of hopes, and then over the next week with some luck we ended on the top step of the podium. We will be approaching this year’s race with the same aggressive tactics as the last two years.”

Speed Company Racing

ORBEA LEATT Speed Company Racing in action in the 2022 race, en route to a dramatic overall victory. Photo Sam Clark/Cape Epic. 

“We will stay true to ourselves,” Baum stated. “It’s a well-known fact that this year will be very technical and tactical, because of all the singletracks. After the Prologue well know who to watch. The opening stages when everyone is fresh it’ll be very tight, but it’ll open up later in the race when everyone is tired.”

“One thing is for certain though,” he emphasised. “We won’t be giving out free rides this year. When we attack, we will make it stick!”

Champions Race

Ghost Factory Racing warmed up for the Absa Cape Epic with a 1-2 at the Champions Race, ahead of Alexis Skarda. Photo by Max Sullivan.

The Aspirations and Expectations of the Aramex Women’s Category

UCI Women’s defending champion, Vera Looser, starts her fourth Absa Cape Epic with a first-timer teammate. Alexis Skarda is no stranger to marathon racing and has already seen similarities in the terrain between the Western Cape of South Africa and her native Grand Junction, Colorado. “The Absa Cape Epic is my first partner race, so learning to communicate will be important,” the American XCM Champion confessed. “It’s also my first time in South Africa. I’ve been here a week and it’s exceeded my expectations so far.”

Having a newcomer as a teammate, on the Efficient Infiniti Insure SCB SRAM team, would be a source of stress for most riders. Yet, Looser has a more philosophical approach to the race. “I’m not putting pressure on myself,” the Namibian Champion stated. “I might be the defending champion, but I have a new teammate and new rivals, many of whom are new teammates themselves. We’ll take it day by day and focus on doing our best.”

Vera Looser

Vera Looser raced the Tanwka Trek with Danielle Strydom, in February. Photo by Oakpics.

“Our aspirations are to set the bar high; I’ve got big shoes to fill,” Skarda smiled. “We might as well say it, we’re going for victory. But along the way the goal is to start together, to finish together, and to do the best we can, day by day.”

Another former winner is in a similar situation to Looser. Sofia Gomez Villafane had never raced, or even ridden with Samara Sheppard before they arrived from America and Australia for the 2024 Absa Cape Epic. Yet the Toyota Specialized NinetyOne team are expecting to find their feet as a combination, fast.

“It’s going to be brutal,” Sheppard predicted. “I’m expecting it to be all out, every day, from the Prologue to the Grand Finale. The Absa Cape Epic is the biggest challenge in mountain bike stage racing and I’m riding with a winner, on a winning team. So, we have to go out and try to win it.”

Samara Sheppard raced for the first time, since 2019, in South Africa at the Champions Race. Photo by

Similarly to South Africans, Gomez Villafane – who hails from Argentina but lives in the United States of America – says the Absa Cape Epic provides a platform for South American riders. “The Absa Cape Epic gives South Americans a chance to shine,” she praised. “We don’t get an opportunity to race on a global stage that often. Winning the Absa Cape Epic gave me a lot of recognition and helped with my confidence. It also helped with Specialized and allowed me to focus on gravel and other marathon distance mountain bike races. But also, because they know I always want to race the Absa Cape Epic the brand has been amazing in supporting me and helping me find a partner to try to win this year’s race alongside.”

In order to achieve her goal Gomez Villafane, and Sheppard, will need to defeat the powerful Cannondale Factory Racing team. In Mona Mitterwallner the squad has the reigning XCM World Champion, while Candice Lill supplies the Absa Cape Epic know-how, gained from four second-place finishes. “It’s the 20th edition, which is really special,” Lill started. “As a South African rider, the Absa Cape Epic is not only personally important but it vital to my sponsors too. After finishing as the runner-up in the last four editions I’d really love to get the victory this year, to repay the support of my sponsors and the South African mountain biking community at large.”

Cannondale Factory Racing

Candice Lill (left) and Mona Mitterwallner (right) won the general classification competition and three stages at the Momentum Medical Scheme Tankwa Trek, presented by Biogen. Photo by

“That being said, you can only control what you can control,” she philosophised. “Winning the race isn’t the goal. We’re not focusing on anyone else, just focusing on the process. Spending our energy focusing on the details and working on what’s in our control.”

“I’m looking forward to racing in a team,” Mitterwallner added. “And to share the privilege of the pressure we’ll be under. I’m hoping for a big challenge and for that to bring a fresh approach to my season.”

Candice Lill

Cannondale Factory Racing have already proved to be a formidable combination. Photo by

When asked if she was in the form required to win the race, Lill shied away from answering directly. “I’d like to say I’m in good shape,” she downplayed. Mitterwallner had no such compunctions: “I can confirm Candice is in great shape!”