Periklis Ilias and Tiago Ferreira (Dolomiti Superbike) have signalled their Absa Cape Epic intentions by winning a tightly contested Andalucia Bike Race in Spain.
The untested Greek/Portuguese combination beat Absa Cape Epic big-hitters Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon Racing) into second place in the six-day stage race.
According to the Spanish race’s website the Topeak Ergon duo “had arrived in Andalucia as the big favourites”. Ilias and Ferreira managed to close off a 40-second deficit on the final stage of 70km on Friday.
Ilias, 29, is a former Marathon World Champion and Olympian while 27-year-old Ferreira is the reigning Portuguese marathon champion.
The Spanish race’s longest stage is 90km, shorter than the riders will encounter on the Absa Cape Epic, but the fact that they consistently challenged the Lakata/Hynek pairing suggests that Ilias and Ferreira have great form as they approach their first shot at the world’s premier mountain bike stage race.
Austrian Lakata and Czech Hynek finished second in last year’s Absa Cape Epic and are generally held to be among two or three favourite teams this year. Not many pundits have tipped Ilias and Ferreira but that may change now.
Ilias said in January: “The priority on our list is to finish the Absa Cape Epic safely. Then it is a stage win and to podium in the overall general classification. But our weakness is that we are going to be riding our first Cape Epic.”
Meanwhile one of the other favourites, Karl Platt, has been dishing up some compelling performances in recent weeks: “I have never been in such good form so early in the year,” he told Bicycling magazine. “Normally I get my race sharpness just before the start of the Cape Epic. This year I have already raced and won three tough races (Attakwas, Lanzerote and Tankwa Trek) and it’s only the middle of February.”
He added that after the Tankwa Trek that he and partner Urs Huber were “very confident … we need to maintain this form now for the Cape Epic.”
The German is aiming to become only the second rider after Christoph Sauser to win the Cape Epic five times.
In the Women’s category, South African marathon champion, Robyn de Groot and Swedish marathon champion, Jennie Stenerhag of Ascendis Health recently won the Tankwa Trek comfortably, coming home first on all three stages.
De Groot also triumphed at the recent Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge over 121km and this weekend won the women’s race at the three-day Garden Route 300. In the former race she finished ahead of Absa Cape Epic defending women’s champion Ariane Kleinhans of Switzerland. The latter will again be riding the eight-day stage race with Annika Langvad of Denmark this year and they will be striving for a hat trick of wins.
De Groot and Stenerhag finished second last year, but Kleinhans and Langvad dominated the event: this year the South African/Swedish combination will be determined to make it a closer affair and appear to have the form going into the race to mount a strong challenge.
In the Garden Route race De Groot finished ahead of another top Absa Cape Epic contender, England’s Catherine Williamson who will be riding the eight-day day race with Swiss powerhouse Esther Süss.