Here comes the Ariane and Annika show

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Switzerland’s Ariane Kleinhans and her Danish partner Annika Langvad electrified Stage 3 of the 2015 Absa Cape Epic with a breathtaking performance.

The previous day they had suffered a potentially devastating setback when they were penalised an hour and 13 minutes for inadvertently taking a shortcut when they missed a route marker.

That penalty moved them down the field from a commanding first place to fourth by nearly 30 minutes.

The next day, after a stage that took riders from Elgin to Worcester in gruelling heat, both collapsed in exhaustion and elation over the line: they had made up all the time lost to their rivals and were back in first place. That day they finished 20th in the General Classification (all categories), the best ever placing on a stage by a women’s team at the Absa Cape Epic.

That sort of performance and the fact that they have dominated the Women’s category for the past two years will see Team Spur-Specialized take the starting line this year as clear favourites.

But the women’s field continues to get stronger and Kleinhans is not taking anything for granted: “We will face the strongest field ever. I know I say this every year, but it is the truth and it is just the way the Women’s category improves,” she said.

“The increase in the prize money and media coverage has definitely raised the prestige of our category and has attracted more and more world class female riders to this race.”

Langvad is looking forward to racing in terms of new rules introduced after rider feedback last year: “I think that the new start batches (in terms of which the elite women will start in their own batch and not among the men) will have an impact on the racing in that all women teams will have the exact same start of every single stage. I therefore expect to see much closer racing between the female teams.”

Kleinhans also believes the new batches will have an impact: “Yes, we will definitely have to change our tactics, and I think the women’s race will become much closer.”

They were both enthusiastic about the 2016 route: “I have a feeling that it will be one of the most entertaining routes in Cape Epic history,” said Kleinhans. “Tulbagh, Wellington, Stellenbosch and Meerendal are all surrounded by some great trails. And more climbing also means more downhills and less flat gravel roads.”

“I think it’s super cool that the Cape Epic keeps on developing and finding new trails and race villages,” said Langvad. “The fact that the course will cover more singletrack and gain more altitude than normal will be to our benefit.”

Naturally, they will be going all out for a win: “We are aiming to defend our title and make it three in a row,” said the Dane.

Kleinhans and Langvad have revolutionised the women’s race by more than their natural athleticism: their team dynamic and attention to detail is also key to their success.

“Annika is probably the strongest lady out there to do this race with,” said Kleinhans. “She is physically on another level and has no effort keeping up with the best in any technical sections. Apart from that she is calm, super smart and a real team player. I couldn’t ask for a better partner.”

Langvad, who is at home in both cross country and marathon disciplines, said: “Ariane’s strengths are definitely her extraordinary dedication, strength and knowledge of dealing with stage races. At the same time she is humble and has a professional approach.”

Kleinhans said personal difficulties and a search for a new sponsor had set back her off-season training but she was now back on track to achieve her 2016 goals.

Langvad, meanwhile, has been experiencing unseasonal weather which has made training easier: “Winter has been very mild until now in Denmark, which means no numb hands or feet so far. I know what it takes to be ready for the Cape Epic, so it’s pretty much the same procedure as before.”

And what brings them back to the Absa Cape Epic? “The high prestige of the Cape Epic,” said Kleinhans. “The four wins at this race (she has also won the Mixed category twice) are very precious feathers in my cap. Because the competition is becoming stronger and the value of a victory rises every year, I want to win the latest edition even more.”

“The complete experience of the Cape Epic makes me come back every year,” said Langvad. “Even though there’s a great deal of suffering of the bike, everything else about the experience makes up for that one hundred-fold.”

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