The Contenders: THE LOCALS

The Contenders: 

The Locals

The Absa African jerseys have become among the most highly contested garments in the Absa Cape Epic. The race within a race for the top African teams will once again be see the continents best eager to don the red Ciovita jerseys and showcase their sponsors at The Untamed African MTB Race.

Winning the Absa African jersey competition and lifting either the Burry Stander Memorial or Hannele Steyn trophy – for the top African men’s and women’s teams, respectively – is more than only a career defining moment for the athletes in question. It is also significant for the team’s sponsors and equipment partners and the moments atop the podium can be leveraged for the remainder of the year in a way no other result permits.

While winning the race overall would be incredible for an all-African team; it remains a feat which no local side has managed, since the elevation of the women’s race to UCI status. The closest any team has come was second, by 12 minutes, in 2022, when Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss finished behind Sofia Gomez Villafane and Haley Batten. Though that could well change in 2023.

In the Absa African Women’s Jersey race the Efficient Infiniti Insure team will have stage victories as well as the Absa African jerseys in their sights. With Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss, the two-time defending Hannele Steyn trophy winners, out of the Untamed African MTB Race the door has been left wide open for Vera Looser and Kim le Court.

Le Court and Looser teamed up to great effect late in 2022. Together they placed third in the SPAR Swiss Epic and won a stage before going on to win the Chardonnay race at Wines2Whales over a stacked women’s field.

Behind the outright favourites for the Absa African Women’s Jerseys are two teams with different experience profiles. She Untamed’s Sarah Hill is a former Absa African jersey winner herself and will be teaming up with Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius, who is riding her second Absa Cape Epic. Racing in the title sponsor’s colours comes with its own pressure; though the pair have already proven this year that they will be up to the task, particularly if the temperatures rise and the stages become hot and dusty.

While Hill has three Absa Cape Epic starts, the more experienced member of the Valley Electrical team, Hayley Preen has two starts. Preen’s teammate Tiffany Keep started but failed to finish last year’s race; thus providing Hill and Harmzen-Pretorius the edge in experience, three finishes to one, over their likely close rivals. What tips the scales in Preen and Keep’s favour is the former’s fourth place overall finish, alongside Mari Rabie, in 2022; as well as the latter’s strong start to the 2023 season.

The competition is bulked out by a number of competitive amateur women’s teams, who will be starting in the Women’s group. These include the Echo Pentest team of Tarryn Povey and Kylie Hanekom, Bester Performance’s Steph Wohlters and Yolande de Villiers, as well as Robyn Williams and Linda Hitchings. These three teams will undoubtedly race their hearts out, though as they balance full time jobs with training, they are unlikely to be able to challenge the five-star favourites over eight days of racing.

In the men’s race the 2022 Absa African jersey winners, Marco Joubert and Pieter du Toit, will have to up their game in order to retain their title. The Imbuko {type}DEV A combination will face off against PYGA Euro Steel, Insect Science PRO, Valley Electrical Titan Racing and their own ‘B’ team. Having won a stage last year Joubert and Pieter du Toit enter the race knowing they have what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

This winning know-how may be beneficial but when up against Philip Buys it will certainly not be enough. With the retirement of the PYGA Euro Steel team principal’s long time stage race partner, Matthys Beukes, Buys is now the most decorated Absa African campaigner on the start list. His four victories, one of which came alongside Pieter du Toit, is double that of his nearest rival.

In Alex Miller, Buys has a powerful new teammate for 2023. The 22-year-old Namibian has already proven his worth in PYGA Euro Steel colours this year and should be the perfect foil for the 34-year-old South African. Two of Buys’ other erstwhile teammates, Arno du Toit and Gert Heyns will also be mounting challenges for the red jerseys.

Arno du Toit teams up with Keagan Bontekoning, for Insect Science Pro, and will be tough to beat. As will the Valley Electrical Titan Racing combination, of HB Kruger and Heyns. Both teams will have support to call on; in the form of CP Van Wyk, Alan Gordan and Herman Fourie, for Insect Science Pro, and Matthew Keyser and Rossouw Bekker, for Valley Electrical Titan Racing. Imbuko {type}DEV’s second team is less of a back-up squad and could well challenge for the competition themselves. Wessel Botha and Rudi Koen are therefore also a team to watch.

Further down the favourites list, Christiaan Janse Van Rensburg and Jaco Venter, of Honeycomb Pro Cycling, will almost certainly upset some of the more favoured squads on a number of stages. As will the young Enduroplanet Racing team, of Pieter Korkie and Erick Heyns. Trek SA’s Justin Chesterton and Kai von During are stepping into the unknown however, as are Acepak Automation’s Matthew Grobler and Christoff van Heerden, as well as Liquido Factory Racing’s Kylu Kotze and Alexander Parsons.

Fairtree Imperial Cannondale, a team which fans will know from their exploits in the Exxaro jersey competition, will start their second tilt at the Absa African competition in 2023. Senior partner, Luyanda Thobigunya is matched up with Sithembiso Masango for this year’s Absa Cape Epic. Together the pair will look to crack into the top 20 overall and see where that result puts them in the race for the Absa African jerseys.