Late Pairing
Puts Defending Champion

on Course for 2024 Success

The 2023 Absa Cape Epic winner, Vera Looser was left without a 2024 teammate in November. It was not until she thought out of the box that she was able to recruit a partner capable of aiding her in her title defence… Meet team Efficient Infiniti SCB SRAM and the reigning American XCM Champion, Alexis Skarda.

Vera Looser enjoyed a charmed twelve months, from late 2022 into 2023. Starting at Wines2Whales the Namibian went on a stellar spree adding the Ride Joburg title and second place at the Cape Town Cycle Tour to her palmarès, before winning the Absa Cape Epic and the SPAR Swiss Epic. Her partner in crime, and the only woman to beat her in those notable races, was Kim le Court. The Mauritian’s performances earned her a spot on the AG Insurance – Soudal squad, and as such Looser began the search for a new teammate.

This led her across the Atlantic and to the double American XCM Champion, Alexis Skarda. Skarda races for Santa Cruz Bicycles’ #htSQD team which split their time between mountain bike marathon and gravel ultra marathon events. In the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix series, she finished just six points behind the 2023 series winner, and 2022 Absa Cape Epic champion, Sofia Gomez Villafane.

Skarda thus has the pedigree to perform at the Absa Cape Epic. The story of how the Efficient Infiniti and Santa Cruz Bicycles SRAM team came about warrants a retelling though. “When Kim [le Court] got the chance to race on the road late in November last year, I was already quite late with searching for a partner for the 2024 Absa Cape Epic, in March,” Looser confessed. “I asked a few people in Europe, but the riders were either not keen on racing the Absa Cape Epic or were only focusing solely on Cross Country racing this year. Eventually, on a lonely ride in the Namibian Desert, I thought to myself, I have to look beyond Africa and Europe…”

“Once I did, Alexis [Skarda] came straight to my mind,” the defending champion smiled. “I raced against her at the Sea Otter Classic, in California last year, after the Absa Cape Epic, so I knew that she is a strong rider and also has the technical skills I was looking for in a partner. I contacted her via Instagram and luckily, she was willing to race and up for an adventure in the unknown!”

By the Numbers


First Absa Cape Epic: 2017

Epics Completed: 3

Best Result: 1st (2023)

Stage Wins: 4


First Absa Cape Epic: 2024

Epics Completed: N/A

Best Result: N/A

Stage Wins: N/A

“I'm honoured to compete in the Absa Cape Epic,” Skarda confirmed. “It's been a bucket list race for a while and I'm excited to have this opportunity! It's one of the most competitive mountain bike events in the world and I'm keen to see what I can do on this global stage. Hopefully a strong performance in South Africa will really set the stage for the rest of the season. After Absa Cape Epic I'm focusing on the Life Time Grand Prix and Marathon World Championships.”

“I've raced Breck Epic, the highest altitude stage race, before,” Skarda added. “It taught me a lot about preparation, recovery, and nutrition; those experiences helped me in the rest of my bigger mountain bike marathon and gravel events. This stage race will be another level. I know I'll learn a ton from this even that will make me a stronger smarter rider and put some of the other big races I'm doing this season in perspective.”

Despite being a seasoned elite racer, Looser’s success in the last 18 months have elevated her to a new level – perhaps more in the minds of cycling fans than in her own eyes. “Honestly, it hasn’t changed my career too much,” she said, reflecting on her Absa Cape Epic victory. “I still do what I do, the same way as before. But I definitely got more recognition out of it and if you tell someone you won the Absa Cape Epic, people understand the level I race at. I learned a lot at last year’s Absa Cape Epic that will come in handy this year. That said, it will be a totally different race, with a new partner, and different competition. I love the anticipation going into this race, not knowing what the outcome will be and writing a story, stage by stage.”

Skarda, like most newcomers to the event, will rely on the experience of her teammate to guide her through the race, especially the first few days. “I'm looking forward to experiencing all of what Absa Cape Epic has to offer,” the American champion grinned. “Having never raced Absa Cape Epic before I'm not sure what to expect from each stage, but I’ll be relishing the highs and lows of each day, the beautiful scenery, and being on my mountain bike for eight epic days. I also don't know a lot of my competitors, whom I will be racing at Absa Cape Epic, except for Sofia Gomez Villafane. It'll be nice to have a familiar person, as a reference point on course, since I know Sofia's style and pace. I enjoy our rivalry; it will motivate me out there! I'm hoping it will be a good and close battle, not only with her but with the other UCI elite women’s teams too.”