Virgin Active Mixed Category 

Joining forces 

The male/female combination adds a different dynamic to racing the Absa Cape Epic, and the race for the green Virgin Active Mixed category jerseys has proven to be strongly contested since inception with many of the world's top riders joining forces to compete for category honours.

The two standout categories, in terms of media exposure and worldwide interest, at the Absa Cape Epic are the Men’s and Women’s categories. Both have set the standard for mountain bike racing the world over by attracting the best of the best, year on year.

While the battles for the yellow and orange category Leader jerseys unfold, there’s another battle on the go slightly further back in the field. A battle where men and women join forces to overcome the challenges of The Race That Measures All.

This is the Virgin Active Mixed category and has, since inception, seen over 700 teams complete the race. Winning any category at the Absa Cape Epic is a feat in itself; in the history of the Mixed category, there have been four riders who have claimed the category win and its green jersey, and raced to victory in the Women’s category.

These women are Yolande Speedy, Alison Sydor, Esther Suss, and Ariane Lüthi.

To unlock the importance of mixed category racing and the differences it presents when compared to single sex category racing, we spoke with Yolande Speedy and Ariane Lüthi.

Yolande Speedy and Paul Cordes

Yolande Speedy first tasted victory in the 2007 Absa Cape Epic Mixed category alongside Paul Cordes. That win was followed up by another in 2010, also with Paul, and then a win in the Women’s category in 2013 with Catherine Williamson

“If you are new to stage racing and ride with an experienced rider, mixed racing can teach you skills, racing tactics and how to pace and motivate yourself over the distance. I learned to use individual and combined strengths to the best advantage, to ride within both team members’ limits and to help keep motivation up on tough days (which there are plenty of at the Epic.)”

It's easy for an outsider to assume mixed racing with a stronger male partner is easier than racing in the women's category

“Racing at a high intensity for multiple days also taught me the importance of preparation, planning and recovery and from the results we achieved, I gained the confidence I needed to back myself and become a more competent race partner in general.

“In terms of team dynamics, they’re similar: racing within each other’s limits, helping each other when one partner is feeling stronger than the other, racing tactically and conserving energy where possible. It's easy for an outsider to assume mixed racing with a stronger male partner is easier than racing in the women's category as you are getting help be it a push/pull or being able to slip stream where possible, however, racing for a category position and having a highly competitive nature I was consistently pushed to race at and above my limit physically and over technical terrain.”

“Regardless of the category, I found the best way for a successful race was to bring a positive attitude and to enjoy every day, the Absa Cape Epic is an experience you will treasure forever!”

Ariane Lüthi and Erik Kleinhans

Ariane Lüthi, the Swiss star who has made South Africa her second home, has two Virgin Active Mixed category victories to her name in addition to her three Women’s category titles. On the topic of team dynamics across categories, she added:

“The team dynamics, meaning who of the two riders is leading on the climbs or trails, pacing on the flats and who stops to fill the bottle etc., is dependent on the different strengths but also the preferences of the two riders, which takes some time to figure out.”

Esther Suss and Barti Bucher

The tactics inside the team from when I was racing with Erik compared to when I was racing with Annika, for example, were very much the same, since both of them were a lot stronger than me. I was sitting in their slip and they pushed me where they could. So this is not necessarily different in the Mixed versus the Women’s category, but it is more likely that the difference in physical strength will be greater in a Mixed team and thus the role allocation clearer.

In a team where the riders are more equal in strength, skill, and mindset, no matter which category you’re racing in, there won’t be as much of a designated helper and I believe striking that balance in strength is very important for a successful campaign at the Absa Cape Epic.”

At the Absa Cape Epic, partner choice is make-or-break as teams are required to stay within two minutes of each other at all times, regardless of the category they are racing in. The final piece of advice we’ll leave you with comes from Ariane Lüthi:

“If you and your partner come into the race on the same page and with a plan of action, you’ll be rolling down the start ramp at UCT on the front foot.”

Nico Pfitzenmaier and Alison Sydor