Who to watch at this year’s Cape Epic

Current and former world champions, lots of local talent, and more pro Americans than usual will line up in the Western Cape of South Africa on Sunday for the eight-day mountain bike stage race.

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The 2022 Cape Epic is shaping up to be an exciting prologue to the cross-country mountain bike season.

Back in its late March slot after an October edition last year, the eight-day stage race always sees fierce competition between World Cup pros and marathon specialists.

This year’s edition features numerous exciting duos: 2019 champions Nino Schurter and Lars Forster, Cape Epic veteran Sofia Gomez Villafañe and race newbie Haley Batten. Two of America’s most talented mountain bikers, Christopher Blevins and Keegan Swenson, will team up with their factory team teammates, Matt Beers and Maxime Marotte, respectively.

The race, which begins on Sunday and includes 681 kilometers and 16,900 meters of climbing, will be live-streamed.

Here are eight teams to watch in the women’s and men’s UCI category:

1.  Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) and Robyn de Groot (SA)

The multiple-time world champion and multi-discipline phenom will tackle the Cape Epic for the first time. Her racing partner has been on the podium four times, in addition to her multiple South African national titles in MTB marathon. The duo came together at the suggestion of their coach, South African Barry Austin.

Ferrand-Prévot has been training in South Africa and enjoyed the weather, trails, and culture so much that she added the Cape Epic to her training program. While currently more known for her all-out 90 minute World Cup efforts, the Frenchwoman was marathon world champ in 2019. All eyes will be on this duo in the stacked women’s field.

2. Haley Batten (USA) and Sofia Gomez Villafañe (ARG)

This powerhouse duo from the United States is fired up to follow in the footsteps of other Specialized women riders before them.

After last year’s dominating performance by Laura Stigger and Sina Frei, they have big shoes to fill.

Both women had stellar 2021 race seasons, with Batten on the podium at the Albstadt and  Nové Město World Cups and Gomez Villafañe breaking out into the American gravel scene with multiple wins. Both women have put in heavy base miles ahead of the Epic, and Gomez Villafañe brings the experience of racing in last year’s edition.

3. Candice Lill (SA) and Mariske Strauss (SA)

This South African duo was second in 2021 and Lill also stood atop the second place step in 2019. Between them, they’ve completed 10 Epics.

Both are former South African national XC MTB champs, and Lill is the current South African TT champ. If they win this year’s Cape Epic, they would be the South African duo to do so since 2007.

4 . Ariane Lüthi (SUI) and Amy Wakefield (SA)

This duo has 12 Cape Epic finishes between them, and 2022 marks Lüthi’s tenth running of the race. She and Annika Langvad won the Cape Epic three years in a row.

Although they’ve never teamed up for the Cape Epic, the pair did race the Cape Pioneer Trek in 2017. The 2022 Cape Epic route features two stages longer than 100km, and two more that measure in just under the century mark, which should play well to Lüthi’s stage racing expertise and marathon experience. 

5. Keegan Swenson (USA) and Maxime Marotte (FRA)

It’s the first Cape Epic for both Swenson and Marotte who ride for Santa Cruz. The teammates have run into each other at World Cups over the years but never raced together.

Swenson is on fire right now, with big wins in marathon-distance races stacking up like cards. In mid February, he set a new course record at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, riding 21 16-mile laps. The Cape Epic is the 28-year-old’s final tune-up before the Life Time Grand Prix series kicks off in California in early April.

6. Christopher Blevins (USA) and Matt Beers (SA)

Short track world champion Christopher Blevins told VeloNews that he’s “kinda nervous” for his first Cape Epic, but that he was also nervous for the Tour of Britain, a road stage race that he jumped into last minute last year (he did fine!).

The cycling wünderkind has a confidence-inspiring partner in Matt Beer. This is the South African’s sixth Cape Epic, and in 2021 Beers and his teammate Jordan Sarrou won the event.

7. Nino Schurter (SUI) and Lars Forster (SUI)

There’s not much we can say about this duo that they haven’t already proven. The current XC world champ and current European XC champ are both decorated beyond measure, and they won the Cape Epic in 2019. This will be Schurter’s sixth Epic, and he also won the men’s category in 2017.

This Scott/SRAM team will be hard to beat at this year’s Cape Epic, but with 43 teams in the UCI men’s category, nothing is guaranteed.

8. Andri Frischknecht (SUI) and Juri Ragnoli (ITA)

Frischknecht and Ragnoli are another Scott/SRAM duo to watch in 2022.

This edition will be Frischknecht’s third Epic and Ragnoli’s first. The young Swiss rider has plenty of Cape Epic in his DNA, though; his father, Thomas, has started seven editions of the race, and in 2017 he and Jenny Rissveds won the mixed category.

The elder Frischknecht is racing in the men’s master category this year.



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