The Absa Cape Epic is approaching - one of the most important contests for the Kross Racing Team in 2019. A new addition the Polish team - Ariane Lüthi, a champion who has already tasted victory in the event as a 5-time winner. Ariane finds the challenging competition in South Africa not only a test of body endurance, but above all, a true test of character. “ Those who are ready to suffer, will celebrate victory,” she said.
Who is Ariane Lüthi, the five-time Absa Cape Epic winner and five-time Swiss champion, and why have you agreed to join the Kross Racing Team?
“I used to be a swimmer. I grew up in the countryside, several kilometers from Bern, where I received a degree in physical education. Right after that I went to France, where I took part in my first MTB race - the famous Roc d'Azur. At the end of 2010 I went to South Africa, where I lived with my ex-husband. Since then, I have been racing professionally and exclusively with South African teams. Unfortunately, the Spur team, which I represented until the end of the 2018 season, terminated its activity.”
So you had to find a new team?
“Yes, and at the same time I looked for a strong racer who could start with me in this year's Absa Cape Epic. When I heard that Jolanda Neff was leaving the Kross Racing Team, I asked Maja Włoszczowska if she would like to try her hand in South Africa. The fact that such a great athlete agreed to my proposal is an honor and I was extremely happy when the team offered me a contract.”
Racers are familiar with your incredible skills in marathons and stage races. Where does this talent come from?
“I only started my MTB career at the age of 26. I have been focusing on marathons since the very beginning, and therefore have been able to make a living. The first two years were difficult for me financially, which motivated me to race almost every weekend. In my first season, I had 50 racing days despite my recovering from a three month injury at the same time. I think that all of this made my body work like a diesel engine.”
You are quite open about being successful at the Absa Cape Epic.
“Sure thing. I would like to win this race once again. However, my competitors are incredibly strong this year and, apart from skills, you also need a bit of luck.”
There are good reasons to call the Absa Cape Epic the most challenging stage race in the world. What is the secret to achieving success?
‘Proper preparation is crucial. You have to bear in mind that you are competing over and above your own abilities. The route is very demanding, and because the inclines are not as long and steep as in the Alps, riders who are strong and well-built stand a better chance of winning than those who specialize in climbing. At the same time, it is important to manage your energy wisely and save it whenever possible. That's why throughout my training for this year's edition, I have paid a lot of attention on improving my technical skills.”
And all of this is made worse by adverse weather conditions.
“That’s right. During the race, the temperature may go up to 45 degrees Celsius, which makes it necessary for the players to quickly adapt. Immune systems must be healthy and strong because in such extreme conditions, and with such heavy loads, the body becomes more vulnerable and prone to infections. Another thing is being prepared mentally. Rarely do you get away with experiencing mechanical problems during an eight day race and you must be mentally prepared for it. To sum up, if you can withstand a lot of suffering, you have a good chance of winning the Absa Cape Epic.”
Looking at this year’s event more closely, which stage do you find to be crucial?
“Those would be the third and fifth stages. It is very important to start off well as this puts you in the right frame of mind to face the next challenges. But I know the most painful are the final days, including the fifth stage. The body is exhausted and every kilometer is just sheer pain.”
You’ve already had a chance to give the Kross bike a try on the RPA routes. What are your impressions?
“It's a real racing machine. When the suspension is blocked, it behaves like a hard-tail, perfect for flat sections of the route. But when you unlock it, it gives you a real kick. It performs wonderfully under difficult African conditions.”
This year's edition of the Absa Cape Epic will begin on the 17th March and finish on 24th March. Detailed information about the team can be found on its official website:
www.cape-epic.com. The full schedule of the race is given below:
Prologue (17 March): University of Cape Town – University of Cape Town (21 km, climbing – 600 m)
Stage I (18 March): Hermanus High School – Hermanus High School (112 km, 2700 m of climbing)
Stage II (19 March): Hermanus High School – Oak Valley Estate (86 km, 2250 m of climbing)
Stage III (20 March): Oak Valley Estate – Oak Valley Estate (103 km, 2800 m of climbing)
Stage IV (21 March): Oak Valley Estate – Oak Valley Estate (43 km, 1000 m of climbing)
Stage V (22 March): Oak Valley Estate – University of Stellenbosch Sports Fields (100 km, 2850 m of climbing)
Stage VI (23 March): University of Stellenbosch Sports Fields – University of Stellenbosch Sports Fields (89 km, 2650 m of climbing)
Stage VII (24 March): University of Stellenbosch Sports Fields – Val de Vie Estate (70 km, 1800 m of climbing)