Investec-songo-Specialized Media Release:
The Absa Cape Epic’s joint most decorated champion, five times winner, Christoph Sauser is back. Returning after a year in retirement the Swiss star will once again be teaming up with Jaroslav Kulhavý in an attempt to win his sixth Cape Epic title.
Sauser will be representing his songo.info charity and sponsor Investec Asset Management. He and Kulhavý will be racing as team Investec-songo-Specialized. The pair have teamed up successfully before having won the Cape Epic in 2013 as Burry Stander-songo and in 2015 in the colours of Investec-songo-Specialized. Their bid for the Cape Epic title will be undertaken on Specialized S-Works Epic mountain bikes, bikes which have come to be synonymous with the world’s toughest mountain bike stage race. For Sauser the challenge which drew him out of retirement is to once again stand on the top step of the Absa Cape Epic podium.
In 2016 Sauser took up a coaching and mentoring role with the Specialized XCO Racing team, in addition to working with the Specialized engineers on product development. He offered his wealth of experience to mountain biking’s rising stars U23 World Champion Sam Gaze and multiple junior champion Simon Andreassen, as well as to three-time Cape Epic winner and current XCO World Champion, Annika Langvad. But his famous competitive streak was not satisfied by sharing in the victories of his protégées and after a highly competitive showing alongside Gaze at the FNB Wines2Whales, Sauser is confident he can compete at the highest level.
Sauser explains: “Since my retirement I have kept on riding my bikes, because it remains my passion. I never did intervals, just much more riding my trail bikes. During the past weeks after I signed up for a South African stage race, and raced it with U23 World Champion Sam Gaze, I realized that I quickly gained deep shape during my training and I was happy with my numbers.”
Sauser’s bid for a sixth Cape Epic title will be built on training blocks in Switzerland and from his second home in Stellenbosch, where he says he is looking forward to re-joining his old training group. He will also be racing extensively between now and March with the Pennypinchers Origin of Trails, the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge, the Tankwa Trek, the BestMed Tour of Good Hope and the MTO Songo Champions Race all on his schedule.
For mountain biking fans and Sauser alike the Attakwas Extreme and the Tankwa Trek will be key indicators of his progress, as both events are expecting to attract a world-class field, given their new UCI status. Along with Sauser’s perennial rival, Karl Platt, the events are likely to see the full Team Bulls roster and Alban Lakata’s Topeak Ergon team take part, along with Scott’s Nino Schurter and Team Centurion Vaude.
Assisting Sauser by providing mechanical and pace making support will be the NAD Pro MTB team of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck. Bell provided support for Sauser in both the 2014 and 2015 Cape Epics and had the following to say about riding as Sauser’s back-up team in the 2017 Cape Epic: “New Africa Developments is extremely proud that its cycling team (Team NAD Pro MTB) has been selected by Specialized Racing to join forces with race favourites Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavý for the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. A tough stage race like the ‘Epic’ is very much a team sport and to have any hope of winning the team needs to not only ensure it has four riders in peak physical condition but also outstanding technical expertise. We believe Team NAD Pro MTB brings both these critical attributes to the team.”
For their part Sauser and Kulhavý are excited to have Bell and Combrinck in their corner again, as the Swiss elaborated: “We could not have asked for a better backup team in Nico and Gawie. They are one of the most experienced teams; super reliable with big engines! Their commitment towards us is huge and it will be our best insurance to perform in the face of the adversity which the Cape Epic inevitably produces.”
As one of the Cape Epic’s official development charities, songo.info has been awarded two entries to the 2017 race and the rising stars of the songo.info programme are sure to challenge for the Exxaro development category. songo.info has a history of strong showings in the category with Sipho Madolo and Azukile Simayile won it in 2014.
Commenting on the return of Sauser, Thabo Khojane MD of Investec Asset Management observed that: “When Christoph Sauser retired, we chose to continue our partnership with the songo.info charity. The work that Kathy Crabbe and her team do with the community in Kayamandi is invaluable. Coming out of retirement is incredibly difficult and risky, as we saw with the two Michaels, Jordan and Phelps. But we also know that Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavý are world class. We will be their biggest supporters, as they seek their third title together.”
Sauser is looking forward to the challenges ahead and will draw on the enthusiasm of the songo.info children to motivate himself through the long hours of training and racing which lie ahead. For as much as they are enthused to take up mountain biking by his performances he too is inspired by them. “It will be a huge inspiration for our kids again to be part of the build-up and cheering us on during the race,” he concluded.
The 2017 Absa Cape Epic takes place from 19-26 March and you can follow the Investec songo Specialized team’s build-up by following @songoinfo, @Investec, @iamspecialized, @sauserwind and @jaroslavkulhavy on Twitter. Sauser and Kulhavý’s custom Cape Epic Specialized S-Works Epic mountain bikes will once again be auctioned off after the race to raise funds for the songo.info programme, and we’d appreciate it if you could help spread awareness of this initiative in the lead-up to the Cape Epic.
(all pictures by Michal Cerveny)
After weeks of speculation Christoph Sauser has confirmed that he will come out of retirement and aim for a record-breaking sixth win in the Cape Epic stage race.
The Swiss-born 40-year-old retired from professional mountain biking at the end of the 2015 season but will return ahead of the Cape Epic stage race with a number of preparation races on his schedule. He will link up with former race partner Jaroslav Kulhavy for the South African stage race. The pair won the race in 2013 and 2015 while riding for Investec-Songo-Specialized. In 2017 they will represent the same team once more.
“Every comeback carries a risk especially when you walked out the last time as a winner. It would become the most valuable win of all of them. It terms of what it would mean, it would be right up there with any of my world champion titles,” Sauser told Cyclingnews from his base in South Africa.
“It’s going to be the hardest Cape Epic because the competition will be at its highest level ever and everyone likes to win. Many more teams have gained experience over the years and will also arrive with backup teams. If you took the two best riders from a physical point of view, but they’d never raced there before, they would never win at their first attempt. It’s a fantastic race, since also the weekend warriors can compete against the pros, sharing the same course together, comparing times, racing and more or less the same equipment. It’s a very unique sporting event.
Sauser’s glittering career includes a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympic Games, a World Championships in cross-country, three world titles at Marathon level and five Cape Epics (2006, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015).
“It’s a challenge to go back, but we’ll have a really good build up and a great experienced team around us, especially our South African backup team NAD-Specialized with Nico Bell and Gawie Comebrick, and it’s very possible that we will sign a second backup team as well. I’m really excited and I love the idea of going back to Cape Epic. Somewhere in the back of my mind thought about coming back to try in 2017, but then Jaroslav asked me a few times during the summer if I would really consider it. From there I started to really think about it.”
Although the field is expected to be stronger than ever, Sauser knows that the main opposition will be Scott with its captain Nino Schurter, Ergon-Topeak with Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek and Karl Platt, who is now tied on five wins in the race after he won alongside Urs Huber earlier this year.
Sauser is not just motivated by records though, and is also aiming to highlight his cycling and education charity songo.info and bring on developing riders before finally bowing out of competitive sport for good.
“For me it’s not so much about the records,” he said.
“When I’ve raced it’s always been about the present and the future. If I won the Worlds and then a few weeks later I didn’t have a good World Cup then all I would think about would be how I wasn’t riding at my best. There was no consolation about being the World Champion. The record would be the icing on the cake but it’s not my major drive.”
“2017 will definitely be the last year,” he added.
“There won’t be a comeback after the comeback but I do feel that having a year’s break even when you’re around my age is never a bad thing mentally and physically. In preparations for the Cape Epic I will be training in Stellenbosch, South Africa until Christmas. After that I am looking forward to spicing up my winter training in Switzerland with cross-country skiing as well.
“To get into my race mode I travel back to South Africa at the end of January and take part at high level races such as Attakwas Extreme or Tankwa Trek. I am confident that those races will give me the leverage to be able to race on top level again when it is time for our Tour de France for mountain bikers, the ABSA Cape Epic.”
The 2017 ABSA Cape Epic takes places between 19-29 March, 2017. Cyclingnews will have complete race coverage.