In a pioneering move in her quest for a fourth Absa Cape Epic women’s title, Ariane Lüthi has put together the first-ever women’s back-up team for the 2017 edition of the mountain bike race. Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux will make up Team Spur Foundation and ride in support of Lüthi and her new partner Adelheid Morath.
Pirard raced the Absa Cape Epic in 2015, finishing fifth alongside another Swiss mountain bike legend, Esther Süss, but for Enaux it will be her debut on African soil. Both riders however come with a sterling marathon and stage race pedigree.
Hailing from Belgium, Pirard has two (2013 and 2014) Belgian National Marathon titles under her belt and won the 2016 women’s category at the grueling Crocodile Trophy stage race in Australia. She is also a past winner of the Cape Pioneer Trek stage race held in South Africa. “It’s a big honour for me to ride in support of Ariane and Adelheid,” says the 28-year-old. “Ariane makes lots of effort to improve women’s mountain biking, she’s an inspiring athlete. Because I respect her so much, I want to help her in the best possible way to reach her goal.”
“I have some idea of what to expect after my 2015 experience. But back then, there was no separate start for the women. I think this changed the women’s racing and raises the importance of a back-up team,” she said.
While Enaux is more of a XCO specialist, the French rider took silver at the 2016 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Champs in Laissac in her home country. “From everything I’ve seen and read I know it’s a very difficult race, both physically and mentally,” she says.
“The idea of riding as a support team is a very good idea,” she says. “Not only will this bring more women into this race, but ultimately give Ariane and Adelheid even more chance at victory.”
A professional women’s back-up team has been a project of Lüthi’s for some time. Team Spur Foundation will simultaneously raise awareness for an important charity and provide an insurance policy against a race-threatening mechanical problem. Lüthi also sees it as a way of bringing more elite women to South Africa to compete in the Absa Cape Epic. The successful model has been employed by multiple men’s winner Christoph Sauser and his Specialized Factory Racing team for the past few years. A number of top pro men’s teams have followed suit and the depth in the men’s racing field at the event in March each year is the result.
“I am very pleased to have found two riders of such pedigree to ride in support of Adelheid and me,” Lüthi says. “Although Annika [Langvad] and I didn’t puncture once at the Absa Cape Epic since riding with Specialized Fast Trak tyres with Grid casing, the increasingly tight racing in the women’s category will rise the chances of getting mechanicals because we will have to take more risks.”
According to Lüthi, the back-up team format also gives Absa Cape Epic newbie, Enaux, a great chance to draw from her experience and tackle the daunting race under less pressure at her first attempt. “I hope my competitors will follow suit and look for support for themselves in the future as to grow the women’s field,” she says.
Pirard and Enaux will race in aid of the Full Tummy Fund, which is an initiative of the Spur Foundation. The Spur Foundation, through its Full Tummy Fund, focuses on initiatives that primarily target children from birth to six-years-of-age, which are aimed at improving early childhood development (ECD), not only by investing in educational programmes but also in programmes that ensure these vulnerable children are nourished and safe.
“The best part of it all is that this is not just about getting but also giving support. Adelheid, Sabrina, Alice and I are very motivated to raise funds and awareness for the Full Tummy Fund, a charity which is doing an amazing job helping underprivileged children, during this epic journey.” Lüthi says.
Ronel van Dijk, Chief Financial Officer at Spur Corporation and Chair of the Spur Foundation Trust, says: “We are thrilled that Ariane has selected the Full Tummy Fund as her charity of choice for this year’s Absa Cape Epic. We value her efforts to generate awareness around this vehicle for investing in educational development and nutritional programmes. Through the funds that she and her teammates will be raising from her followers and from the auction of her race jerseys we can continue our quest to fill the tummies and feed the minds of children from disadvantaged communities around the country. We wish Ariane the best of luck and hope that 2017 will mark her sixth Cape Epic win.”
Team Spur will be piloting the latest Specialized S-Works Epic race machines, the back-up team combines two athletes not supported by the same bike manufacturer and the creation of the charity team allows Pirard and Enaux to wear the same team jersey while riding different bikes: Sabrina Enaux is a Specialized ambassador in France, while Pirard rides for Merida in Belgium. However, a number of critical parts, such as wheels, are interchangeable across the bikes. As has been the norm in the men’s field for some time, the idea is that should Lüthi and Morath suffer a mechanical setback, they will be able to swap damaged parts out quickly with the back-up team’s help.