Cape Town — Team Darkhorse Wheels may be a relatively new team of mountain bikers, but the pairing of Shaun Nick Bester and Andrew Hill have the experience and desire to cause an upset at the 2019 Cape Epic which starts on Sunday.
Bester, a prominent ex-road cyclist who competed on the professional European circuit, and the vastly experienced mountain biker, Hill, teamed up at the end of 2018 for a few races and their partnership was formalised at the beginning of 2019 when they created the Team Darkhorse Wheels insured by TIB.
One of their major goals for 2019 is to spring a surprise in the African Jersey category at the Cape Epic - a fiercely competitive race within a race for the honour of being the top African team at the end of the gruelling eight-day race around the Western Cape. The category winner also receives the much sought after Burry Stander Memorial Trophy.
The fact Bester and Hill are considered to only have an outside chance of victory in the race to wear the distinctive red category leaders jersey means their team name, Darkhorse Wheels, is entirely appropriate.
Bester switched from the road to mountain biking in October 2017 and immediately made an impact. He was soon on the podium with a third position overall at the Tour de Plett that year. He continued to find success on the gravel with an impressive 19 race wins in 2018, including overall victory in the prestigious Nissan Trailseeker Marathon Series.
In contrast, Hill is one of South Africa's most experienced mountain bikers and he has been winning off-road races for years. The wily KwaZulu-Natal rider is a formidable force in stage races and as events get longer he seems to get stronger. Hill also knows what it will take to succeed in the race for the Red Jersey - in 2014 he finished 11th overall and was third in the African jersey category.
"The Epic has been a focus for us since we decided to form a team toward the end of last year," said Bester. "Our riding styles complement each other well and I believe we could be competitive in the African Jersey competition."
Hill is under no illusion that there will be times when they will have to suffer during the eight days, but plans to ride a patient, tactical event.
"This event attracts some of the best riders in the world, that means we will have to go out of our comfort zone at times," said the 2018 Lesotho Sky champion. "We have to ride a clever race. In a gruelling eight-day event such as this, the riders who are strong on days seven and eight are the riders who have ridden wisely over the first two or three days.
"Every year you see a few teams who are in contention early on, begin to struggle to hold the group once the pace picks up later in the day. We need to make sure we are in the groups and at the right places at the right times.
"The fact we are both experienced riders should help us to judge our efforts," said Hill, before adding with a smile: "I hope!"
Among the favourites to claim the African Jersey is the team of 2018 U23 World Champion Alan Hatherly and rising star Matt Beers (Specialized), Team PYGA Euro Steel's Phil Buys and Matt Beukes; Wessel Both and Gawie Combrinck (NAD Pro); Marco Joubert and Nicol Carstens (Imbuko Giant); and Julian Jessop and Arno du Toit (DSV Pro).
The Absa Cape Epic starts on Sunday with a Prologue time trial on Table Mountain. That is followed by seven stages ranging from a second time trial of 43km on Thursday up to a 111km stage on Monday.