The Absa African Men’s jersey competition celebrates African mountain biking. It puts the South African men, and to a lesser extent their brethren from the continent, first. It gives them a place to shine in the world’s premier mountain bike stage race. In 2020, there may only be South Africans in contention for the Burry Stander Memorial Trophy, which the final red jersey wearers take home, but mountain biking fans can be sure it will be a battle royale.
PYGA Euro Steel, in their various guises, were, for years, the kings of the competition. The Absa African Men’s jersey competition is in its seventh year, with the African MTB Team’s Matthys Beukes having taken home the title five times. Three of those alongside Philip Buys, and one each with Gert Heyns and Julian Jessop. Only Waylon Woolcock and Darren Lill (in 2016) and the powerful combination of Matt Beers and Alan Hatherly (in 2019) have been able to usurp Beukes and PYGA Euro Steel’s dominance.
Beukes and Buys will line up for their fifth Untamed African MTB Race as teammates, on the start ramp at the University of Cape Town; on the 15th of March. How they will perform is slightly less certain than in previous years however, though they remain the favourites for the competition. Buys had a slightly sub-par 2019 by his illustrious standards, but a ninth-place at the season-opening Attakwas Extreme points to Buys moving in the right direction.
Aiding them in their bid to regain the red jerseys in The Race That Measures All are Phillimon Sebona and Pieter du Toit. The PYGA Euro Steel 2 team will race in order to ensure they are on hand should Buys and Beukes need a wheel or to be paced back to a group. That assistance could be invaluable in PYGA Euro Steel’s quest.
Buys and Beukes will be up against the majority of South Africa’s top teams, including NAD Pro MTB at the 2020 Absa Cape Epic. Nico Bell will partner Matt Beers at the 2020 race; Beers is, of course, one of the defending Absa African Men’s jersey champions, though his 2019 partner, Hatherly, has opted not to take part in the Absa Cape Epic in 2020. Choosing to focus rather on preparing for the Tokyo Olympics.
In Bell, Beers has an exceptionally experienced partner. What the NAD Pro MTB team principle lacks in explosive power he makes up for in diesel-engine-like consistency. The fact that an Absa African Men’s jersey remains missing from Bell’s palmarès is perhaps one of the most surprising facts of South African mountain biking. He will therefore be eager to rectify that, in the year he turns 37, as it could be one of his final truly competitive assaults on the Absa Cape Epic.
Beers, though, is likely to be the strongest single rider in the African field. A fact which counts for little in a team race. Having a more balanced line-up with two evenly matched riders is arguably a safer bet. Two well-matched squads are the Imbuko Giant and DSV Pro Cycling outfits. Nicol Carstens and Marco Joubert finished second in the competition, in 2019. The Imbuko Giant pair have subsequently grown as both riders and as a combination. While they are still behind NAD Pro MTB and PYGA Euro Steel in the favourites list, the gap has closed significantly over the last twelve months.
Similarly, Heyns and Arno du Toit of DSV Pro Cycling are well-matched and could upset the more favoured teams. The highly technical route of the 2020 Absa Cape Epic will also play into the hands of the exceptionally skillful Heyns and Du Toit, and having raced the Eselfontein Festival, in October, they are familiar with the trails which will make up Stage 1 of this year’s race.
Timothy Hammond is also no stranger to the Absa Cape Epic and is, in fact, and Epic Legend – having taken part in the Absa Cape Epic, The Pioneer, fuelled by Nutri-Grain, and the Swiss Epic. Hammond raced alongside Julian Jessop in 2019, but his quest for red in 2020, under the SPOT Africa banner, will be aided by youngster Matthew Stamatis.
The Absa African Men’s jersey competition also features a surprise dark horse team, in the form of the Insect Science Pro pairing. Alan Gordon and Keagan Bontekoning are a new partnership but pack a combination of experience and youthful enthusiasm. Bontekoning in particular, has sprung a few surprises on the more established names of South African mountain biking recently.
Finally, the First Move Sport pairing of Jaco Venter and Jacques Janse van Rensburg should not be written off, especially as anything can and probably will happen during the Absa Cape Epic.