When Mathieu van der Poel turned the cycling world on its head by winning cyclocross, road and mountain bike races on the biggest stage, fans were amazed. He also opened the door for a generation of riders who see their futures on the road, in the mountains and boggy fields.
Tom Pidcock is one such rider. As one imagines Florian Vogel would have been, if given the chance when he was a fresh-faced 20-year-old.
The pair will team up as Ninety One Specialized Trinity, as stablemates of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic winners Jaroslav Kulhavý and Howard Grotts. As for their goals, for the race, they are keeping their cards close to their chests. “I think we will keep our strategies a secret” joked Vogel, who turns 38 a month before the race. “Seriously, Jaro [Kulhavý] and Howie [Grotts] are a very strong team and we hope to support them on their way to winning the race. But with the Absa Cape Epic, you never know. So, it is also very important to stay flexible and change objectives if needed!”
The 2020 race will be Vogel’s first since racing the 2013 Absa Cape Epic alongside Nino Schurter. “I’ve always wanted to come back to the Absa Cape Epic” he enthused. “With Specialized I now have the opportunity to do the event once again and I can rely on the best equipment as well, it’s just great.”
His partner, meanwhile, will make his Absa Cape Epic debut. The young man from Leeds, in Yorkshire, enjoyed a stellar 2019 season and is eager to step up in 2020. Most remarkably, his results, though still just 20, include the UCI U23 Paris - Roubaix title, the U23 cyclocross World Championship title, third place in the U23 road race at the 2019 World Championships and the general classification win at the UCI 2.1 Tour Alsace five-day stage race. In 2020 thus far he has already won the elite cyclocross national title and placed fourth in round 6 of the cyclocross World Cup in World Cup Namur.
Explaining his multi-disciplinary love of cycling Pidcock said: “I just enjoy riding my bike, everything from road bikes to downhill bikes. Thankfully a lot of people are starting to realise how mutually beneficial riding all disciplines can be, largely down to MVDP [Mathieu van der Poel] and Wout van Aert. They have set the standard on what is possible, and it is a great blueprint for me to try to follow. And, hopefully, be successful.”
Success on a mountain bike at the Absa Cape Epic will be tough to achieve, but in Vogel, he has a partner who can guide him through many of the race’s toughest challenges. “I wanted to make sure that if I was riding the Absa Cape Epic I was getting as much from it as I could, which meant riding with an experienced partner; so, I can soak up all his knowledge,” the young Brit said. “Thankfully Specialized were able to match Florian [Vogel] and me together.”
“I’m very happy to have Tom [Pidcock] as a partner” Vogel added. Before joking: “Especially since I almost could be his dad… almost. It’s very special to me. I have a lot of experience in MTB racing which hopefully makes me a good match for Tom, despite my age!”
They are not, however, the team with the largest age gap in the Specialized stable, let alone the Absa Cape Epic field. 43-year-old, Christoph Sauser, will be racing with the 21-year-old, Wessel Botha. The Ninety One - Songo - Specialized team's age gap is thus 22 years, compared to Vogel and Pidcock’s 18. The age gap will not be used as an excuse, however. “I think we will have to take it day-by-day” Pidcock mused as to how he would approach his Absa Cape Epic debut. “It would be great if we were able to ensure a Specialized victory, but as it’s my first Absa Cape Epic I don’t want to make any predictions. I can tell you that I can’t wait to get going though!”