By Bardy the Action Scribe

Mannie Heymans, winner of the inaugural Cape Epic in 2004 (with Karl Platt), has got his mountain biking mojo back, just in time for the 2008 edition of South Africa’s highest profile international cycle race.

The 36-year-old Nambian who will once again race the Absa Cape Epic with his MTN Energade teammate, Melt Swanepoel, endured a frustrating 2007 where he only visited the top step of a race podium twice. But in 2008 Heymans has rediscovered his mojo and is back on the winning trail, much to his own delight.

“Ja, last year I really had a tough year. I was struggling to regain my best form after a long layoff because a broken shoulder. I also broke my thumb late in the year which was a bit of bother,” explained Heymans. “And last year I wasted a lot of energy worrying about riding the perfect teammate role and that seemed to affect my performance. This year, I’m still committed to my team, but have been more selfish which has paid off for both the team and me.”

While Heymans’ form has fluctuated, Swanepoel has been model of consistency. Always competitive at the sharp end of a race, the 31-year-old from Heidelberg, Gauteng, has spent the past year partnering Heymans in major races and feels the two have become almost a perfect match.

“We know eachother’s strengths and weaknesses, but most importantly are able to understand eachother’s good and bad moments, which strengthens, rather than weaken us as a team. We are also riding at a very similar level, which in a team event is essential. Many teams that have a discrepancy between rider strengths and end up being inconsistent and uncoordinated.”

This will be Swanepoel’s fifth Epic and Heymans’ fourth, which means their level of combined experience is higher than most of the other top teams. Heymans’ win in 2004 was admittedly against a weaker field than what the race now attracts. However, at the time, Heymans was at the peak of his international racing career and his then teammate, Karl Platt, won the race (with Stefan Sahm) last year.

“Let’s hope our experience counts in our favour,” smiled Swanepoel. “The field is very strong this year and just finishing in the top 10 is going to be difficult. Experience is something you can’t buy or train for and that’s at least in our favour.”

But the race podium cannot be contested on experience alone and the riders know that they’re only as good as their last race, which, as a team, was the 2008 Subaru Sani2c, which they won, collecting two of the three stage wins in the process.

“We’re both in good form and the Sani2c win was a nice boost for us. Mannie is going really well at the moment and if I can just hang onto him, we should finish higher up than what we did last year,” said Swanepoel.

Heymans and Swanepoel finished eighth overall and second African team at the 2007 Epic. Their partnership as a stage-racing team was still fresh and their knowledge of eachother very limited. Fast-forward 12 months you have an experienced team that’s almost seamless.

And if nothing else, they’re starting with a sense of humour. When asked which day he fears most in this year’s Epic, Swanepoel promptly responded (with a straight face): “The Prologue stage is going to be extremely hard. And Stages 1 to 8 will be even tougher.”

Team: MTN Energade 2
Nationality: Namibian
Date of birth: 14 July 1971
Born in: Krugersdorp
Lives in: Windhoek, Namibia
Career highlights
Olympic Games: 2000, 2004
Commonwealth Games: 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006
African cross-country champion: 1999, 2001, 2003
Winner Transalp 1998 with Marcus Reichele, 2004 with Karl Platt
Winner Cape Epic 2004 with Karl Platt
Seven-time winner of Subaru Sabie Classic
Winner Subaru Sani2c 2006 with Kevin Evans, 2008 with Melt Swanepoel
Absa Cape Epic record
2004: 1st place with Karl Platt
2005: Partner, Jacques Rossouw DNF
2006: 4th place with Kevin Evans
2007: 8th place with Melt Swanepoel

Team: MTN Energade 2
Nationality: South African
Date of birth: 2 July 1976
Born in: Parys
Lives in: Heidelberg
Career highlights
Second Saltzkammergut Marathon 2006
Winner Colorpress Crater Cruise 2006
African cross-country champion: 2007
Winner Mazda Haenertsberg Challenge 2007
Winner Talisman Karoo-to-Coast 2007
Winner Subaru Sani2c 2008 with Mannie Heymans
Absa Cape Epic record
2004: 7th place with Richard Beswick
2005: 9th place with Fritz Pienaar
2006: Partner, Andreas Liebenberg DNF
2007: 8th place with Mannie Heymans