The 2015 Absa Cape Epic was the retiring event for one of the most accomplished cross-country and marathon riders in mountain bike history – Christoph ‘Susi’ Sauser.
The Swiss rider completes his long standing career as a professional mountain biker with World Championship gold medals in both cross-country and marathon (three times), along with winning the cross country World Cup overall in 2004 and 2005. He’s also stood on the podium at the Olympics and has 10 World Cup wins to his name.
Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy celebrate winning the 2015 Absa Cape Epic (photo credit: Shaun Roy / Cape Epic / SPORTZPICS)
For the second and last time, Sauser partnered with Jaroslav Kulhavy for the eight-day race in South Africa. The two convincingly won the event, giving Sauser a dream farewell and a record five wins for the iconic stage race.
Along with riding in memory of former friend and team-mate Burry Stander, Sauser was riding for a charity he helped to establish – Songo.info. Started by Songo Fipaza, a community leader based in the Western Cape township of Kayamandi, Songo.info aims to improve the lives of children living in South African townships by enabling them to participate in recreational and competitive sports activities organised as part of an overall development plan.
Sauser and Kulhavy weren't, moreover, simply raising awareness of Songo.info's mission to use sport as a tool to tackle some of South Africa's startling inequalities. Both riders' custom Specialized bikes were auctioned off after the race, raising more than US$29,000 for the charity.
Readers who've followed Sauser’s career will know he’s extremely particular about his equipment – and very much a weight weenie. So despite us having covered Kulhavy’s Cape Epic Specialized S-Works Epic WC 29 just a week ago, there are plenty of equipment choices that differentiate these two visually identical Specialized Epics.
Custom paint for a very special final professional race
Like Kulhavy, Sauser was riding an S-Works Epic WC 29 in a size large matched with a RockShox RS-1 fork. It's covered in custom paint and decals to showcase the Songo.info foundation, the South African flag (for the Cape Epic and Burry Stander) and his World Champion rainbow stripes.
For a race like the Cape Epic, Sauser believes the Specialized Epic offers real advantages – the biggest being "the Brain (suspension), SWAT and two water bottles”.
The Specialized Brain suspension is unique in that it remains locked out until a force from beneath the bike (like a bump on the trail) activates it. We were told Sauser’s rear suspension had a 2016 ‘World Cup’ tune, said to be stiffer yet with the same opening force required of previous versions.
The rough and technical terrain of the Absa Cape Epic meant that Sauser was using a 100mm fork instead of the shortened 90mm option he’d normally race in Europe. Likewise, we were told his suspension setup was 5psi softer for the race.
Apparently Sauser really likes the SWAT box, which holds his spares. One reason is that he doesn’t need to worry about packing his pockets the morning of the stage.
A sneaky look inside shows a latex tube as spare
“During a race situation when you are in a hurry, you need to know which side it opens and put the bike down on the right side. In training I place an Allen key in the frame SWAT holder, but for racing it goes into the SWAT box too – simpler for me to access and [I] know everything is together,” Sauser said.
Although the Cape Epic demands durability, Sauser’s weight weenie habits are still obviously prevalent throughout this special ride. So much so, in fact, that apparently Kulhavy was responsible for carrying the chain breaker.
Bolt-through axles instead of quick releases are lighter and apparently stiffer. On the subject of lighter, check the rotor bolts
One such example can be seen at Sauser’s brake rotors, where three titanium bolts alternate with three Carbon-Ti Torx alloy bolts. A carbon-Ti headset top cap is another part that saves a few further grams.
Sauser has been riding asymmetric chainrings since 2009
While race partner Kulhavy was using a Quarq power meter, Sauser instead selected a far lighter Specialized S-Works carbon crank. Something highly unusual in mountain biking is the use of a Q-Rings asymmetrical (not round) narrow-wide chainring in a relatively large 34t size.
This asymmetric single chainring is matched to a standard SRAM XX1 10-42t cassette and rear derailleur. Sauser was using this with a normal SRAM XX1 trigger shifter.
In downhill racing we occasionally see riders mix and match lighter brake levers with larger calipers. In this case, Sauser does the reverse with SRAM Guide levers matched to SRAM Red calipers – products originally designed for cyclocross and road riding, which should result in the lightest system currently possible from SRAM.
Elsewhere Sauser picked Look S-Track Carbon Ti pedals, which are claimed to weigh 244g for the pair. These pedals are encased by a cage for greater surface area and stability at the foot. This composite cage is available from Look – aptly named the ‘S-Track Sauser Cage’, it adds a claimed 25g.
Just like Kulhavy, Sauser was racing relatively narrow 1.95in width treads in the Specialized Renegade Control model. These 29er models are made a little more voluminous by being mounted to wide-rimmed Roval Control SL wheels and so in reality probably hold a similar amount of air to wider tyres on common narrower rims.
Being every inch the professional with his equipment, Sauser is aware that the heat of the Absa Cape Epic will often raise his tyre pressure by 2psi. With this in mind, he started each day with 26/27psi.
New grip from Specialized or just ESI silicone?
Silicone grips – which we’re told are from Specialized – are the same as Kulhavy's. Although they do look like the highly popular grips from ESI, it could also be that Specialized has a new lightweight grip coming out soon.
Sauser’s riding position is reasonably far forward, with a straight seatpost. The saddle nose is lightly dipped down for more power on the climbs – although it's nowhere near as exaggerated as his race partner Kulhavy’s setup.
Of all the pro-bikes we weighed at the Absa Cape Epic, this bike was second best to the incredibly light Canyon Lux CF of Alban Lakata. With spares, but without a GoPro and Garmin head unit, the bike weighed 10.9kg (24lb) – heavier than we had expected.
Complete bike specifications
- Frame: Specialized S-Works Epic WC 29, size large (custom paint)
- Rear shock: Fox/Specialized with remote mini-Brain, 155psi
- Fork: RockShox RS-1 100mm, with Specialized Brain damper, 85PSI, Carbon-Ti bolt-up through axle
- Headset: Specialized sealed, Carbon-Ti top cap
- Stem: Syntace F109, 100mm -6 degree
- Handlebar: Specialized S-Works mini rise 720mm
- Grips: Specialized /ESI silicone (?)
- Front brake: SRAM Guide RS-C lever, SRAM Red caliper, 160mm rotor
- Rear brake: SRAM Guide RS-C lever, SRAM Red caliper, 160mm rotor
- Rear derailleur: SRAM XX1
- Shift levers: SRAM XX1 trigger
- Cassette: SRAM XX1 10-42T 11-speed
- Chain: SRAM XX1
- Crankset: Specialized S-Works Carbon, 175mm, Q-Ring QX1 34T asymmetric chainring
- Bottom bracket: CeramicSpeed PF30
- Pedals: Look S-Track Carbon-Ti, with Sauser Cage
- Wheelset: Roval Control SL Carbon (DT Swiss 240s front hub)
- Front tyre: Specialized Renegade Control 2Bliss, 29 x 1.95in, 26/27PSI
- Rear tyre: Specialized Renegade Control 2Bliss, 29 x 1.95in, 26/27PSI
- Saddle: Specialized Phenom S-Works, 143mm
- Seatpost: Specialized S-Works, straight
- Bottle cages: Specialized Zee Carbon Right (2x)
- Other accessories: Specialized SWAT MTB XC, Garmin Edge 500, GoPro saddle mount, Co2
- Rider's height: 1.81m (5ft 11in)
- Rider's weight: 70kg (154lb)
- Saddle height from BB, c-t: 770mm
- Saddle setback: 61mm
- Tip of saddle nose to midpoint of bars: 485mm
- Saddle to bar drop: 80mm (measured from highest point of saddle)
- Seat tube length (c-t): 470mm
- Head tube length: 120mm
- Top tube length (effective): 620mm
- Weight: 10.9kg (24lb) (as pictured without GoPro)