The 2022 Cape Epic brought a big surprise to the world of endurance racing when Georg Egger and Lukas Baum of Speed Company Racing took the overall. Having won two of the seven stages, their consistency paid off and they rolled into the finish ahead of the likes of Nino Schurter, Lars Forster, Matthew Beers and Christopher Blevins. For 2023, the pair were back in South Africa to defend their title, under the banner of Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company Racing.
Indeed, these guys are not on a Factory Team. While many of their competitors would have been recuperating in hotels and apartments, Georg and Lukas made a Camper Van their home for the week, with their support team pitched up nearby in tents, battling it out with the most rainfall the region has seen in 20 years.
Georg and Lukas had an incredible race; despite mechanical issues and several “floor kissing” events, the pair placed 2nd in the Overall and bagged two Stage Wins along the way – including the final stage which saw them sprint into the finish arena 10 seconds ahead of Overall Winners, Christopher Blevins and Mathew Beers. While they were in the lead after Stage 5, a costly mechanical on Stage 6 put them back in 3rd Position. The series of mishaps – missing bottles at feed zones, crashing, unfortunate line choice and a bust derailleur that cost them a whopping 11 minutes, Georg and Lukas were considering re-naming the team “Speed Company Chaos Racing”. In the end, they decided against.
After the dust settled, and pizza was consumed, we hopped on a call with Georg and Lukas to hear exactly what went down. They also shared with us the details of their 2023 Orbea Oiz Race Bikes, as well as some teasers on some new Endurance Kit from Leatt, the development of which they were heavily involved in.
Thank you to Moritz Sauer for providing the photos for this story
Georg Egger and Lukas Baum’s 2023 Cape Epic | A Photo Story
Before we dig into the ups and downs of Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company Racing’s assault on the 2023 Cape Epic, let’s just remind ourselves what the riders went through last week.
The 2023 Route took in 648km of racing, with no fewer than 15,475 meters of elevation gained along the way. That was split across seven grueling stages (plus a Prologue), during which teams aren’t permitted any outside support outwith specific feed and tech zones. They are also not permitted any radio support, so unless they can see the other teams in the distance, they have no way of knowing what the time difference is at any given point. The Stages comprised the following:
- Prologue: 27 km, 750 meters climbed
- Stage 1: 98 km, 2,550 meters climbed
- Stage 2: 116 km, 1,850 meters climbed
- Stage 3: 100 km, 2,300 meters climbed
- Stage 4: 47 km, 875 meters climbed
- Stage 5: 102 km, 2,450 meters climbed
- Stage 6: 79 km, 2,300 meters climbed
- Stage 7: 80 km, 2,400 meters climbed
A former Grande Finale venue, Meerendal Wine Estate, played host to this year’s Prologue. It is run as a time-trial over 27km, with 750 meters of elevation gain. Here, Lukas and Georg got off to a relatively good start, finishing up in 3rd position, 45 seconds off the pace of the Prologue winners, Matt Beers and Christopher Blevins.
After the short and sharp Prologue, the racers went straight into two marathon days. Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company Racing again placed third on the 98 km Stage 1. Incredibly tight racing put them just 21 seconds off the pace of winners, Wilier Pirelli Factory. Another consistent effort saw them again place third on Stage 2, two and a half minutes back from Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne.
We asked Lukas and Georg how they fuel for these massive days in the saddle.
Lukas says, “Breakfast is oatmeal for me, with some smashed banana, nuts and other fruit. For Georg it is white bread and toast, butter, honey, cheese and eggs. We wake up at 5 AM, eat at 5 AM, and then start at 7 AM. For me, it is almost impossible to eat a full meal with three hours between breakfast and the start.
“During the stage we try to eat 80 grams of carbohydrate per hour, between electrolytes in the bottle and gels, but Georg likes to eat bars”.
Georg adds, “Somehow my stomach gets clogged up if I only eat gels and fluid nutrition for eight days riding”. Lukas chimes in, “But look, every stomach gets messed up after eight days of racing, or eating five gels a day”.
“It is key to take nutrition during the stages because otherwise you run out of energy. If you come to the finish totally empty, you cannot make your storage full again ready for the next day of racing. It is quite important to feed well during the stages. Off the bike, we ate almost everything we could get, more or less.”
“For the stages, it was 4,500 or 5,000 calories we burned, only for the riding. So, you can imagine that the amount of energy you have to get back into your system”
Georg said, “We ate chips, nut butter… it was just about putting the energy back in. And we still lost weight. We tried to keep it clean with rice in the beginning, but in the end we had some pasta and pizza before the last stage”. Lukas tells us he lost about 2 kg over the 8 days of racing.
Stage 3 saw some of the tightest racing yet, with Lukas and Georg finishing 2nd, with only one second separating them from winners Matt Beers and Chris Blevins. Wilier Pirelli Factory finished just two seconds back. Incredible, especially when you consider this stage comprised 100 kilometers and 2,300 meters of elevation gain.
Georg and Lukas took another 2nd place to Beers and Blevins on Stage 4, finishing 22 seconds behind the Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne team after 47km and 875 meters of climbing.
Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company Racing Win Stage 5
Stage 5 comprising 102 km and 2,450 meters of climbing saw Georg and Lukas win their first stage of the 2023 Cape Epic. Here, they put themselves in a really good position for the final two stages, putting 2 minutes and 32 seconds into Singer Racing who finished 2nd, and 2 minutes 40 seconds into SCOTT-SRAM who finished 3rd.
Now in Yellow, Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company Racing had 1 minute and 29 seconds on Schurter and Frischknecht, and a whopping 7 minutes on Beers and Blevins.
Disaster Struck on Stage 6
Dark, gloomy conditions had settled over Lourensford Wine Estate for the penultimate stage of the race. As race leaders, Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company Racing set off in the Yellow Jersey, but it wasn’t to be theirs for long. A metal wire got pulled into Lukas’ derailleur, ripping the guide pulley out entirely and twisting the chain in the process.
“At that point, the luck for us, it was only 1.5 km after the tech zone… and there was no other tech zone coming up. Either I walk 30 km to the finish, or we go 1.5 km back to the tech zone to replace the rear derailleur. We could have created a single-speed bike, but I don’t know if it would have worked with the twisted chain. There was so much riding to come, not only flat riding but also climbing – the speed variation was quite high on that day, so it would have been super shitty” – Lukas.
“We weren’t sure if we could go in the wrong direction during the race. I always thought it was not allowed but I thought, OK we are in yellow, and what else can we do? Otherwise we would have lost hours, a minimum half an hour, if we would have finished with that problem. There were a lot of spectators in the tech zone watching us repair the bike with a mini-tool, but that was quite fast.
“It was 1.5 km back to the tech zone – I had to push him [Lukas] and then we changed the derailleur and also the chain. It took us 11 minutes to go back to the place where it happened. For the riding, back and forth, we were maybe 5 minutes, and then 6 minutes for the mechanical”.
No outside assistance is permitted at Cape Epic, not even in these Tech Zones, so the guys had to fix the issue themselves. Georg said, “maybe it was to our advantage that we have to spanner the bikes on our own normally, so we were quite trained in doing mechanical stuff”.
There’s no doubt about it, Lukas and Georg certainly seem to thrive in the face of adversity.
An Impressive Comeback
Reflecting upon the last 648km of racing, Lukas said, “the level of competition is so high… things like missing a bottle on one stage, or going off onto a little sand section, it can cost you vital seconds or minutes. I mean, in the end we were ahead of SCOTT-SRAM [Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht] by only a few seconds, and Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne [Christopher Blevins and Mathew Beers] by a few minutes. It’s not like there are hour gaps between us. Every little detail counts”.
That’s in contrast to the 2022 Edition of the Cape Epic, where Lukas and Georg won with a relatively comfortable gap of just over 3 minutes. “Last year, somehow we stopped more often for refueling at feed points, even on the last two days when we were catching up the time, we stopped some time for some Coke and water, but this time it was not possible. It was so close, and it was much more tight racing” – Georg Egger.
Reflecting further on the 2023 race, Georg said, “Guys like Nino Schurter – they know exactly how to win a race and when you have to keep pushing, even if you can’t… when we tried to open up a gap in the flat sections, they [Nino and Andri] would chase us back every time. It was almost impossible. And also, in the climbs… the only time we opened a gap on a climb was on the longest climb of the whole race – which was about 700 meters of climbing in one piece – then, they were at the very top when it really counted and who had the strongest legs, but over the little climbs which were only like 400 meters of elevation… it didn’t matter if you felt a bit weak or what, it was almost impossible to open a gap because the guys that are racing at the front are also mentally very strong – they destroyed themselves to the end. OK, Andri Frischknecht exploded near the end, or he could not hold the pace over the climbs on the last two days, but until then it was so hard to make a difference, almost impossible”.
We asked the pair what their favorite stage was:
Georg said, “It’s kind of hard to say, just because the circumstances on some stages were miserable with the heavy rain, so maybe one of those stages would have had some nice trails you know but, to be honest at one point it was like rising against water – there was a river coming down towards us. The question was not finding the best line, it was where is the least water. It wasn’t even visible what was underneath the water”.
“But for me, personally, if I had to pick one stage, around Lourensford, with the nice hand-built downhills… that was a super fun stage. Stages 5 and 6, yeah. Stage 5, the Queen Stage, the Stage we won, it was quite nice, and the final stage I also liked a lot. The final stage was like real, normal weather. It was the first day where the conditions were what we are used to riding here” – Lukas.
He went on to say, “This time, we had only these cross-country guys, the complete cyclists – Chris Blevins also does road cycling, and Nino also super experienced… yeah, and Matt Beers knows all the trails well – you saw that, he was quite comfortable. It was quite hard to find the possibility of attacking these guys”.
In the end, I never thought we could close the gap of 4 or 5 minutes of SCOTT-SRAM on one day – which we did on the last day – that was quite insane”.
I was hoping Specialized would have worse legs on the last day, because I think we had good legs, but the Specialized guys, they also got stronger and stronger over the race. The day before the final, we knew it would be super hard to close that gap”.
Pro Bike Check: Speed Company Racing 2023 Orbea Oiz
Interestingly, at the 2022 Cape Epic, both Lukas and Georg set up their Oiz Race Bikes with 120mm of rear wheel travel by running a longer stroke length rear shock. Despite the predecessor having been designed around 100mm travel, the guys preferred having the extra comfort and traction that came with the extra 20mm. In 2023, they did not have to make any such modification, given that the 2023 Orbea Oiz that was released at the back end of last year was updated to a dedicated 120mm travel flex-stay single-pivot platform.
At 187cm tall, Georg Egger rides the Size Large with 472mm reach, adding a 120mm stem. At 183cm tall, Lukas Baum rides the Size Medium with a 450mm reach, adding a 100mm stem. Both sizes have a chainstay length of 432mm.
The 2023 Oiz is sold with a -10° stem, but for Lukas they made a custom stem with an increased negative offset of 25/30°. Orbea actually supplied the team with several different custom stems, allowing them to dial in their setup perfectly.
The Oiz has a Squid-Lock remote suspension lock-out for the Fox fork and shock, with three possible positions; open, trail and closed. The Squid-Lock adjusts the shock and fork settings simultaneously. Lukas and Georg both made use of that on-the-fly adjustment heavily throughout the stages.
On this, Georg said, “It is so rough here, so bumpy all the time that we almost never run it completely locked. We use the middle [trail] position a lot in the trails uphill. Sometimes if it gets super steep uphill, I like to lock it completely, but yeah we use it a lot, we vary it a lot during the climbs. It’s almost like shifting, you use it as often as the trigger more or less”.
Lukas added, “I think it is super important, especially with the rough conditions switching it back and forth. When it is super rough uphill, I leave the suspension fully open just to have constant contact with the ground. I only lock it on the trails fully if the ground is even and when I don’t want to risk putting power through the suspension and losing forward momentum. Other than that, when I am sitting, I am almost always open”.
The stem was not the only custom component on Lukas’ race bike; Bike Ahead Composites also went out of their way to produce a 35mm set back carbon seat post so that he could be more comfortable in an aero position; he says it weighs only 18g more than the standard offset version.
Lukas really values the more aero position, especially on the flat sections and smoother descents; as such, he wraps his handlebar in bar tape to make it more comfortable for his hands over long distances.
For the tires, Lukas and Georg decided to play it safe with Schwalbe’s Super Ground Casing Racing Ralph – 2.35″. It is a little heavier than other the Super Race, but it offers more puncture protection with three carcass plies underneath the tread and SnakeSkin fabric running from bead-to-bead.
Will Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company Racing be back for Cape Epic in 2024?
“For sure. It is probably the event that gave us the biggest boost with our new team and everything. I think without the Cape Epic we would not be where we are at the moment. Somehow that race fits us almost perfectly. We are working so good together as a team. And also, the race profile and also the fact that the race lasts for over one week… it all plays into our cards, and we can definitely perform so good in that race” – Georg.
What’s next for Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company Racing?
“We are going to do another stage race in Croatia – The Four Islands, and then we are going to switch back to Cross-Country Racing. We will try to do the Cross-Country races as good as possible for the World Cup and the National Champs, and then we will race toward the World Championships in Glasgow. We are super excited about that whole event, you know with all the disciplines. I think it is super nice for the sport. And then, towards the end of the season, we switch back to marathon again and finish off with the Epic Israel Stage Race” – Georg.
What are Lukas and Georg’s Aspirations for the 2023 World Championships in Glasgow?
Lukas said, “The aspirations for the Marathon Race is higher than for the Cross-Country Race right now. I mean, last year, I really wanted to win the World Championships in Denmark because the track was suiting us so well. I am not sure how much climbing there will be in Glasgow, and how the track is going to be…”
“I think we showed here that we can compete on the highest level of Marathon. We both will shoot for the title I think”.
That’s all, folks. You can keep up with Orbea x Leatt x Speed Company Racing on Instagram @speedcompanyracing or follow their podcast Speed Company Radio.