Cape Town - Barbara Benko is no stranger to South African mountain biking fans.
The 30-time Hungarian champion - across road, cross country, cross country marathon and cyclocross - has been racing and training in South Africa during the European winter for a couple of years now.
Her Dutch partner, for GHOST Factory Racing, Anne Terpstra has joined her for two stage races already, but now the pair have their sights set on the Absa Cape Epic.
Having raced Wines2Whales and the Tankwa Trek each twice already, it is a curious anomaly that Benko has yet to make her debut in the Race That Measures All.
"Actually, I always wanted to do the Absa Cape Epic, but never really had the perfect partner or support team to do it. I wanted to do it properly or not at all" she pointed out.
"With Anne and our GHOST Factory Racing team, I think we found the perfect match" Benko enthused. Addressing the looming issue of Tokyo 2020 she added: "Many would think it's risky racing the Absa Cape Epic in an Olympic year; which is right, maybe. You never know how you will come out of the race, but to be honest I trust my coach 120%. He will prepare me for the race and give me the best plan possible to recover after, so I can start the actual World Cup season on a high. This year it only starts in May, so there is time to recover and be ready for the Olympics."
Benko's GHOST Factory Racing team-mate Terpstra, who won her first UCI Mountain Biking World Cup race in 2019, is eager to tick the Untamed African MTB race from her bucket list.
"The Absa Cape Epic is not a race you 'just' do," the five-time Dutch elite cross-country champion said.
"I know Barbara always wanted to compete in it and of course it was on my wish list for a long time too. But as Barbara said, you want to have the perfect conditions when you go to the Absa Cape Epic start line."
"I guess the race itself will be hard enough, so having the best possible support is a must" Terpstra continued.
"Luckily, this year we are in the luxurious situation that we will have that support from GHOST Factory Racing."
The issues of team support and the right partner were not the only ones keeping her from the world's premier mountain bike stage race, however.
"To be honest, I also used to be a bit afraid of the Absa Cape Epic" Terpstra confessed.
"So, I never seriously thought about racing it. But after racing with Barbara a couple of times now, being in South Africa and knowing the area a little bit, coming off an amazing 2019 season, and after some good talks with the team; I think I (and we as a team as well) are more than ready for it now."
Fulfilling those ambitions relies on both riders being on the same page. Benko and Terpstra could arguably feature in team-work posters. They appear to revel in each other's company and raise each other to new heights when the going gets particularly tough.
"I must say we have a really good relationship" Benko confirmed.
"Anne and I have pretty different personalities, but somehow we match; we complete each other very well on and off the bike. I know I can trust Anne and she can trust me. We can help each other in the race, we often don't even have to say a single word. We just look at each other and know how the other feels and what to do, attack or chill. We always have a great time off the bike and have a lot of fun, which is important, especially for me. I don't like drama and unnecessary stress; I need someone calm and cool who I know I can trust. We can speak openly and honestly with each other, which makes us a good team."
"Barbara and I have been racing against each other since we were juniors (that is for more than 10 years! - Thinking about it makes me feel so old now)" Terpstra laughed.
"Since Barbara joined GHOST Factory Racing, I have been able to get to know her way better and soon after we did our first race as a team. Doing any stage race together builds a super special bond."
Winning will certainly amplify the fun that the GHOST Factory Racing team could have during the Absa Cape Epic.
Fortunately for Benko and Terpstra the race kicks off with a stage which suits them to a T.
The Prologue, on the slopes of Table Mountain National Park, is ideally suited to their cross-country skills and they have proven to be fast starters in the stage races they have entered together thus far.
Look out for them starting the 2020 Absa Cape Epic with a bang on March 15. Tune in live at www.cape-epic.com.