As the XXIII Winter Olympic Games kick off this week in PyeongChang, at least one athlete from snow-mad Austria packed her sports bags for South Africa, and not South Korea.
Christina Kollmann-Forstner bucked the trend, arriving to a sweltering Cape Town on Monday, 5 February. The reason? She’s partnered up with another tough Alpine woman, Swiss national Ariane Lüthi, to race the Momentum Tankwa Trek, powered by Biogen and the Absa Cape Epic in the colours of Lüthi’s Team Spur.
The huge swing in temperature from Christina’s home in Schladming, Austria, will take some adjustment and Lüthi and Kollmann-Forstner are already exploring Stellenbosch’s hot and dry trail network together. The three-day Tankwa Trek mountain bike stage race this weekend will be about adapting to the heat, checking equipment and learning to compliment one another’s racing styles, while the pair are focused on a top result at the Cape Epic in March.
Lüthi is a three-time winner of the Elite Women’s category in the Cape Epic, and a two-time Swiss Marathon Champion. She will line up for her seventh Epic with Kollmann-Forstner. Christina is the reigning European Marathon Champion, two-time Austrian Champion and has tackled the Epic on two previous occasions. Despite the new partnership, Ariane is confident the pair will be a formidable combination at both the Tankwa Trek and the Cape Epic.
After a tough 2017 season, Ariane is back in impressive form. She kicked off 2018 with a dominant win at the 121km Attakwas Extreme in January, and was victorious at the two-day Fairtree Simonsberg Contour on the weekend.
The small town of Schladming in Austria is revered among mountain bikers as a gravity riding hotspot and has hosted numerous UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Cups. Yet it is among the the followers of snow sports that it has a truly global reputation, having been the venue for many FIS Alpine Ski World Cups and two World Championships. Not surprisingly then, Christina began her sports career as an Alpine skier, before moving to pro road cycling teams for a five-year stint. Christina couldn’t deny her love of the mountains for long and said goodbye to the road to take up XCO racing, with immediate success. But it was her years on the road that would translate into her passion for marathon-style racing.
Christina took on her first Cape Epic in 2014 in the Mixed category, finishing a credible 5th. In 2015 she was a last-minute replacement and raced alongside multiple Women’s Champion Sally Bigham, but the pair didn’t finish. “When Ariane asked me to race the 2018 Absa Cape Epic, I was super excited to fulfill our dreams of another shot at the top step,” said Kollman-Forstner.
With strong performances at the UCI Marathon World Championships in 2016 (eighth) and 2017 (fifth), Christina’s pedigree is not to be understated. Christina will return to Austria on 25 February for a few weeks before returning to South Africa in March ahead of the Absa Cape Epic.