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Race Report | Absa Cape Epic Stage 2 – The Specialized riders defend their overall lead

Cape Town/Oak Valley – During the night the wind pounded against the tents of the riders and the crew at the Absa Cape Epic in Oak Valley. The second stage dawned, seeing the riders battle strong winds for the 92-kilometre stage. With ominous clouds shrouding the Groenlandberg, Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec Songo Specialized) took the stage win after four hours and seven minutes on the bike, maintaining the overall lead of this tough stage race. Mental strength, tactical astuteness and Jaro’s powerfulness were the decisive factors for the Swiss-Czech Team.

Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser (Investec Songo Specialized) taking their second win on the second stage of the Absa Cape Epic 2015.
Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser (Investec Songo Specialized) taking their second win on the second stage of the Absa Cape Epic 2015.

By the third day of the Absa Cape Epic, the elements have definitely made their presence known to the riders, making it clear why this is referred to as the ‘untamed race’. From conditions of extreme heat to the damp and cold, first long day, the riders were now confronted with such high wind speeds that even the media helicopter was forced to land.

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 2 Elgin Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 2 Elgin

The men

Braving the wind, a strong group of six riders made an immediate break from the start, showing where their ambitions lay: Kulhavy/Sauser, along with the strongest opponents, the four-time Epic winner Karl Platt (GER) and Urs Huber (SUI) from Team Bulls and the Swiss prologue winners Martin Gujan/Fabian Giger (Novus OMX PRO) left the field behind on the first climb around Grabouw, closely followed by Alban Lakata/Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon) and José Hermida/Rudi van Houts (Multivan Merida), who are also harboring podium aspirations.

But by the first water point, the quartet of Topeak Ergon and Investec Songo Specialized had already created a small gap between them and the chasers. This state of events remained through the course of the day and on the long climb up the Nuweberg, they cemented their breakaway.
The Specialized powerhouse Kulhavy set a furious pace over the last few kilometres, leaving the former marathon world champion Lakata (AUT) and last year’s winner Kristian Hynek (CZE) to admit defeat. Even at their high finishing pace, the experienced Epic-rider Sauser kept a clear head when the pair were divided over which route to take into the finish. Jaroslav wanted to take an earlier turn, which they’d ridden the day before. “Luckily I managed to get Jaro onto the right trail. He wouldn’t believe me at first that it went straight on.”

Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon) briefly take the lead.
Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon) briefly take the lead.
Waylon Woolcock and Darren Lill (RED-E Blend).
Waylon Woolcock and Darren Lill (RED-E Blend).

Still in second place overall, Karl Platt and Urs Huber (Team Bulls) admitted that they lacked the strength to challenge Sauser/Kulhavy today.
“It was super hard today, the wind made it brutally tough. Topeak and Specialized put the pressure on right from the start. We tried not to let the gap get too big but we lost it as the day wore on. The guys ahead of us are really top riders. I had a bad day today and couldn’t contribute to the chase. I’m happy to have survived”, explained the four-time Epic winner Platt.

For Team Bulls II with Tim Böhme and Stefan Stiebjahn, the Absa Cape Epic 2015 has been characterized by bad luck. Technical issues have marred the efforts of last year’s third-placers, pushing them further and further back, and with just 15 kilometres remaining today Böhme was caught by a wire sticking out from a fence, catapulting him from the bike. Suffering nasty shoulder pain, he rode one-handed into the finish. After two hours at the hospital in Somerset West, he’s been diagnosed with torn ligaments, which makes a start on tomorrow’s stage look more than unlikely.

Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad.
Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad.

The women
After an unchallenged 4 hours 37 minutes, the leading women crossed the finish line in Oak Valley with broad grins. Like the previous year, Ariane Kleinhans (SUI) and marathon world champion Annika Langvad (DEN) from Team RECM Specialized are once again dominating the women’s category. “I find it much less stressful than at a World Cup race where everyone wants to push from behind and stick to your wheel,” says a delighted Langvad. “I just love the singletracks here in Elgin and Grabouw and I could really enjoy them in the last 20 kilometres,” reveals Kleinhans, who now calls South Africa home. Yesterday’s lapse in concentration that saw Ariana Kleinhans’s front wheel slip out from under her fortunately hasn’t had any negative effects on her knee.
The second-placers in the women’s category, Jennie Stenerhag (SWE) and Robyn de Groot (SA) from Team Ascendis Health are 46.32 minutes behind after the third day, ahead of Esther Süß (SUI) and Alice Pirard (BEL) from Meerendal Wheeler (+58.16.8min). The British-Austrian pair of Sally Bigham and Christina Kollmann (Sellaronda Hero) enjoyed a much better day than the previous day, claiming third place on the stage. The back pain that Kollmann had suffered the previous day due to a trapped nerve didn’t seem to affect her today: “I forgot the pain after 30 kilometres because it was just going so well,” explained the fourth place finisher in the European Marathon Championships.

Update: The main talking point on day three, Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic was the powerhouse women’s team of Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad dropping out of the top three in the overall standings due to a time penalty. Team RECM Specialized were handed the 1:13.39 penalty after going off course towards the end of the day and cutting nearly 5 km off their race distance.

After reviewing the situation for a number of hours the commissaire decided 13 minutes and 39 seconds would be added to Team RECM Specialized‘s stage time because they rode 5 km less than the rest of the field.

In addition, an extra hour was added to their stage time for not following the route markings. The time penalties mean Team RECM Specialized finished 11th on the day.

This now takes Kleinhans and Langvad out of the women’s leader’s jerseys and into fourth place on the standings, with Team Ascendis Health’s Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot moving into first place in the standings.

Team RECM Specialized now find themselves 27.06,8 behind the new leaders. Third-place finishers of the women’s race on Stage 2, Sally Bigham and Christina Kollman of Team Sellaronda Hero, moved into second for the day and third in the overall standings. Esther Suss and Alice Pirard of Meerendal Wheeler – fourth on the day – are now lying in second place overall.

Nico Pfitzenmaier and Robert Sim.
Nico Pfitzenmaier and Robert Sim.

Masters
The Dimension Data Masters category is proving to be an exciting battle already with the South African resident Nico Pfitzenmaier and Robert Sim (Dorma/Robert Daniel) beating the overall leaders in the second stage. The former Olympic champion from Atlanta, Bart Brentjens and the Brazilian Abraao Azevedo (BETCH.nl-Superior) were beaten by five seconds. The 2013 winner of the masters category, Nico Pfitzenmaier, who suffered minor health problems during the first stage, was back on form today: “I really love the trails around Oak Valley, it’s my playground here so I’m actually delighted to for my home win.”

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 2 Elgin Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 2 Elgin

Mixed
The leaders in the mixed category, the Austrians René Haselbacher and Sabine Sommer (ENS RH77) went off-course shortly before the end of the stage, losing around ten minutes in the process. “We rode about three kilometres too far I think”, said the former professional road cyclist and Tour de France rider Haselbacher. This helped the mixed team of Peter Vesel (SLO) and the German Ivonne Kraft (ETIS) to the stage win and the top of the overall standings. “It obviously didn’t go well for us today but we’ll get back up to the top”, continued Haselbacher.

Taking part for the first time, the multiple cyclocross world champion Hanka Kupfernagel, riding with Carsten Bresser, a veteran of the Cape Epic, for the Team Dietrich Rocky Mountain, is experiencing a sharp learning curve. “When we were riding along with Gunn-Rita Dahle, I was a little demotivated and suggested that we pushed on past the second water point. That was obviously a mistake and I hit the wall for the first time in my life in a race. I needed at least five minutes before I could ride again. I’ve never felt so ‘empty’ on a bike in my entire life. I learned my lesson today.” The pair are currently standing in fifth place in the mixed GC standings.

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 2 Elgin

Tomorrow
Stage Three at the Absa Cape Epic is the longest of the entire 2015 race. Measuring 128 kilometres and with around 2,000 metres of climbing, the teams will ride from Oak Valley to Worcester on the edge of the small Karoo. The weather forecast looks dry and warm, with temperatures rising to 30 degrees Celsius with no wind.

The riders
Christoph Sauser, Investec Songo Specialized
It was super windy and even though it was more than 90 kilometres, it was ridden as though it was a prologue. Full gas the whole time, and no one was allowed to simply free wheel. Jaro rode so strongly into the wind and I sheltered as much as I could. Alban was always there or thereabouts and I knew that we’d get away if we rode hard.

Urs Huber, Bulls
We didn’t stand any real chances today. The two teams ahead of us went on the attack and pulled away on the climb. On the flat we worked well with Merida Multivan, but the gap got bigger and bigger.

Annika Langvad, RECM Specialized
Today was a wonderful day, it was like we were riding through a fairy-tale landscape. The luscious greenery, which was burned down last year, and the fantastic singletracks – you seem to ride faster because you’re already looking forward to the next fun sections. Because of our advantage we could ride relatively relaxed. The pressure isn’t as high as at a World Cup race.

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 2 Elgin

Words: Absa Cape Epic press release

Photos: Sophie Smith, Gary Perkin, Nick Muzik, Ewald Sadie, Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS