Race Report | Absa Cape Epic Stage 5 – The favourites take the win once again
Wellington/South Africa – Unfazed by the heat, the dust, the headwind and a mechanical problem, it seemed nothing could prevent the Swiss rider Christoph Sauser and his Czech partner Jaroslav Kulhavy from taking their fourth stage win at the Absa Cape Epic. The stage took riders on the 121 km stretch from Worcester to Wellington with 2,500 metres of climbing.
The Investec-Songo-Specialized Team now have an overall lead of over ten minutes ahead of the second-placed GC Team. And it seems that only some real trouble – a serious crash, health issues or mechanical problems – could prevent them from winning this renowned Tour de France for mountain bikers. For Sauser, it would be a remarkable fifth win.
This point-to-point stage, which started in Worcester in the Breede valley and headed to Wellington, a town just 40 km from Cape Town, took in some tough climbs, including Bain’s Kloof Pass, a South African nature monument. Directly afterwards, riders were confronted with the hard climb of the Full Monty, part of the Welvan Pass mountain bike trail network.
By the bottom of the Fully Monty, Sauser und Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) had managed to shake off the remaining two chasing teams. And as the pair crossed the finished line 15 kilometres later, they were almost a minute ahead of the second Team, which was, Team Bulls with Karl Platt (GER) and Urs Huber (SUI). The South Africans Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock (RED-E Blend), who’d lost their red African leaders’ jersey on the previous day, rode with them to put in enough power to reclaim the lead in the Absa African category. Having already changed hands three times this year, this category is proving particularly exciting at the Absa Cape Epic 2015.
It was a tough stage for Topeak Ergon, who are in second place overall, as the marathon world champion Alban Lakata (AUT) first got a flat tyre and then his chain jammed on a descent. From the back-up team of Robert Menner (GER) and Jeremiah Jacobs (USA), they got a rear wheel and managed to keep the gap under control. Fortunately, the chain crisis happened not too far from the third water point and they were able to swap the chain in the official Tech Zone.
Technical issues even struck the favourites today. “Jara got a branch caught in his rear tyre”, explained the Swiss rider once they’d finished, “and this bent the rear derailleur.” Not immediately aware of the situation, Sauser continued alone at first before he realized. Fearing the worst, he thought that the race was now over for Investec-Songo-Specialized but then suddenly the yellow zebra-stripped leaders’ jersey popped into sight. Once on Wellington’s incredible singletrack, the pair were able to ride in a more relaxed manner as the Bulls were not in sight.
“After puncturing at all the worst moments in the last few todays, it’s a relief that today went well for us”, said Karl Platt (Team Bulls). “We proved that we can still make it onto the podium.”
The Topeak Ergon Team with Kristian Hynek (CZE) and Alban Lakata (AUT) kept their overall second place but the gap to the leaders has now increased to 10.51 minutes. “I don’t think we’ll close this gap unless Specialized have some technical problems in one of the last two stages”, mused the Czech rider. Gawie Combrinck and Johann Rabie (EAI South Africa) were the second fastest South African team, claiming fourth place on the stage. Stefan Sahm, together with the young South African rider Timo Cooper for JAG Foundation had a great ride to finish tenth.
Clocking 6:05.33.7 hours, Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad (RECM Specialized) once again finished the stage in Wellington ahead of the women’s field by a substantial distance. Fortunately, this fast female pair were able to avoid the mass pile-up that occurred amongst the men shortly after the start. “The terrain was certainly pretty rough today”, said the three-time marathon world champion Langvad. “The tarmacked climb on Bain’s Kloof was a moment for recovery and then we rolled into the finish.” But the incredibly talented Danish endurance specialist had to admit that her legs were slowly starting to tire. “I can still push on the flat but I’m feeling the past few days of climbing.”
Team Ascendis Health, Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot, finished second in the women’s race today, around 24 minutes behind the leaders. The winner in 2007, Yolande de Villiers, took third place with her SasolRacing partner Janka Keseg Stevkova.
Interesting, there was another woman to finish ahead of Stenerhag/de Groot: the multiple world champion and gold medalist Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå. After Kathrin Stirnemann (SUI) had to retire yesterday with a potentially serious lung problem, the Norwegian is continuing on her own, as an ‘outcast.’
“I didn’t ride full gas”, explained Dahle Flesjå, “I had a good day out there today. I rarely ride stage races so this is a great experience for me. Perhaps I’ll come back to Cape Epic with bigger ambitions.” During the fourth stage Stirnemann suffered breathing problem. Suspecting a lung embolism, something she’s suffered before, this was fortunately disproven by an X-ray in the hospital.
In the mixed category Ivonne Kraft and Peter Vesel (Team Etis) cemented their position in the lead by winning the stage once again. “I almost died on the hardtail today. It was so rough and rocky. I really suffered on the last descent, it was more of a section for fullys. I’m good at recovering, and we do the same again tomorrow”, said Kraft after finishing. Hanka Kupfernagel, the multiple cyclocross world champion, finished the stage in eighth position with her partner Carsten Bresser. Two days before the finale, the pair are in fourth overall.
The masters race came down to a sprint finish between the favourites, with Pfitzenmaier/Simm (RSA, Team Dorma Robert Daniel) losing by a tyre’s width to Brentjens/Azevedo (BETCH.nl-Superior). Having crashed, Pfitzenmaier’s bruised hand slowed him. The former Olympic champion Bart Brentjens, riding with the Brazilian champion Abraao Azevedo are still over a minute in front of their rivals. In the Grand Masters category, Barti Bucher (SUI) and Heinz Zoerweg (AUT), Team Meerendal BIXs KTM, are yet to face any competition and after five stage wins, they’re leading their category by 53.27.3 minutes.
The sixth and penultimate stage of the Absa Cape Epic takes in a 72 kilometre loop around Wellington. As well as 30 kilometres – almost half the stage – of challenging singletrack, partly made especially for mountain bikers, the riders will also have to climb 2,000 metres.
Alban Lakata (AUT) Topeak Ergon
It started early with a pinch flat and we had to pump up this replacement tyre. Swapping the chain cost us a lot of time but at least it worked – what was worse was the slow rear flat. It wasn’t my today today, what a catastrophe.
Christoph Sauser (SUI) Investec-Songo-Specialized
Today was a significant matchpoint for us but it’s long from being over. We still have to stay focused; this isn’t a holiday, as the Epic doesn’t end until Meerendal. It was important to reach the trails first and to be able to ride safely. The most important thing is that we’re close to the [overall] finish. Tomorrow’s stage isn’t too rocky and it suits us with so many trails.
Robert Mennen (GER) Topeak Ergon
The gap was too big after our back-up [assistance], because we didn’t want to waste any energy, instead [we wanted to] save it for tomorrow. We tried to stay up there in order to give our other team support, but that didn’t happen.
Jochen Käß (GER) Meerendal Centurion Vaude
After crashing yesterday I started this stage with a headache and my nose hurt too, it’s probably broken. With two flats today, we had yet more trouble and lost contact with the fast group. We’re a bit frustrated but the objective is definitely to get to the finale in Meerendal.
Words: Absa Cape Epic Pressemitteilung
Photos: Ewald Sadie, Nick Muzik, Sam Clark, Shaun Roy, Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS