The day again proved that the Absa Cape Epic is not for the faint-hearted. For the third consecutive day a top rider in the Men’s category withdrew. This time it was Rudi van Houts, partner of Jos Hermida (Multivan Merida Biking). Van Houts crashed on Thursday and even though he started the stage, could not go on. This follows the withdrawals of Hannes Genze and Karl Platt on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
There was also lots of drama on the route. Overall leaders Topeak-Ergon Racing double punctured before water point 1 and previous wearers of the yellow zebra-striped leader jersey Centurion-Vaude came to the rescue by giving them their wheels. They are no longer in the race for an overall podium and decided to take the risk. Kaess had to ride on rims to water point 2 where they received help.
Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
Torpado Factory with former two-times Absa Cape Epic winner Roel Paulissen and Riccardo Chiarini, along with Nino Schurter and Philip Buys, were very aggressive today. The Meerendal Songo Specialized team of Christoph Sauser and Franti?ek Rabon followed, but they had another mechanical again. The Superbike household name of Ben Bostrom of Meerendal Songo Specialized 2 helped out.
Today’s stage is also known as the queen stage ? arguably the hardest of this year’s race, with the most amount of climbing. It was wise for riders to conserve some energy on the first 50km where Serengeti awaited as the warm up to its big brother Rusty Gate, the highest point in this year’s race. It was a relentless 5km climb at an average 10% gradient! What goes up must come down, with a short spike on a firebreak, which was more challenging on the mind than the legs. A short tar section along the Theewaterskloof Dam wall offered some reprieve, before it got tough again with some steep climbs as riders generally made their way skywards to water point 3. Thereafter, it was rugged false flat grind, on a loose eroded surface, flanking the majestic Groenlandberg. It was slow going, through truly spectacular scenery. From the nek the last 14km were mostly downhill all the way to the race village at Oak Valley Wine Estate, a rewarding finish to a truly epic day.
Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
The Belgian/Italian combo of Roel Paulissen and Riccardo Chiarini of Torpado Factory won their first stage in a two-team sprint to the finish at Oak Valley Wine Estate in 4:52.03,4 (overall 24:02.37,3). They were followed by Nino Schurter and Philip Buys of SCOTT-Odlo MTB Racing in 4:52.09,9 (overall 24:13.53,4) with Christoph Sauser and Franti?ek Rabon of Meerendal Songo Specialized in third place in 4:57.03,4 (overall 23:53.19,3).
Team Topeak-Ergon Racing’s Mennen and Hynek still lead this category by 9 minutes and 48 seconds (overall 23:43.31,6). Sauser and Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized) maintain their second place overall in 23:53.19,3. The Bulls 2 team of Tim Boehme and Simon Stiebjahn also remain in third place overall in 23:59.24,3 with Torpado Factory’s Roel Paulissen and Riccardo Chiarini in fourth place overall (24:02.37,3).
Says Paulissen of Torpado Factory: “We got away from Nino and Philip late on the last long climb of the day. Nino looked so good. We wanted to catch them earlier, but Nino was riding so smooth ? just like surfing over the rocks. Philip couldn’t follow when we attacked, so we just pushed until the finish. For a small team like us to win a stage at the Epic is so special and very important. It was amazing and we’re both very happy.”
Adds Schurter of SCOTT-Odlo MTB Racing: “It was supposed to be our rest day today! It was tough, but I’m happy with the podium.” Buys continues that his legs were done when they reached Groenlandberg. “I couldn’t follow. If there was another downhill, it would’ve been great and we would’ve been able to get back, but there wasn’t. We chased really hard to get Roel and his partner back, but we just couldn’t catch them.”
Rabon of Meerendal Songo Specialized says: “You know what? I’m so frustrated. It’s frustrating to feel good and strong but not be able to deliver the result. I don’t think there are enough stages left to close the gap now.” His teammate Sauser adds: “I started slow, but got going after an hour or so. It’s frustrating to get so many problems.”
Overall leader Hynek of Topeak-Ergon Racing comments that they were somewhat unlucky again today. “I punctured both wheels at the same time. We were fortunate that Jochen (Kaess) gave me his wheels. That was an amazing gesture of sportsmanship and I owe him big time. I have to say sorry to Robert because I’ve been the one with the mechanical problems. I must admit, we only have two days left, but I’m still scared of mechanicals robbing us from the overall lead.”
Sasol Women’s Category
Swiss/Danish duo Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad (RECM 2) won the stage for the fourth day in a row in a time of 5:29.20,5 (overall 27:09.10,7) and lead this category by 15 minutes and 24 seconds. They were again followed by the Meerendal team of Esther Sss and Sally Bigham in 5:43.33,9 (27:24.35,2). In third place again were Jennie Stenerhag and Theresa Ralph of Cape Brewing Company in 6:09.50,7 (overall 28:53.25,6).
Says Langvad of RECM 2: “I’m smiling because of the single track near the finish. Not only because it was fun, but finally we got some shade. It was so hot today! We’re feeling more comfortable in the lead and also more confident. We had no problems.” Adds Kleinhans: “I actually was afraid of this stage, because Sally and Esther love long hard climbs like we had today. They’re good climbers. We didn’t know what to expect from them. We just kept a steady pace for most of the day and I’m very happy. It was great.”
Bigham of team Meerendal comments that they had no problems today. “It was very hot though. We’re feeling good and enjoying the Epic.” Sss adds that her legs hurt. “And when I finally got them going, my feet started.”
The Masters category was won by Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (BETCH.nl Superior Meerendal) for the fourth time in 5:21.21,9 (overall 26:21.41,1). They were again followed by Shan Wilson and Adrian Enthoven of Definitive Bikes in 5:30.48,7 (overall 26:34.53,7) with Warren Squires and Nic White of team Absa masters in third place (5:48.29,3; overall 28:37.42,5). Brentjens and Azevedo now lead this category by 13 minutes and 13 seconds and are placed 14th overall.
Says Brentjens of BETCH.nl Superior Meerendal: “I’m happy with the lead, but the Epic isn’t over. You need at least 10 minutes to be comfortable. We still have two days to go and lots can still happen. I’ll only be satisfied if we get to Lourensford and we still have the lead. We did drop Shan at one stage, but they were able to come back. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. The battle isn’t over yet.”
Andrew Mclean and Heinz Zoerweg of Cycle Lab Toyota again finished first in the Grand Masters in a time of 5:30.17,6 (overall 26:08.18,9). They have been undefeated in this year’s Absa Cape Epic and have won the Prologue as well as every stage so far. They were again followed by Brti Bucher and Doug Brown of Meerendal Songo Specialized 4 in 5:34.53,3 (overall 27:10.40,6). Lieb Loots and Izak Visagie of Pragma Nampak finished on the podium for the third time today in 5:55.33,2 (overall 29:44.13,4).
Says Zoerweg of Cycle Lab Toyota: “I’m enjoying the Epic. Riding with Andrew is really nice and we’re both strong. I got a puncture today, but we fixed it and didn’t worry too much.”
German team Tom Janas and Bettina Uhlig of Sportograf.com ? BQ Cycling won their first stage today in 5:57.34,7 (overall 31:24.43,9). They were followed by Yannick Lincoln and Aurelie Halbwachs of Synergy in 6:05.35,5 (overall 28:40.21,9). In third place were Trek Israel’s Gal Tsachor and Idit Shub in 6:19.39,2 (overall 30:24.59,1). Synergy still leads this category by 1 hour, 44 minutes and 37 seconds.
Says Janas of Sportograf.com ? BQ Cycling: “If I hadn’t already asked her to marry me, I would’ve done it today! Bettina was amazing after having problems yesterday. We also had no mechanical problems today. We came to the Epic to finish in the Top 5 but never thought we would win a stage. This morning she said to me I like this kind of racing ? let’s go for it. I’m so proud of her and happy to have won a stage! It was a perfect day for us.”
Absa African Jersey
The fastest African team was again Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns of SCOTT Factory Racing for Stage 5 in 5:05.10,7. They were followed by Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell of RECM in 5:12.18,7. Andrew Hill and Charles Keey of RED-E Blend finished in third place in 5:21.22,3.
Beukes and Heyns will ride in the Absa African special jersey after previous leaders Evans and Knox received a one-hour penalty. They lead by 12 minutes and 30 seconds.
Says Heyns of his first Absa Cape Epic: “This means a lot to me. It’s been tough going, but I’m happy to be wearing the Absa African jersey and we’re doing well. We hoped for it beforehand so to have it, is great.” Adds teammate Beukes: “It was very warm today. It was long and hard and I’m just happy that we didn’t lose any time. It was the toughest day and wearing the red jersey is very important and special to me.”
Phillimon Sebona and Jan Motshioa of Exxaro/PwC again won the category in a time of 5:46.51,9 (overall 28:14.48,8). Siphosenkosi Madolo and Azukile Simayile of team Meerendal Songo Specialized 16 keep the Exxaro special jersey as they have done for every stage of this year’s race. Their overall time is 28:11.12,1 and they are placed 34th overall (GC).
Stage 6: Elgin (85km, 1800m of climbing)
Riders still in the race will definitely have earned the rewards of Stage 6. Although there will be 1800m of total climbing, riders will mostly remember the amazing single track descents that will be dotted along the route. The first section will be a cruise through vineyards, apple orchards and fynbos and just before water point 1 at Houw Hoek Inn riders will enjoy a first sampling of the great single track still to come. After a steady climb on forestry roads, the next highlight will await, a fast, gradually descending dual track dropping deep into the Elgin Valley. The climb out will soon be rewarded with the sweeping purpose built mountain bike tracks of Lebanon. And just when riders will think it can’t get any better, the trails at Paul Cluver await, smooth and perfectly carved, with spectacular bridges. There will still be some climbing to be done to get back to Oak Valley, but that too will be instantly rewarded with some final exhilarating trails that will ensure riders finish with huge smiles on their faces (after what has unanimously been voted by the trial ride teams as the most fun stage of 2014).