Stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic showed no mercy, as riders were subjected to intense heat on the first stage in Hermanus. Cross-country specialists Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC) continued their blazing assault on the 2017 Absa Cape Epic with another stage win.
The pair has now scored a hattrick of stage wins if you include their victory in the final stage of the 2016 Cape Epic. On the 101km route that started and finished at Hermanus High School, Fumic and Avancini raced home in a time of 4:25.35, which means they retain the overall lead and the yellow jersey. They admitted, though, that an unfortunate tumble by Jaroslav Kulhavy around 5km to go allowed them to cross the line first.
Second over the line was Christoph Sauser and an incredibly dusty Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized), while third on the day went to Jochen Kaess and Markus Kauffmann (Centurion Vaude 1).
Defending champions Karl Platt and Urs Huber were seventh on the day, five-and-half minutes off the stage pace and almost 10 minutes off first place on the overall standings. After regaining his composure and cooling down, Platt offered – still with his trademark grin and a one word assessment of the day’s riding: “tough”.
Fumic, though, was beaming from ear to ear. Along with Avancini, he rode with intent all day. “That was very good, very very good. We had a great run. Our plan was to get to the front and stay there. That way we could control the pace,” he said. “The plan worked very well for us today. Nino (Schurter) was pushing, Susi (Sauser) was pushing, but we were able to push harder. We were lucky with Jaro (Kulhavy) crashing, but that happens. It was hot out there, very hot, but we came out on top and are very pleased.”
Also happy with their day’s riding were the composed Investec-Songo-Specialized pair. Although they pushed hard all day and would have wanted the stage win, they were not overly upset by second place and are clearly comfortable in their ability and strategy for the week ahead.
“It went very well for us today,” said a relaxed Sauser. “Jaro had a crash just towards the end and at first we were worried that his rim was broken, but it was only a broken valve in the end.
We didn’t have a strategy; our plan was simply to get to the front and stay there. Our biggest decision was whether or not we needed to stop at the final water point. But by the time we got there it wasn’t a tough call at all; we had to stop and take in some liquids. I was actually surprised that the other guys went straight through because at that stage it was very hot.”
Sauser added that the performance of Fumic and Avancini came as no surprise. “The leaders jersey gives you wings. They are dong very well, which makes for great racing.”
Kulhavy, a man of few words, noted that the day had gone according to plan – even with a late crash. “The crash was unfortunate, but nothing serious. I’m very happy with our ride today, I feel it was a good performance. We are both enjoying the racing.”
For the men in third, the podium finish came as a welcome surprise, especially after a hard day of racing. “It was rocky and sandy all day; a very hard ride,” said Markus Kaufmann of Centurion Vaude 1. “It was full gas from the start. There was just no let up. We were in the chasing pack for most of the day, so we are very happy with the podium finish. We chased all day and in the final few kilometres we just kept passing people. To me, Nino (Schurter) and Matthias (Stirnemann) looked very tired at the end and we came past for third.”
2016 Olympic gold medal winner Schurter said that he and Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing), who were in the lead bunch for most of the day, pushed as hard as they could for third but couldn’t hold on. “The final kilometres were very tough. It was hard pedalling to the finish.”
Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic starts at Hermanus High School and finishes at Elandskloof in Greyton. The stage is a 102km long has 2350m of climbing.
Stage 1 of the Cape Epic rewards Suss and Stenerhag
It was literally blood, sweat and tears in the battle for the Hansgrohe Women’s category at the Absa Cape Epic on Monday’s Stage 1.
At the end of the stage that started and finished in Hermanus, Jennie Stenerhag and Esther Suss of the Meerendal CBC team had sweated their way to a healthy overall lead in the category and now have nearly a nine-minute advantage over Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health).
The Ascendis Health duo, who started the stage with a 39-second lead after winning the Prologue on Sunday, had a tough day with a mechanical giving their rivals an early advantage, and then just as they starting clawing their way back, Spitz fell down a crevice and cut her head badly.
The German former Olympic gold medallist arrived at the finish with blood on her face and went off to the medics for potential stitches to close the wound.
Mariske Strauss and Annie Last (Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro) finished third and are now 13 minutes off the lead, but the big tears were from Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath (Spur), whose hopes of victory seem to have almost certainly disappeared.
The pre-race favourites are a massive 23-minutes behind Stenerhag and Suss and after two disappointing days in the saddle do not look to be able to mount any sort of a challenge against the top teams.
Jennie Stenerhag, who last year was forced to withdraw from the race with an elevated heart-rate, was cautiously optimistic.
“I was in the same position last year at this point so I am not going to be taking anything for granted,” said the Swede, who rode with De Groot in 2016. “I did not know how far ahead we were but we were in front so we could take it a bit more carefully and not take any risks.”
Suss was relieved to have survived a tough stage in intense heat that reached into the high 30s.
“It was really a tough day. Early on it was windy and it was hard to fight against the winds. In the beginning I was not so fine, I had a high heart-rate but after the Hansgrohe Women’s Hotspot my rate was much better and we were able to race.
“I think it was more a mental thing. I was worried after what happened to Jennie last year and I was a little bit scared about what could happen with my heart rate so high.
“Then my heart rate went down by ten beats and I could push hard,” said Suss.
“We are now in the lead but so much can happen through the whole race. We must look after ourselves and not worry about the other riders and how they are riding.
“Tomorrow we will do what we can do and must go fast as we can but not overturn (crash). We must not take too many risks on the downhills. You can lose more in the downhills if you crash or whatever than you can make up by going quickly.”
Drama in the Cape Epic Mixed
There was also drama in the Virgin Active Mixed category with Olympic gold medalist Jenny Rissveds collapsing at the finish. With partner Thomas Frischneckt (Scott Sram Nextlevel), she had fought back to beat South Africans Grant Usher and Amy Beth Mcdougall (joBerg2C-Valencia) by just seven seconds in a brutal duel in the heat.
Rissveds crossed the line and then collapsed and had to be taken to the medical tent by the race medics.
They now hold a one-minute 51-second lead overall. Johan Labuschagne and Catherine Williamson (RBI Tech-Mitas) are third, 12 minutes behind the leaders.
Credit to the New World St Martins team of Mark Williams and Kate Fluker, who stopped to give aid to a rider who had crashed and was drifting in and out of consciousness. Acts like this show true compassion from these classy athletes.