With day 6 and stage 5 of the 2015 Cape Epic in the books, it’s clear that the leading teams in the men’s and women’s classification are in a class of their own. Is it their bikes, professionalism, genetic make up, drive to perform – or just their preparation and experience that put them ahead? At this point, neither team looks like they could lose.
Sauser, Kulhavy On Brink Of Victory
Heat, dust, headwinds and a mechanical hiccup could not prevent Swiss Christoph Sauser and Czech Jaroslav Kulhavy from winning Stage 5 of the Absa Cape Epic from Worcester to Wellington on Friday – their fourth stage win of the 2015 race.
The Investec-Songo-Specialized combination now have an overall lead of more than 10 minutes and it seems only very bad luck – a crash, illness or a serious mechanical issue – can prevent them from winning the event, Sauser for a landmark fifth time.
The 121km route also included some fierce climbs and took them up the national monument that is Bain’s Kloof Pass and then almost immediately on to the fierce three-kilometre Full Monty climb in the Welvanpas trail network.
It was at the bottom of the Full Monty that Sauser and Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) managed to shake off the last of the teams that were hanging on to their tails. By the time they crossed the finish line 15km later they were almost a minute ahead of the chasing Team Bulls, Germany’s Karl Platt and Swiss Urs Huber.
South Africans Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock (RED-E Blend) had a brilliant ride to finish third and to take back the red Absa African special jersey. The race among the all-African teams is proving to be a thriller this year and it has changed shoulders after each of the last three stages.
It was a tough day for Topeak Ergon, the second placed team in the General Classification, as Austrian Alban Lakata first punctured near the start and then twisted a chain when it fell off on a descent. He replaced the chain at the official tech zone at Water Point 3.
Sauser revealed that Kulhavy had been stopped by a “huge branch” that got tangled in his rear wheel halfway through the ride. This had slightly damaged the Czech rider’s rear derailleur.
Sauser wasn’t aware of his partner’s difficulties but then he noticed Kulhavy was not behind him. “You are not allowed to ride back so you never know what could have gone wrong,” said Sauser.
For a moment he feared that his Absa Cape Epic might be over, but “then I was so relieved to see the yellow zebra jersey coming up the hill”.
He said they had ridden conservatively through the extensive network of trails towards the end of the ride after they had dropped the Bulls pairing who came second on the stage.
Platt said: “We had no luck for the past two stages, but finally we got some today …we were strong and we had no problems”.
Hynek and Lakata retained their second place overall, but the Czech rider admitted that the 10 minute and 51 second gap to the leaders was almost insurmountable with only two stages to go: “I don’t think we can close it without them getting mechanicals,” he said.
Another remarkable performance by an all-South African team on Friday came from fourth-placed Gawie Combrinck and Johann Rabie (EAI South Africa). They were among four all-South African teams in the top 10, while local rider Timo Cooper finished 10th with German Stefan Sahm (JAG Foundation).
But the local stars of the day were Lill and Woolcock, who took the red Absa African special jersey from Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes of Scott Factory Racing, who won Thursday’s Stage 4.
Lill said afterwards: “I was very happy for them because it is great for South African riding, but I have the feeling that they paid for it today.”
Saturday’s Stage 6 is a looped 72km course starting and finishing in Worcester. It includes more than 30km of singletrack but also some sharp climbs.
Kleinhans And Langvad On Track For Absa Cape Epic Glory
Not even an extension to the route distance could prevent Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad from storming to another stage victory at the Absa Cape Epic.
On another hot, dry and dusty day at the event, Team RECM Specialized crossed the line in a time of 6:05.33,7. The only minor hiccup on the day was a big crash early in the men’s race, but Langvad and Kleinhans were on the opposite side of the road, and so avoided the pile-up.
Second was Team Ascendis Health, Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot finishing the day in 6:29.20,8. 2007 women’s winner Yolande de Villiers nabbed the last Stage 5 podium place, finishing third on the day with SasolRacing partner Janka Keseg Stevkova.
Stage 5 from Worcester to Wellington was originally scheduled as a 117km slog through the Cape Winelands District, but race organisers were forced to add 5km to the route due to road works on the original course. Extra distance, however, is no problem for the Absa Cape Epic’s power pair.
“We had a really nice ride from start to finish,” said Annika Langvad. “It was actually very bumpy for two-thirds of the route, but then we got on to the tar climb up Bain’s Kloof Pass, which was like heaven. The 20km or so on the tar was a relief and from there we just kicked home.”
On the surface, the only sign that Langvad has been in a gruelling race for six days are a few scratches and cuts from a fall two days ago, but she does admit that the famed climbing of the Cape Epic is starting to take its toll. “In general, I’m feeling okay,” she said. “I can still go and pace on the flat sections or the tar, but my legs are tired. Every day adds up.”
Realistically, only a major catastrophe can stop Team RECM Specialized from winning the Sasol Women’s category. “Things like the crash in the men’s race can take us out, so we just need to stay out of the way,” said Langvad. “That’s mountain biking, though. You think everything is fine and the next thing you’re on the floor.”
Although nearly an hour behind the leaders, Ascendis Health team manager Barry Austin is pleased with Stenerhag and De Groot’s performance. “We came into this aiming for a top five, so lying second overall is great for us,” said Austin. “If you look at the daily results we’ve been really consistent.”
In her first Absa Cape Epic, De Groot is feeling the effects. “At this stage I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. It also feels like we’ve been on the bike for a long time,” she said. “But we’re going well.”
The second women rider over the line on Stage 5 was actually Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå. The former world champion and Olympic gold medallist, though, is riding as an Outcast after partner Kathrin Stirnemann was forced to pull out after breathing complications on Stage 4.
“I didn’t work too hard out there,” said Dahle Flesjå, “so I had a good day. I’m feeling strong and enjoying the experience. I don’t do much stage racing, so this quite unique for me.” Dahle Flesjå says she’s getting better and better as the days go on, and that she’d like to return with more competitive ambitions.
Stage 6 should prove to be a competitive day for the entire field. At just 71km the day sounds short, but more than 2 000m of climbing and the technical trails of Welvenpas will test riders struggling with heavy legs. Dubbed a “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” experience, riders will tackle around 30km of singletrack, but also have to subdue climbs with names like “Forever”. It may feel like forever to some, but the race is almost done.
Full results are available online.
Don’t miss the live stream from 3:30pm AEST today.