With intensely high temperatures experienced for the Absa Cape Epic Prologue and Stage 1, race organisers made the difficult decision to cut Stage 2 by 40km, leaving riders racing 62km instead of 102km.
“This is a big decision for us and we have never done it before in 14 years of staging the race, but the safety of our riders is paramount,” said Absa Cape Epic CEO Lynn Naudé.
The 62km will include about 1 500m of vertical gain, down from 2 350m on the original route. The finish will take place at Caledon Botanical Gardens.
“We made the call after extensive discussions with the medical team and key stakeholders,” said Naudé. “We considered various options but decided this was the fairest and safest option.”
Stage 3 will start as scheduled in Greyton on Wednesday and the race organisers were early today busy organising shuttles to get bikes and riders from Caledon to Greyton.
“We’ve been up through the night making plans to organise the finishline logistics and have this run as smoothly as possible, but we ask all stakeholders to be patient,” said Naudé. “Barring any unforeseen developments the rest of the race will be held as scheduled.”
The action on Cape Epic Stage 2
The short distance, though, meant nothing to the elite men’s field as they cranked up the heat on what essentially became a long, fast cross-country course.
Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized) were first in a sprint over the line to claim their first stage win of the 2017 event, with Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) just behind in second. Overall leaders Manual Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC) finished third on the day, but hold an almost three-minute lead over Sauser and Kulhavy in the race for the 2017 title.
Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized) were first over the line in a thrilling sprint finish to claim their first stage win of the 2017 event, with Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) just behind in second. Overall leaders Manual Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC) were in the sprint but finished third on the day and hold a decent two minute-plus lead over Sauser and Kulhavy in the race for the Absa Cape Epic title.
From the outset, the pace was fast and furious as some teams eyed a potential stage win with the distance cut by 40km. According to Fumic and Schurter, it was Philiip Buys and Matthys Beukes (PYGA Euro Steel) who started like an all too common Western Cape veld fire, blazing their way out of Hermanus.
“It was hectic at the start, really frantic stuff,” said Fumic. “The Pyga guys clearly wanted a stage win, so they went off like rockets. But I wasn’t surprised by the pace; it was just pure cross-country racing today. There was a lot of suffering on the route, but I am used to suffering.
“Henrique and I weren’t too worried, because our plan was always to sit in the peloton and to see what happens. Nino and Matthias pushed at the Hot Spot so we went with. Jaro and Susi dropped off but Jaro kept bringing them back on the flats. At this stage he was doing all the work.”
Schurter added, “That was a hard and fast day. The pace was hot from start to finish. I think the teams chasing the Absa African special jersey wanted a stage win and they went really fast from the start. Phil (Buys) and Matthys (Beukes) really flew from the minute we started.”
Despite the cross-country like conditions, it was the marathon men who came away victorious on the stage. “That was very tough. The first half was so fast, and then we didn’t stop at all for water. I was worried at one stage, but we managed to pull through,” said Kulhavy. “Christoph lost contact up the big climb, but luckily he caught and we were able to push on for the stage win.”
Schurter was happy with his performance on the shortened stage. “It was a good race today. I knew that when they made it shorter we could expect a fast day,” he said. “Our plan was just to see how the day unfolded. We decided to attack on the Dimension Data Hotspot and Manny and Henrique came with us. Jaro and Susi dropped off, but then after some single track there was a flat section where Jaro’s power helped. Susi was able to hang in and they got over the line first.”
For Fumic and Avancini, the surprise leaders as the race heads into Stage 3, there is the prospect of a major upset in the air. Stage 3 will, at 78km, will also suit their considerable talents, and leave the chasing pack with the tricky task of trying to eat into their lead on another shortish day.
They are playing their cards close to their chest, though, and will continue a so far successful strategy of riding hard at the front and attempting to control the pace of the race. They’ll also continue having fun.
“For us it’s all about limiting damage and making the chasing teams do the work. They are the ones under pressure, not us. We are very comfortable and we just try to stay in front and control the situation,” said Fumic. “So far it is working. Our tactics going forward are pretty simple; every night that we are in the yellow leaders’ jersey we drink red wine, that is our motivation to stay in front for the rest of the week.”
PYGA Euro Steel see red again at Cape Epic
Once again PYGA Euro Steel’s Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes earned the right to wear the red Absa African special jersey after the shortened Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic where they made the pace at the front of the race early in the 62km course.
Buys and Beukes crossed the ad hoc finish line at the Caledon Botanical Gardens with a stage time of 2:37.02, 10 minutes in front of their nearest Absa African special jersey challengers, BCX (Waylon Woolcock and Hendrik Kruger).
Beukes was happy to finish with a strong lead over BCX and said, “I think it was a good decision to shorten the race. This of course made the racing pretty intense from the start, which we liked. The stage was exciting and the route was quite spectacular.”
Lessons are learned fast on the Absa Cape Epic, and a slight tweak to their strategy meant they were able to pull out a lead and put some pressure on the front runners early on in the day.
“Yesterday I struggled at the back of the pack and that hurt me quite a bit, so this morning we stayed out in the front to set the pace. This is great because it means we can ride in the top five,” said Beukes.
“Three quarters of the way through the stage we backed off a little bit – there are still five days left so there’s no point in ripping off the legs now.”
Buys was happy to use the shortened course to PYGA Euro Steel’s advantage, and adapted accordingly.
“We definitely tried to use it to our benefit. The stage was shorter and faster which suited us a little better than some of the other African teams, and that’s where we capitalised.
“We communicated and gauged ourselves. We discussed if we wanted to go for the stage win but we didn’t chase it in the end. We hung around in front for some time and decided not to push for it.”
Buys does not think it was an opportunity lost.
“I don’t think our lead was unnecessary because I think we got quite a lead for the Absa African special jersey, and it would also be great to go for a stage win somewhere. There is fuel in the tank, and this is where we get going now.”
Woolcock and Kruger had a tougher day than they hoped for, with each rider having issues that forced them to concede time.
“In the first 10 kilometres I had some technical problems, so I was forced to stop and found it was a jammed chain and jockey wheel. That cost us time and a lot of riders passed us, so when we got going again we had to find our way through some bad traffic.
“I think another long day would have been a little tough on many of the riders. It would have been tough for us as Waylon was battling some issues of his own, so in hindsight I think we are lucky the day was shortened.
Woolcock didn’t face mechanical issues, but rather health problems.
“Yesterday and last night I started to have some stomach issues. I’m glad that it’s an early finish today – it just gives me a chance to recover. It was also fortunate that we didn’t lose too much time, thanks to the shorter distance,” said Woolcock.
In the race for the Exarro special jersey, Diepsloot MTB Academy (William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona) remained dominant in Stage 2, extending their overall gap to 28 minutes and 20 seconds.
Mokgopo says it’s a great feeling to hold onto the Exxaro special jersey yet again.
“We came here to try and get a lead right from the first day and then maintain it from there. Today we did just that and tried to open the gap. Phillimon was a champion today,” said Mokgopo.
Although they hold an impressive lead in the Exarro special jersey race, Sebona plans to stay realistic. “The Absa Cape Epic is such a long race and you have to try conserve as much as you can. If we look at our performance history, we have sometimes popped after the first day. That is why it is good to have such a great partner in William. We help as much as we can, and we really do believe in each other.”
Stenerhag and Suss consolidate Absa Cape Epic lead
Jennie Stenerhag and Esther Suss (Meerendal CBC) claimed another stage victory at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic, crossing the line of the shortened Stage 2 in a time of 3:05.51,7.
Their nearest rivals for the Hansgrohe Women’s category, Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) were right behind them in second, but Meerendal CBC’s overall lead sits at a comfortable eight minutes and 58 seconds.
Third on the day went to defending champion Ariane Lüthi and her new partner Adelheid Morath (Spur), who finished just over five minutes after the first two teams. Barring a major mishap for the leaders or the intervention of a minor miracle for Spur, it would appear that a new women’s champion will be crowned in 2017.
On a day that was shortened from 102km to 62km due to the extreme heat of the previous day and the potential for more hot weather and humid conditions on Stage 2, it was always going to be tough for De Groot and Spitz to cut into the lead of Stenerhag and Suss; and so it proved.
The four riders spent the entire stage riding together, with neither team being able to make a break. De Groot, though, was in high spirits and finished the stage all smiles. “It was a good ride; in fact it was very nice to ride together with Jennie and Esther,” she said. “Sabine and I were comfortable. We wanted a risk-free day, so we just took it easy. On a day like this there is not much you can do, so we kept it nice and tight and just enjoyed the ride.”
Stenerhag, who’s 2016 Absa Cape Epic, where she partnered De Groot, ended prematurely due to ill-health, is enjoying her moment in the orange leaders jersey. “I am very happy with the way the week is going,” she said. “It’s great to be in the lead, and Esther and I are having a great time. I must admit, though, that today was quite strange.”
Like the men’s race, the shorter distance didn’t mean an easier ride for those chasing titles. “Shorter often equals harder,” said Stenerhag. “The pace was really up from the minute we started. But we didn’t mind. As we’ve done every day, Esther and I just took it kilometre by kilometre; our only real strategy is to see how each day unfolds. Today Robyn and Sabine were really strong, so our plan was just to stay with them and let them do all the work. In the days to come, the pressure is really on them to make a move.”
Suss is also enjoying her time in orange again. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium at the Absa Cape Epic, so to be able to ride like this with Jennie and be in the lead is fantastic,” she said. “I am very happy with my form and just enjoying the experience of being in front again!”
Mixed emotions at the Cape Epic
Meanwhile Rio Olympic gold medallist Jenny Rissveds, who is leading the Mixed category with mountain biking legend Thomas Frischknecht, was a bit bemused to read media reports she had collapsed in the intense heat after Stage 1 on Monday.
“I don’t know why people are making such a thing out of that. Because people were coming up with all sorts of headlines,” she said after Stage 2, which was shortened by 40km due to predictions of the second day of intense heat.
“Actually, after five and a half hours in 35 degree heat, I preferred to lay down in the shade and that’s what I did.
“I’m not a robot and a monster. But I’m glad the organisers take this seriously.
“This race is a new experience for me and it is fun. For sure it’s tough, it’s not like I’m out there smiling for three hours. When you finish it is just a great feeling to know what you have achieved and it is a great atmosphere.”
Team New World St Martins were back in the game on Stage 2, and Mark Williams checked in, confirming that the shortened stage was certainly a good decision by race organisers.
“We had a great day today, did our own thing and picked up the pace later in the (shortened) stage to bring a few teams back and set up a great finish with current 3rd place. Kate found her climbing legs and put a burner on the last climb into Caledon, so we finished 3rd on the stage again. It was incredibly hot, some readings as high as 45° – good call by organisers to chop the distance in that kind of heat. Lots of fun single-track today, and more tomorrow; can’t wait!
Stage 3 of the Absa Cape Epic is a 78km circular route of the area surrounding Greyton and Genadendal that starts and finishes at Elandskloof.