Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) claimed a second consecutive stage win at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic, and at the same time managed to eat into the time gap of the overall leaders, Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC).
Second on Stage 3, which ended in a sprint finish, were Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing), with third-place going to Nicola Rohrbach and Daniel Geismayr (Centurion Vaude 2).
Stage 3 was a relatively short 78km that took riders out of the Elandskloof race village towards Genadendal and through the Greyton network of mountain bike trails. It was a day for the cross-country specialists to rise to the occasion, with Schurter and Stirnemann duly obliging.
The pair, who had picked the stage for a potential win, were aggressive on the climbs and descents, causing overall leaders Cannondale to drop off the pace a number of times. But the Olympic champion and his partner just couldn’t shake off the imposing presence of Sauser and Kulhavy.
Sitting patiently and biding their time, Investec-Songo-Specialized made the decisive attack on the final big climb of the day (the UFO climb, so named because of a bizarre building at the top). As they pushed, Cannondale Factory Racing XC dropped back and were forced into a helter skelter descent to make up time. Sauser and Kulhavy simply kept their cool, and ensured that the stage would go down to a two-team sprint. With Kulhavy in front and Schurter second, Stirnemann misjudged the location of the finish line and started sprinting too early, allowing Sauser to power past.
“That was a good day for us,” said a relaxed Sauser. “We managed to make good progress and win the stage. It was only a short day so we weren’t expecting to eat too much time into the Cannondale Factory Racing XC guys, but we did so we’ll take the win and that little bonus.
“Our plan was always to put in some extra effort up the last climb of the day in the hope that we could split the bunch, and that seemed to work. The Cannondale guys were chasing hard, but we could tell that they were on the rivet. We were then able to go down nice and conservatively; there are some horrible, sharp rocks there and the last thing we wanted was a flat or a crash.”
Kulhavy, who looked incredibly fresh when crossing the line, added, “That was a much better day than yesterday. Our plan was to attack on the climbs and the flats; that worked well for us today.”
For the SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing team, it was a case of what might have been. They worked hard all day, only for a minor miscalculation to rob them of a stage win (though Schurter clearly enjoyed the dice; after crossing the line he immediately embraced Sauser with a big hug and bigger smile).
“This was a shorter stage, so Nino and I felt like it would suit us better,” said Stirnemann. “We want to win a stage every day, but this was one we thought that we could take. I thought we had it in the end, but I started sprinting for the finish too early; I didn’t know where it was! That’s when Susi passed me at the very last second. I enjoyed the ride, though. The whole day was very nice, with great riding.”
With a long day tomorrow – 112km from Elandskloof to Oak Valley in Elgin – the overall leaders will have their work cut out for them. Especially after a day when not everything went their way.
“That was tough. But we survived,” said Avancini. “For the first half we had it under control. But Jaroslav and Christoph were really strong on the climbs and the flats. That’s where we lost it a bit. Mannie was also clipped by a bike towards the end, which slowed us down slightly. It was a hard day for us but we fought hard and we’ll carry on fighting to the very last day.”
Stage 4 will certainly suit the big engine of Jaroslav Kulhavy and the nous of Sauser, so if Cannondale Factory Racing XC are to hold on to their slender lead of one minute and 20 seconds, they’ll have to fight all the way.
Suss/Stenerhag lose sprint but hold on to commanding Cape Epic lead
As the leading riders moved into the second half of the Absa Cape Epic on Stage 3 around Greyton on Wednesday, the race for the Hansgrohe Women’s category title between teams Meerendal CBC and Ascendis Health is looking more and more likely to come down to good – or bad – fortune.
For the second day in a row there was no obvious difference between the two pairings as they spent the entire 78km stage locked in a close battle with neither able to gain a definitive advantage. Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) managed to get the stage win by outsprinting the overall race leaders, Esther Suss and Jennie Stenerhag, in a desperate dash for the finish line after three hours 41 minutes and 20 seconds of racing.
These two teams have dominated the women’s race so far and between them have won all four of the stages. Ascendis Health has wins from the Prologue and Stage 3 while Meerendal emerged victorious on Stages 1 and 2.
On Wednesday there was nothing to choose between the two once again and it is hard to see anybody else coming through to challenge after the chasers conceded time for the fourth stage in a row.
Mariske Strauss and Annie Last (Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro) are the best of the rest and only lost three minutes on Wednesday (3:44:25), but are now 24 minutes off the pace overall and it would take a remarkable set of circumstances for the them to come into contention for the win.
The key factor dividing the leading two teams so far was a small mechanical problem for Spitz on Stage 1 and then her spectacular crash on the same stage when she lost concentration and crashed over the edge of a steep, rocky bank. While the crash was unlucky, the general opinion is that Spitz is fortunate to still be in the race.
That bad luck means Ascendis Health has an almost nine-minute deficit to make up and they might need a chunk of good fortune if they are going to claw the time back.
“Today went well,” said Spitz after edging out Suss in the sprint to claim the stage. “Actually the riding time was a lot shorter than we expected today. The shorter stage was not good for us, but for all the riders and the fun riders we appreciate that it was good riding.
“We are still work on making up time and will work on it day by day. It is interesting that when we checked our computers from Stage 1 and compared it to my mishap with the crash and when I struggled with the gearrings, that was almost exactly the time difference between us and Jennie and Esther on the day. So I think we are about the same level.
“We will see day by day … we need to see if there is a technical issue for them maybe, or one of them has a hard day.”
Suss dismissed any suggestion they were content with their nine-minute lead and riding a defensive race.
“No! We definitely did not just try and sit on,” she said while recovering after the hectic race for the line on Wednesday. “We try to go as fast as we can. Jennie went to the front and went as hard as she could when she was strong, and I went hard on the front when I could. We tried very hard in the second part of the day.
“We are not really happy with the second. I worked maybe too hard on the flat section just before the finish. But we are still in the lead and today we did not lose any time, so I think that is the best for us.”