A race like the Cape Epic won’t be won in the prologue, but Daniel Geismayr and Nicola Rohrbach sure made a point as the Centurion-Vaude team won the first hit out on Table Mountain.
With a somewhat technical course featuring washed-out corners and steep, tricky climbs, the 20km route had been touted to favour the cross-country specialists, or at least that’s what everybody thought.
Canyon Topeak’s Alaban Lakata put it bluntly at a press conference on Thursday: “Us marathon riders are going to show the cross-country guys just how to race the Absa Cape Epic.” And that’s exactly how it panned out as marathon specialists Daniel Geismayr and Nicola Rohrbach powered to victory in calculated fashion ahead of Cannondale Factory Racing’s Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini, and darkhorse team, Buff Scott MTB’s Francesc Guerra Carretero and Luis Leao Pinto, who finished third.
“It’s a great feeling to win the Prologue and I could feel leading up to the race that we had good legs – but to win is incredible and to wear the yellow jersey tomorrow is important to us,” said Geismayr. Partner Nicola Rohrbach was equally ecstatic and said: “It’s unbelievable that we won today. We are feeling super strong and are looking forward to the next four days and the longer stages.”
Defending champions Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann were the last team to leave the ramp and in spite of coming into the race as defending champions, the pairing looked relaxed ahead of the start. “We are looking forward to this ultimate adventure. We showed last year what we can do, and we will try to win the race and have a fun week,” said Schurter.
The Scott-Sram duo took some time to get going but once they found a rhythm they managed to eat away at the clock, eventually finishing in fourth place in a time of 0:45.23,3.
The Cannondale Factory Racing pairing of Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini finished strong – to the delight of cheering fans – using all of their expertise to scythe through the technical sections and singletrack, restoring a semblance of pride for the cross-country riders in the process. “We’re very happy with the start,” said Fumic. “We would have liked to be in yellow but we don’t mind chasing!”
In the biggest shock of the day Team Bulls were unable to stamp any ascendancy. Five-time winner Karl Platt laboured on the climbs and trailed partner Urs Huber for the majority of the course. In fact, they were beaten by their teammates – the Bulls 2 contingent of Simon Stiebjahn and Tim Bohme, who finished four places ahead of them in 13th position. “I just did not have enough power today,” said Platt. “I was the one holding Urs (Huber) back and I struggled to get into any kind of rhythm.”
Langvad and Courtney take the women’s lead
In the Women’s category, three-time winner Annika Langvad and her novice partner Kate Courtney combined perfectly to win and take a confidence boosting 72-second lead into Stage 1. Not that you can call Langvad a marathon specialist with 4 world titles, but it’s clear her experience again played a role. The experienced Dane and her 22-year-old American partner combined perfectly despite it being the first time they had raced together as a team.
The Investec Songo Specialized pair took 53 minutes 18,5 seconds to finish the 19km course on the slopes of Table Mountain. That was 1:12,6 ahead of Lagvad’s former partner Ariane Lüthi of Switzerland, who has teamed up with Belgium’s Githa Michiels (Spur). They were followed home by two South African/European combinations, with Robyn de Groot and German veteran Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) third, 2:14,2 behind the leaders and, one second later, Mariske Strauss and her English partner Annie Last (Silverback – KMC).
The first all-South African combination was Candice Lill and Amy Beth McDougall (dormakaba) who are fifth, 3.20,8 behind Langvad and Courtney.
Langvad, who added a fourth Mountain Bike Marathon World Championship title to her name in 2017, was very happy with the new combination after a near-perfect stage.
“We had a really good strategy in our mind and it played played out to perfection today,” she said after crossing the line. “Kate and I have not ridden as a team together but I was really surprised at how well it worked. I think we had it dialled in from the first pedal stroke … it felt really good.”
“The course was a bit more dry and loose from all the riders who had gone through, but I knew it was going to be that way. I was a very cautious on the loose areas and then tried to push hard on the other areas.” Courtney was very excited with a stage win on his first ever Absa Cape Epic stage.
“It was an incredible team effort today,” said the USA cross country champion. “Annika is such a team player and she just made sure we played to both our strengths. Rather than put me in the hurt locker on the first day, she really pushed my pace and brought out the best of both of us.”
Lüthi was not too disappointed to have given away a minute to her former partner.
“I was really happy with second. Racing for an hour is a gear up from what I am used to and to race against the cross country riders is really hard on a stage like this.”
Masters at the Cape Epic
In the Dimension Data Masters category, the American pairing of George Hincapie and Christian Vande Velde, well-known for helping teammates win Grand Tours on the road, helped themselves to victory. The two former US Postal teammates, riding as Team Absa–WBR, will take a healthy one-minute lead into Stage 1 after completing the 19km Prologue on the slopes of Table Mountain in 50 minutes 15,9 seconds. Just 59,6 seconds behind the two former professional road riders are Italian Massimo Debertolis and Czech Republic’s Ondrej Fojtik (Wilier Force 7C 2) and then a tightly bunched pack of three teams all sitting within 15 seconds of each other.
The all South Africa pairing of Nic Lamond and Paris Basson (Podium-Today’s Plan) are third, 1.30 back and less than a second ahead of Erik Dekker and Maikel Govaarts from Holland (Dutch Masters). Australians Brad Clarke and Rohin Adams sit in 5th, putting them in start zone A behind the pro riders – we expect big things from these two in the coming days.
The Grand Masters category for riders over 50-years-old was led by 2016 champions Roberts Sim and Udo Boelts, the former Giro d’Italia stage winner from Germany, who finished in a time of 53.32,0.
Sim and Boelts are 2.52,5 ahead of 2017 champion Barti Bucher and his novice partner Hans Juerg Gerber (Meerendal CBC 2), while former Sharks rugby centre Jeremy Thomson and seven-time Dusi Canoe Marathon winner Martin Dreyer (Above and Beyond) are a surprise third.
Meanwhile, Argentine team Agustina Maria Apaza and Cesar Lettoli (Merida Argentina) blew the rest of the field away in their debut at the Absa Cape Epic in the Virgin Active Mixed category, finishing over four minutes ahead of the second-placed team. South Africa’s Nicky Giliomee and Brennan Anderson (Journey by Junto) were 4:04,9 behind them with Australian pair, Briony Mattocks and Wayne Dickinson (Cycle Northside) home in third, 5:08,8 behind the leaders.
Lucky Mlangeni and Tshepo Tlou took an early lead in the Exxaro special jersey race. The Team Exxaro/PWC pair hold a lead of just under two minutes on the RMB Change a Life pairing of Ndumiso Dontso and Luvuyo Siyasi, with Rilamulele Gadabeni and Patrick Rengange (Exxaro/RMB) two minutes further back.
Tomorrow’s tough, marathon-type 110km/1900m course starts and finishes at Arabella Wine Estate. Over that sort of distance the gaps between the leaders are not likely to prove significant.