Much speculation had been made around a clean-sweep of wins for the men’s Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing and women’s Investec-songo-Specialized pairs ahead of Stage 3’s 107km out-and-back loop from Oak Valley Estate in Elgin; but this is the Absa Cape Epic and it’s not often that a story can be concluded prior to the crossing of the finish line at Val de Vie Estate.
In the Men’s category, overnight leaders Nino Schurter and Lars Forster (Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing) started the fourth day of racing with a healthy four-minute lead after three stage wins, but a puncture on Groenlandberg for Forster – and problems removing the tyre – meant he was forced to ride on the rim for a while before receiving a new wheel.
Some say that the repeated attacks by Fumic and Avancini were wearing Forster down, and it might have caused an error and a bad flat tyre. They needed to fit a tube as a plug wouldn’t work that suggests it was a big tear – a terminal issue for the tyre. The tube flatted, and they ended up needing a wheel from their team mates.
Their problems ended up costing the dominant leaders a massive nine minutes and the overall lead before they could start their chase back.
Second-placed Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing) then proceeded to ride almost 70km by themselves to win the stage ahead of Urs Huber and Simon Stiebjahn (BULLS Heroes) with Damiano Ferraro and Samuele Porro (Trek Selle San Marco) third.
Cannondale’s trouble-free-run means they have taken over the ASSOS leader’s jerseys with a two-minute 42-second advantage over Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing, while BULLS Heroes have moved up to third, five minutes further back and just 11 seconds ahead of the Trek Selle San Marco pair.
Punctures and crashes are part of mountain biking and certainly part of the Cape Epic. The script for this race is far from written. But if it’s true that Lars Forster was under a lot of pressure, then what the other teams like Bulls, Trek Selle San Marco and Cannondale need to do is clear – keep the pressure up on him. They don’t need to crack Nino, but they only need to put one team rider under pressure.
In the Women’s category there was also drama, although Annika Langvad and Anna van der Breggen (Investec-songo-Specialized) cruised to their fourth win from four stages and now lead that race by a massive 23 minutes.
Behind them, second-placed Ariane Lüthi punctured and with partner Maja Wloszczowska (Kross-Spur Racing) lost a chunk of time to slip down to third on the overall standings, behind South African Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath (Summit Fin) who also finished second on the stage.
While there was plenty of movement in the GC of the Men’s and Women’s races, the other racing categories mostly followed the same patterns as the opening three stages, except for the Absa African Women’s special jersey, which now has a new leader.
Amy McDougall was forced to withdraw with a stomach bug, leaving her dormakaba Ladies teammate Sam Sanders to ride on alone in the Leopard jersey. Their withdrawal leaves the Galileo Risk pairing of Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill to take over the top all-African team with a lead of almost three hours.
The SpecializedFoundationNAD team, who are leading Absa African Men’s special jersey race, also looked to be in danger when Matt Beers took a heavy fall, but the tough former Moto-X rider picked himself up and continued. Alan Hatherly and Beers calmly rode back to the front of the all-Africa race and now lead the jersey by 23 minutes with IMBUKO Giant (Marco Joubert and Nicol Carstens) in second.
Sebastian and Laura Stark (TBR Werner), the German husband and wife team who are living and working in Cape Town for a year, consolidated their lead in the Virgin Acive Mixed category and added another five minutes to their lead. Former road riding world champion Oscar Freire Gomez and his partner Natalia Fischer Egusquiza (MMR Mixed) are second.
Popular Spaniard Jose Hermida and his partner, multiple Grand Tour stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Merida Factory Racing), added to their lead in the Dimension Data Masters category and are now a huge 48-minutes ahead of Erik Dekker and Maarten Tjallingii (IBS Capital Allies).
Grand Masters leaders Abraao Azevedo and Bart Brentjens (CST Sandd Bafang) have a lead of 37 minutes over Barti Bucher and Hans Juerg Gerber (Meerendal) after winning Wednesday’s stage by 17 minutes.
For the first time this year the Exxaro special jersey race did not see a change in leader, although Exxaro Pepto Sport’s Sean Baloyi and Anele Mtalana did concede ten minutes to Lucky Mlangeni and Tshepo Tlou (Exxaro/PWC 1). The stage winners have now moved into second position, ahead of Luyanda Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo (BMT Fairtree), and less than three minutes behind Baloyi and Mtalana.
Thursday’s Stage 4 is a 43km time trial starting at Oak Valley.