Crashes in both the leading teams at the Absa Cape Epic could not unseat either from the top of the overall standings, but the top men did have their lead more than halved during Thursday’s 43km Time Trial stage at Oak Valley.
Minor crashes for Annika Langvad from Investec-songo-Specialized, the leading Women’s category team, and Manuel Fumic from Cannondale Factory Racing, did not result in any physical injuries although Fumic damaged his bike and now he and partner Henrique Avancini are likely to face a tough battle to hold their lead in Friday’s 100km Queen Stage.
Langvad and Anna van der Breggen collected their fifth win from five stages despite Langvad sliding off the trail at one point when she “lost concentration”. The pair of World Champions added another 1:44 to their lead over Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath (Summit Fin) and now lead the Women’s category by over 25 minutes while Ariane Lüthi and Maja Wloszczowska (Kross-Spur Racing) are 33 minutes off the leaders in third.
While the women’s race is turning into a fight for second, the battle for the Men’s category overall lead is building to an exciting Grand Finale and the two leading teams are sure to be looking for every second they can find on Friday’s ride from Oak Valley to Stellenbosch.
Fumic crashed within three kilometres of the start and damaged his suspension lockout system, leaving the German with no rear suspension for the remainder of the 43km race against the clock.
The Cannondale Factory Racing pair still ended second on the day, but lost 88 seconds to Stage 4 winners, the Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing pair of Nino Schurter and Lars Forster. Fumic and Avancini held on to their overall lead but now only have a tenuous advantage of just 73 seconds with three stages and 259km of tough racing remaining.
There was a change in the minor placings with Damiano Ferraro and Samuele Porro (Trek Selle San Marco) moving into third, nine minutes and 50 seconds behind the leaders, but just 13 seconds ahead of fourth placed Urs Huber and Simon Stiebjahn (BULLS Heroes).
The leading Absa African Men’s Jersey team of Alan Hatherly and Matt Beers (SpecializedFoundationNAD) bounced back from Beers’ big crash on Stage 3 and finished eighth overall on the day to move up to sixth on GC. They are now almost 25 minutes ahead of Marco Joubert and Nicol Carstens (Imbuko Giant) with last year’s Red Jersey winner Julian Jessop and Arno du Toit (DSV Pro Cycling) 15 minutes further back in 18th overall.
Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill (Galileo Risk) have a three-hour lead in the Absa African Women’s Jersey race and are currently lying sixth overall among the women.
There were a few new faces at the top of the stage podium on Thursday in other categories.
In the Dimension Data Masters category, former road-racing professionals Erik Dekker and Maarten Tjallingii (IBS Capital Allies) collected their first stage win, but are still a distant 43 minutes behind category leaders Jose Hermida and Joaquim Rodriguez (Merida Factory Racing). Ondrej Fojtik and José Silva (Mitas Head New Race) were second over the Time Trial course and are third overall, just over three minutes behind the stage winners on GC.
Grand Masters leaders Abraao Azevedo and Bart Brentjens (CST Sandd Bafang) added another 11 minutes to their lead with Andrew McLean and David de Lima (Cycle Lab) claiming second despite McLean injuring his eye on Wednesday’s stage. Barti Bucher and Hans Juerg Gerber (Meerendal) remain second overall, a remote 48 minutes off the lead and 30 minutes ahead of McLean and de Lima.
Sebastian and Laura Stark (TBR Werner) suffered their first defeat in the Virgin Active Mixed category when David Miller and Shayna Powless (Miller Paneling) beat former road riding world champion Oscar Freire Gomez and Natalia Fischer Egusquiza (MMR Mixed) into second by just 30 seconds. The Starks were third on the day and lead the category by 43 minutes with Miller Paneling just 63 seconds ahead of MMR Mixed in the battle for second.
The exciting race for the Exxaro Jersey also threw up a new result with overnight leaders Sean Baloyi and Anele Mtalana (Exxaro Pepto Sport) struggling home fourth on the stage and dropping just over a minute behind Lucky Mlangeni and Tshepo Tlou (Exxaro/PWC 1) on GC. The stage winners were Luyanda Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo (BMT Fairtree) who beat all their rivals by over four minutes to hold onto third overall.
Friday’s stage is the Queen stage and competitors face a tough 100km with 2 850m of climbing as they make their way from Oak Valley Estate to the new race village at Stellenbosch University.