In another dramatic day at the Absa Cape Epic, Stage Four was marred with the withdrawals of second-place mixed racer Cherise Stander and four-time champion Karl Platt on Thursday.
Stander, who partnered with Theo Blignaut for Team RECM in the mixed race and won Stage Three, had to stop because of breathing difficulties.
“I’m very disappointed, but I just couldn’t go on. Taking risks with your health isn’t worth it,” said the former South Coast rider.
She later tweeted: “Mind, body and soul came together and said its enough. @AbsaCapeEpic where grown people cry. : sorry to all my friends, supporters and sponsors esp my team mate Theo Blignaut a lot of work goes Into getting us on the startline and I couldn’t deliver.”
The Mauritians Yannick Lincoln and Aurelie Halbwachs of Synergy won the Mixed in 4:32.09,2 (overall 22:34.46,4). In second place were Trek Israel’s Gal Tsachor and Idit Shub in 4:51.16,2 (overall 24:05.19,9), followed by Asrin Cycling’s Nizaam Essa and Christina Kollmann in 5:03.18,7 (overall 24:52.11,7). Synergy still leads this category by 1 hour, 30 minutes and 33,5 seconds.
Says Tsachor of Trek Israel: “We never expected this. We wanted to be top 5 maybe, but being on the podium is so much more than what we were hoping for. The Epic is amazing and that’s why we come back every year.
“This is our fifth Epic and we decided we should have some proper goals. This year we wanted to be top five. We thought it was time to fulfill our potential, but second was never in our thoughts. We’re really sad to hear about Cherise Stander though. We wish her well.”
Team Bulls’ Platt from Germany has finished all 10 previous editions of the Cape Epic, but was left with no choice but to withdraw from the race because of a knee injury suffered during Stage Two.
Platt had a big crash at full speed on a downhill during Stage Two. His bike squeezed his knee badly, but he was more disorientated from the fall on his head initially.
“I had some pain, but I think the adrenaline numbed most of it for the rest of the stage. Yesterday [Stage Three] at around the 65km mark it felt like someone stuck a knife in my knee,” he says. Platt had to go slower and tried to find a position on the bike that was not painful.
“After the river crossing I could not pedal any more. At 82km I thought it was over, but somehow we made it to the finish line. This morning I felt it, but thought I might be able to go on. I just wanted to finish the race as I’ve never not finished the Epic before. But on the first climb I knew there was trouble. At 7km I said to Urs it’s no use. I can’t pedal. I can walk, I can talk and now I can smile, but I couldn’t pedal.
“I finished an Epic with a dislocated shoulder before. I rode eight stages with a dislocated shoulder, but if you can’t pedal … then it’s over. I won’t say it was the hardest decision to make, because I had no choice. I’m very disappointed because I was in the shape of my life. I will be back though. I just want to say thanks for all the support. Twitter has been going crazy!”
With regards to the terrain, Stage Four was the kind of day that makes a mountain biker’s heart beat faster – due to the abundance of single track (although there was plenty of climbing crammed into the relatively short stage).
The stage was a constant roller coaster of farm roads, twisty and rocky single track as well as some district roads in the middle section for riders to spin out their legs. A historical highlight of the day was a visit to the small town of Genadendal, the first mission station in Southern Africa, with its Moravian Church. More flowing trails took riders to the neighbouring town of Greyton.
As the crow flies it was less than 10km from there to finish, but instead riders were left wondering whether to love or hate the route designers during the next 25-odd-kilometres where (on tired legs) short but hard climbs alternated with exhilarating descents.
The Swiss/South African duo of Nino Schurter and Philip Buys of SCOTT-Odlo MTB Racing showed their form today by finishing in first place in 3:46.04,9 (overall 19:21.43,5). They were followed by the German team of Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess (Centurion-Vaude) in 3:47.31,7, followed by Topeak-Ergon Racing’s Robert Mennen and Kristian Hynek in 3:47.46,6.
Team Topeak-Ergon Racing’s Mennen and Hynek still lead this category by 11 minutes and 47,5 seconds (overall 18:44.28,4) after their third podium finish this week. Sauser and Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized) have moved up to second place overall in 18:56.15,9. The Bulls 2 team of Tim Boehme and Simon Stiebjahn are now in third place overall in 18:58.14,9 with Torpado Factory’s Roel Paulissen and Chiarini Riccardo in fourth place overall (19:10.33,9).
It was the perfect stage for the cross-country specialists; Schurter and Buys took advantage of the good conditions and the single track to get their first stage win ever at the Absa Cape Epic.
Says Schurter of SCOTT-Odlo MTB Racing: “Now we are where we like to be. On the podium! This was proper mountain biking and perfect for Phil and I. With our 27.5 tyres we were very quick and sharp in the corners. It’s also nice to ride with Phil and I get a lot of support. It hasn’t been going like we wanted until today, but Phil is getting stronger so who knows… I might be in the hurtbox in the next few days.”
Adds Buys: “This is so special for me – winning my first stage and riding with Nino. It’s been tough going thus far and I’m just happy to have been able to keep up today. Luckily the motivation has been good. We went to the front on the technical sections and just kept our own pace and that was enough. I struggled on the climbs, but luckily we got gaps on the downhills and managed to keep that on the climbs.”
According to Mennen of Topeak-Ergon Racing, “the jersey is not jinxed! We’re still in the lead and I’m thrilled with that. I had some nervous moments when I lost Kristian for a while, but he wasn’t that far off. We had our problems on day 1 so I’ve been happy since then.”
For Hynek it was a great day. “It was so beautiful and much easier than yesterday. I had some problems with grass in my gears, but could sort that without too much damage. We gained some time today and that is all we can ask for. We know there are three more days to go, but we’re happy to be in the lead and not needing to take risks anymore.”
Kaess of Centurion-Vaude reckons they only want podiums and stage victories. “We can’t get anything else from the Epic after the frame problems. We’ll keep going strong and give it our all.”
Sauser broke his chain and lost time to repair it. Says Raboñ of Meerendal Songo Specialized: “Now that is also ticked off! Another mechanical problem. This is frustrating because we’re strong, but the problems are making it tough. I’m not complaining though. All teams have that. It’s also a shame about Karl. I was really sorry to hear about that.”
Sasol Women’s Category:
Swiss/Danish duo Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad (RECM 2) won the stage for the third day in a row in a time of 4:13.08,4 and now lead this category (overall 21:39.50,2) by 1 minute and 11 seconds. They were followed by the Meerendal team of Esther Süss and Sally Bigham in 4:25.42,0 (21:41.01,3). In third place were Jennie Stenerhag and Theresa Ralph of Cape Brewing Company in 4:36.52,5 (overall 22:43.34,9).
Says Langvad of RECM 2: “Today was amazing. It was real mountain biking and no road racing. We could ride on our power and skill. That’s what we like. I’m so excited to be in the lead again. We want to win. We hoped for more minutes today, so to be in the lead is a surprise, but we’re happy. We’ll take it. We had our fair share of bad luck.”
Kleinhans adds that she has a great partner in Langvad. “She knows me so well. We don’t even talk that much anymore. It’s like riding with Erik! Our bikes were so amazing and it was a joy riding on them.”
Bigham of team Meerendal says that Süss lost air in her rear shock. “We looked for a shock pump at the tech point, but had no luck. We then locked it, but Esther’s position wasn’t right and she struggled. We made it to the finish. We’re still feeling good and will fight for the victory.” Süss continues: “It was so bad. I’m glad to finish today.”
The Masters category was again won by Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (BETCH.nl Superior Meerendal) for the third time in 4:04.32,0 (overall 21:00.19,2). They were followed by Shan Wilson and Adrian Enthoven of Definitive Bikes team in 4:12.17,1 (overall 21:04.05) with Warren Squires and Nic White of team Absa masters in third place (4:23.03,2; overall 22:49.13,2). Brentjens and Azevedo now lead this category by 3 minutes and 45,8 seconds and are placed 18th overall.
Says Wilson of Definitive Bikes: “You know, some days you are the hammer and other days you are the nail. Today my partner struggled after I had my bad day yesterday. We lost the overall lead, but it’s not over. We’ll keep fighting until Lourensford. The damage is not that big and the wheel always turns.”
Andrew McLean and Heinz Zoerweg of Cycle Lab Toyota finished in first place in the Grand Masters for the fifth day in a row in a time of 4:12.26,6 (overall 20:38.01,3). They were followed by Bärti Bucher and Doug Brown of Meerendal Songo Specialized 4 in 4:19.26,0 (overall 21:35.47,3). Eben Espach and Corrie Muller of Absa Grand Masters finished third in 4:34.54,5 (overall 22:42.50,9).
Says Mclean of Cycle Lab Toyota: “It was a good stage and my partner was strong. We enjoyed it all.”
Absa African Jersey:
The fastest African team was Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns of SCOTT Factory Racing for Stage Four in 3:50.41,2. They were followed by Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell of RECM in 3:54.32,4. Kevin Evans and Max Knox of FedGroup Itec finished in third place in 3:54.53,5.
Evans and Knox keep the Absa African special jersey, now 11 minutes and 4 seconds in front of the second all-African team of Beukes and Heyns.
Phillimon Sebona and Jan Motshioa of Exxaro/PwC won the category in a time of 4:11.20,1 (overall 22:27.56,9). Siphosenkosi Madolo and Azukile Simayile of team Meerendal Songo Specialized 16 will still wear the Exxaro special jersey for the fifth day in a row. Their overall time is 22:24.19,4 and they are placed 29th overall (GC).
Stage Five: GREYTON TO ELGIN (110km, 2900m of climbing)
Stage Five will be the queen stage – arguably the hardest of this year’s race, with the most amount of climbing. It will be wise for riders to conserve some energy on the first 50km where Serengeti awaits as the warm up to its big brother Rusty Gate, the highest point in this year’s race. It will be a relentless 5km climb at an average 10% gradient! What goes up must come down, with a short spike on a firebreak, which will be more challenging on the mind than the legs.
A short tar section along the Theewaterskloof Dam wall will offer some reprieve, before it will get tough again with some steep climbs as riders will generally make their way skywards to water point three. Thereafter, it will be rugged false flat grind, on a loose eroded surface, flanking the majestic Groenlandberg. It will be slow going, through truly spectacular scenery. From the nek the last 14km will mostly be downhill all the way to the race village at Oak Valley Wine Estate, a rewarding finish to a truly epic day.
Follow the Absa Cape Epic at www.cape-epic.com