Theo Blignaut and former South Coast rider Cherise Stander of RECM Mixed continued their strong form in a very muddy Stage Two of the eight-day Absa Cape Epic mountain bike race on Tuesday.
After the rude awakening of Stage One, Stage Two was supposed to be somewhat gentler, but heavy rainfall and muddy conditions posed a brand new challenge.
The day started off with single track, before visiting the quaint village of McGregor with its well-preserved 19th century architecture. Water point two right in the main road promised a festival atmosphere where the warm hospitality of the Langeberg region was sure to lift the spirits.
Speeds increased as district roads headed deep into the unspoiled expanses of this rugged and striking landscape of red sandstone and underlying shale formations. The hardest climb of the day, Neil’s Folly, awaited around the 75km mark, but riders got to enjoy some wonderful sections of the day’s characteristic flowing semi-desert Karoo trails, before descending into the lush Breede River Valley, and home to Arabella Wines.
Yannick Lincoln and Aurelie Halbwachs of team Synergy won the Mixed category for the second day in a row in 5:07.50,5 (overall 12:15.33,5), followed by Gal Tsachor and Idit Shub of Trek Isreal (5:17.23,4; overall 12:48.14) and Stander and Blignaut (5:23.48,7; overall 12:35.32,3).
Says Blignaut (RECM Mixed): “It was a long, hard, wet and muddy stage. I struggled today and can feel the distance from yesterday and today in my legs. Cherise is so sharp and it’s a wonderful experience to ride with her.”
The men’s category of Stage Two was won by the Topeak-Ergon Racing team of Robert Mennen and Kristian Hynek in 4:12:17.They were followed by the Bulls team of Karl Platt and Urs Huber in 4:13.42,7 with Tim Boehme and Simon Stiebjahn of Bulls 2 in third place (4:17.19,7).
Yesterday’s winners (who also ranked first overall yesterday) Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess of Centurion-Vaude were unable to stay in the competition for a podium finish, after the former broke his chainstay – part of the frame. The team is currently 1 hour 46 minutes behind in the general classification.
Platt and Huber (Bulls) now lead the Men’s category by 1 minute and 9,5 seconds (10:01.55,9). Platt has won the event four times and won fourteen Absa Cape Epic stages to date. Mennen and Hynek (Topeak-Ergon Racing) are placed second overall (10:03.05,4) and Boehme and Stiebjahn (Bulls 2) are third in 10:04.55,6. Meerendal Centurion Wheeler’s Konny Looser and Hannes Genze are in fourth place overall (10:07.41).
Says Robert Mennen of Topeak-Ergon Racing, the winning team of Stage Two: “What a stage! It was amazing. It was hard with all the mud. I spent so much energy and am exhausted. We were lucky to have the strongest legs possible today. It was a tough day for all the teams. Tomorrow will show how strong we really are after today.”
His riding partner Hynek, adds: “There was a lot of suffering today as it was a big challenge. I was trying to enjoy it. We managed to stay with the Bulls when they attacked and we just went full gas for the stage win. Robert is truly a great partner.”
Overall leading team Bulls’ Platt says: “It’s a good feeling to be back after today’s stage with our achievement. Racing in the mud is not fun! We had no major mechanical issues fortunately, but I did have a bad crash where I struggled a bit – thankfully we could go on. We were all suffering. There was a lot of pressure before the race started and we’re feeling it. I’m very happy that we’ll be riding in the yellow jersey tomorrow.”
Huber says that no one enjoys the weather conditions they had to face during the stage. He adds: “But it seemed as if other teams hated it even more than us. I can feel in my legs that it was a hard day. The mechanics are going to work so hard today! It’s an amazing feeling to have yellow again after yesterday’s trouble. I’m very happy, but lots can still happen in this race.”
The Bulls 2 team of Tim Boehme and Simon Stiebjahn also performed well today by finishing third on the heels of the Bulls team (Bulls 2 also ranks third overall). Says Boehme: “Stage Two was one of the hardest stages ever! It was so muddy. There was no rolling, just pushing. Karl and Urs (Bulls) attacked before water point three and we were a bit behind and also had a flat. But it wasn’t a big problem. We’re very happy being placed third. But I struggled today and it’s a long way to go still.”
Sasol Women’s Category:
Swiss/Danish duo Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad (RECM 2) won today’s stage in a time of 4:53.07,5 (ranking second overall in the women’s category 11:52.35,1). They were followed by the Meerendal team, Esther Süss and Sally Bigham in 5:01.53,6, who now lead the category overall (11:38.41,6). In third place were Jennie Stenerhag and Theresa Ralph of Cape Brewing Company in 5:12.12,4 (third overall 12:08.38,4). Suss and Bigham now lead this category by 13 minutes and 53 seconds.
Says Langvad of RECM 2: “The stage started in rain and I was feeling confident. We took no risks and there was no attacking. We’ll just keep our pace going forward. My breakpads gave out because of all the mud, but we decided not to fix it because of all the time we would lose. We were only a few kilometres from the finish line. There’s still a long way to go and I’m hoping for lots of sunshine!”
Adds Kleinhans: “It was important not to get into trouble, but still be alert to take any opportunities. It looked like a flat stage and we thought we might use it to make up time, but because of the extreme weather conditions it wasn’t possible. Towards the end we gave it our all.”
Bigham of team Meerendal says she actually enjoyed it in the mud. “Our only major concern was not to crash or get mechanicals. I’m feeling good and strong, and we’re happy with today’s performance.”
Ralph of Cape Brewing Company says: “This stage was so hard and so muddy. We had the chain stuck because of the mud. Our vision was also affected. But otherwise it was just another day, another podium.”
The Masters category was won by Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (BETCH.nl Superior Meerendal) in a time of 4:37.09,3 (overall 11:26.49,3). They were followed by Shan Wilson and Adrian Enthoven of Definitive Bikes team in 4:45.09,4 (overall 11:21.25,7) with Pascal de Kort and Bart van de Water of Technofit in third place (4:55.40,8; overall 11:39.05,2). Wilson and Enthoven now lead this category by 5 minutes and 24 seconds and are placed 20th overall.
Andrew McLean and Heinz Zoerweg of Cycle Lab Toyota again finished in first place in the Grand Masters in a time of 4:39.53 (overall 10:58.20,3). They were followed by Eben Espach and Corrie Muller (Absa Grand Masters) in 5:10.44,5 (overall 12:04.01) with Lieb Loots and Izak Visagie of Pragma Nampak in third place in 5:14.49,2 (overall 12:37.41). Ranked second overall in this category after Cycle Lab Toyota is Meerendal Songo Specialized 4 (Bärti Bucher and Doug Brown) in 11:46.24,4. They finished in fourth position today (5:15.32,3).
Says Bucher (Meerendal Songo Specialized 4): “It was really hard out there today. Because of the mud in our eyes visibility was very poor and it wasn’t always possible to see where you were going. By the time you saw a rock it was often too late, and we got some punctures on the route.”
Absa African Jersey:
The Absa African special jersey was won by Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell of RECM in 4:25.34,5. They were followed by Kevin Evans and Max Knox of FedGroup Itec in 4:29.22,2. SCOTT Factory Racing’s Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns were third in 4:31.53,1.
Siphosenkosi Madolo and Azukile Simayile of team Meerendal Songo Specialized 16 managed to secure the Exxaro special jersey for the third day in a row. Their overall time is 12:17.06,9 and they are placed 69th overall (GC).
Stage Three: Robertson to Greyton (134km, 1800m of climbing)
There is still a long way to go, but Stage Three could be decisive in defining the ambitions of some of the leading riders. It will favour those with the so-called “big engines” – Christoph Sauser predicted earlier this week that it would suit his former road racing partner Frantisek Rabon – and will encourage breaks from riders who aren’t particularly good climbers. It takes the riders from the succulent Robertson Karoo vegetation to the farmlands of Greyton and the Cape Country Meander.
The first 50km on quiet district roads will be fast, although there will be some entertaining deviations from the beaten path with a few short but steep climbs to keep riders on their toes. The route then heads through Melozhori Game Reserve, home to African wildlife such as antelope, zebras, giraffe and buffalo, as well as “The Big Drop”, but it won’t be plain sailing as riders should watch out for the thorny bushes lining the descent. From here it will be flat(ish) following the Riviersonderend River upstream.
As the name (river without end) suggests, it will still be a way to go, with “Puffadder Hill”a short but rocky climb slowing down the pace. After that participants can expect fast bunch riding on this relatively easy stretch of district and farm roads with some rolling hills as riders clock up the miles. Just when it will look like the day is done, there will be a sting in the tail, diverting riders onto the farmlands for the final approach of the brand new race village at The Oaks Estate, just outside Greyton.
Follow the Absa Cape Epic at www.cape-epic.com