Former South Coaster Cherise Stander and Theo Blignaut (RECM Mixed) won their category for the first time on Stage Three of the 2014 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Arabella Wines in Robertson to The Oaks Estate in Greyton on Wednesday.
Stage Three was the longest day of the 2014 Absa Cape Epic, and was characterized by rolling hills and gravel roads.
It had been described as a transition stage – with less demanding terrain – but a persistent wind made for tough conditions. It took riders from the succulent Robertson Karoo vegetation to the farmlands of Greyton and the Cape Country Meander.
The first 50km on quiet district roads was fast, although there were some entertaining deviations from the beaten path with a few short but steep climbs. The route then headed through Melozhori Game Reserve, home to African wildlife such as antelope, zebras, giraffe and buffalo, as well as “The Big Drop”, and riders had to watch out for the thorny bushes lining the descent.
From here it was flat(ish) following the Riviersonderend River upstream. As the name (river without end) suggests, it was still a way to go, with “Puffadder Hill” a short but rocky climb slowing down the pace.
After that, participants experienced fast bunch riding on this relatively easy stretch of district and farm roads with some rolling hills. Just when it looked like the day was done, there was 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.
Blignaut and Stander of RECM Mixed won the Mixed category in 5:45.59,8 (overall 18:21.32,1). They were followed by Mauritians Yannick Lincoln and Aurelie Halbwachs of Synergy in 5:47.03,7 (overall 18:02.37,2). In third place were Asrin Cycling’s Nizaam Essa and Christina Kollmann in 6:15.20,5 (overall 19:48.53).
Synergy, however, leads this category by 18 minutes and 54,9 seconds.
Says Stander: “It was a long, tough stage because of the wind and the open roads. I think we made some rookie errors. We rode alone for most of the day and in this wind that was stupid. That is what the overall leaders did.
“With 20km to go we were in the same group as them again. In the final 5km Theo and I just gave it one final push. We didn’t really make up much time, but it was nice to not lose time for a change. Theo was so strong today.”
Blignaut jokingly adds that “I ordered Cherise’s legs on e-bay and it was delivered this morning. We had a good day. I only got my legs going after 100km. I had no idea I was good in the long stages like this! I’m very chuffed with our stage victory.”
Christoph Sauser and František Rabon of Meerendal Songo Specialized took first place in a three-team sprint finish in the Men’s category. They finished in an impressive time of 4:53.34,7 and were closely followed by Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess (Centurion-Vaude) in 4:53.34,9. In third place were Robert Mennen and Kristian Hynek (Topeak-Ergon Racing) in 4:53.36,4.
Team Topeak-Ergon Racing now lead this category by 9 minutes 27 seconds (overall 14:56.41,8). Sauser and Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized) have managed to move up from sixth to third place overall in 15:06.23,0.
The Bulls team are in second place overall in 15:06.08,4 with the Bulls 2 team of Tim Boehme and Simon Stiebjahn in fourth place overall (15:09.08,6).
Waylon Woolcock of Cannondale Blend and Hannes Genze of Meerendal Centurion Wheeler are out of the race. Woolcock has severe stomach problems that started last night and Genze crashed and broke his arm, also puncturing an artery.
Rabon of Meerendal Songo Specialized says: “Finally we had a good day at the Absa Cape Epic! Today we had no problems at all. Now I can say I actually enjoyed a stage. We wanted the stage win, but also make up time in the overall position. After all the bad luck and chasing the whole time, we could do some racing today. I’m really happy.”
His teammate Sauser adds: “It feels almost the same as last year. On the third day it finally seems to come together for us. I’m a positive guy but I never thought we would be third overall after today. I thought the Bulls would still be in the lead. Winning the stage and moving up to third is super cool.
“When I saw Karl dropping out of the back of the lead group I went to the front and said to the guys we must go for it now. Having Erik and Nico riding as our back-up is amazing. Erik was so strong on the flats. He was a machine today. I also have to give a special thanks to our mechanics. It was like climbing on a new bike this morning. They did a great job.”
Says Kaess of Centurion-Vaude, who finished second: “After the bad luck we had yesterday we can’t compete for overall honours any longer, so the focus is on stage wins now. We’re happy to be with the front guys again and be part of the racing. Our motivation was low, but we’ll keep trying for a stage win.”
Kaufmann continues: “We thought it was game over yesterday, so we’re thankful to still be part of the action, even though we can’t go for an overall position any more. I’m happy with today even though we didn’t win. We’ll keep on trying.”
Hynek of Topeak-Ergon Racing comments: “Specialized was hungry for a victory today. That much was obvious. We just made sure we stayed with the front teams because we had the overall lead in mind. We all worked well together and it was a long, but good day.”
Mennen is very happy with the yellow zebra-striped leader jersey. “It’s a long way to go until Lourensford, but it has always been a goal of mine to wear the yellow at the Cape Epic. The two other teams did a lot of attacking because they wanted the stage win. We just made sure we kept up and secured the yellow at the end of the stage. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Sasol Women’s Category:
Swiss/Danish duo Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad (RECM 2) won today’s stage for the second day in a row in a time of 5:34.06,7 (ranking second overall in the Women’s category 17:26.41,8). They were followed by the Meerendal team, Esther Süss and Sally Bigham in 5:36.37,7, who still lead the category overall (17:15.19,3) by 11 minutes and 22,5 seconds. In third place were Milena Landtwing and Hielke Elferink of Meerendal Wheeler in 5:52.43,6 (fourth overall 18:37,50,3).
Says Süss of Meerendal: “I could see again today! I had two pairs of glasses with me just to make sure I didn’t struggle like yesterday! Today was not really my kind of stage. It was flat and fast, but my legs were strong and we didn’t lose too much time.”
The Masters category was again won by Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (BETCH.nl Superior Meerendal) in a time of 5:28.57,9 (overall 16:55.47,2). They were followed by Shan Wilson and Adrian Enthoven of Definitive Bikes team in 5:30.22,2 (overall 16:51.47,9) with Pascal de Kort and Bart van de Water of Technofit in third place (5:35.50,3; overall 17:14.55,5). Wilson and Enthoven remain in the lead by 3 minutes and 59 seconds and are placed 19th overall.
Andrew McLean and Heinz Zoerweg of Cycle Lab Toyota finished in first place in the Grand Masters for the fourth day in a row in a time of 5:27.14,4 (overall 16:25.34,7). They were followed by Bärti Bucher and Doug Brown of Meerendal Songo Specialized 4 in 5:29.56,9 (overall 17:16.21,3). Lieb Loots and Izak Visagie of Pragma Nampak finished third today in 5:52.33,4 (overall 18:30.14,4).
Absa African Jersey:
The fastest African team was Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell of RECM in 5:05.18,9. They were followed by Kevin Evans and Max Knox of FedGroup Itec in 5:18.40,7. SCOTT Factory Racing’s Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns were third in 5:18.41.
Evans and Knox keep the special jersey, now 15 minutes and 17 seconds in front of the second all-African team of Beukes and Heyns.
Says Beukes of SCOTT Factory Racing: “My legs felt good today. We rode very hard, but at one point I was behind another group due to some traffic. I really had to push hard to catch up.”
Siphosenkosi Madolo and Azukile Simayile of team Meerendal Songo Specialized 16 managed to secure the Exxaro special jersey for the fourth day in a row. Their overall time is 18:06.05,8 and they are placed 43rd overall (GC).
STAGE Four: GREYTON TO GREYTON (88km, 1800m of climbing)
Stage Four will be the kind of day that makes a mountain biker’s heart beat faster – due to the abundance of single track (although there will be plenty of climbing crammed into the relatively short stage).
The stage will be 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 will be a visit to the small town of Genadendal, the first mission station in Southern Africa, with its Moravian Church. More flowing trails will take riders to the neighbouring town of Greyton.
As the crow flies it will be less than 10km from there to finish, but instead riders will be left wondering whether to love or hate the route designers over the next 25-odd-kilometres where (on tired legs) short but hard climbs alternate with exhilarating descents. All in all, it will be a fun day, although no rider should believe that fun means easy.
Follow the Absa Cape Epic at www.cape-epic.com