Worcester/South Africa – The elation at being the first team to cross the finish line of the Absa Cape Epic and claim the top step of the podium is one that Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes from Scott Factory Racing Team tasted today. On the fourth stage of the Tour de France for mountain bikers, the pair took the lead from the start and built it up over the stage.
The South African duo of Buys/Beukes finished the stage 3.31,5 minutes ahead of the chasers and secured the red leaders’ jersey of the African category. “Today we absolutely wanted to win the stage”, confirmed brand manager Joggie Prinsloo. “I’m happy that the two didn’t blew up.”
The chasing group, which contained all the favourites including Investec-Songo-Specialized, Bulls, both Topeak Ergon Teams and Multivan Merida, didn’t make any concerted efforts to catch the breakaway. They focused on controlling each other, as the Scott Factory Team started the day 51 minutes back on the GC.
At the second water point, the favourites were all still together, with Scott Factory Racing two minutes ahead. The 111 km-long mountainous parcours around Worcester once again placed huge demands on their equipment. Sharp stones and many thorns meant that the 1,200 competitors were confronted with countless flat tyres and other technical issues. Unfortunately, Urs Huber, the Swiss partner of the four-time Epic winner Karl Platt, fell victim to this. Despite the sealant in the rear tubeless tyre, the back wheel kept losing air before they reached the third water point, and they had to let the leaders go. Robert Mennen (Topeak Ergon) had the same problem, but the back tyre kept the air and he was able to follow the Bulls in the last 15 kilometres of the race, just behind the second leading group. Together with Multivan Merida’s José Hermida (ESP)/Rudi van Houts (NED), they rolled over the finish line.
The Sasol women’s category was again a given, with Ariane Kleinhans (SUI) and marathon world champion Annika Langvad (DEN) from RECM Specialized well recovered from yesterday’s strong showing as they took the victory again today. “We deliberately ran extra sturdy tyres and we didn’t puncture”, says Ariane Kleinhans with a smile, “That – and the fact that we can start with the fast men in the A group gave us an advantage. We try to keep up with the fast guys for as long as possible.” Despite Langvad falling shortly before the stage finish, it seemed nothing could detract from their dominance. Once again they were over twenty minutes ahead of Ascendis Health with Jennie Stenerhag (SWE) and Robyn Lee de Groot (RSA). The birthday girl Esther Süß (SUI) gave herself and her partner Alice Pirard (BEL) a place on the podium.
Trouble struck the XC eliminator world champ Kathrin Stirnemann from Team World Bicycle Relief. Struggling with her breathing, she was forced to retire, leaving the Norwegian mountain bike legend Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesja to continue the rest of the stage alone.
“I’ve never been so fit but at the same time so broken on my birthday”, said the multiple cyclocross world champion, Hanka Kupfernagel, who finished this stage in third place in the mixed category with her partner Carsten Bresser (Team Dietrich Rocky Mountain). Ivonne Kraft (GER) and Peter Vesel (SLO) from Team Etis defended their overall lead in the mixed category.
The masters category saw a re-run of the previous day: Nico Pfitzenmaier/Rob Sim (Dorma/Robert Daniel) clawed back yet more seconds from the overall leaders Bart Brentjens/Abraao Azevedo (Betch.NL Superior). “If it’s just 10 seconds per stage, and we’ve got three stages remaining then we’ll still finish at the front”, joked Bart Brentjens. The very first mountain bike Olympic champion (Atlanta 1996) took the Absa Tape Epic to a new purpose today by repairing his broken shoe with the race’s yellow route marking tape.
What follows is the second-longest stage of the Absa Cape Epic 2015. With 117 kilometres and 2,500 metres of vertical gain, the field head from Worcester to the penultimate location of Wellington. After an initial flat section to warm up, the field are faced with the first climb: the Fonteinjies mountain. Called Powerlines, this first tough climb will certainly split the field. After the descent, they head along the Breede River and then over the renowned Bain’s Kloof Pass, a national monument in South Africa. After the asphalt climb, it’s singletrack over the Welvanpass, a true playground for technically able riders. The finish is on the campus of Wellington’s university. It is estimated the leaders will take five hours.
Alban Lakata (AUT) Topeak Ergon
We tried to get a gap on Specialized. It was a tough battle but we did make good time on the Bulls and got second place. They (Jaro/Christoph) are pretty much out of our reach but we haven’t given up. Today we were able to control them better, so let’s see, maybe they’ll get tired.
Rudi van Houts (NED) Multivan Merida
Today Jose was in difficulty at the start but things improved and we were able to ride well with them. For me, it’s all about contrasts. If you ride full gas, it hurts so much, but then you feel good again after and can ride fast. Cape Epic requires mental strength, you just have to have a strong head and keep a positive attitude. I’m now here for my fifth time. Often we just ride for the stage victory but this time a podium place in the GC could be a possibility.
Jaroslav Kulhavy (SUI) Investec-Songo-Specialized
Today was a relatively easy stage as the pace wasn’t that high because some teams were tired from yesterday. We could ride quite relaxed for a few hours. It wasn’t until the final water point that we went faster with Topeak Ergon.
Robert Mennen (GER) Topeak Ergon
Sometimes you couldn’t see the ground for the dust and we were riding in a blinding mist. The sealant sealed my slow flat before the final water point, and that was fortunate. But this meant we kept riding without taking on any liquids and that was hard for me.
Karl Platt (GER) Team Bulls
Urs had a slow flat and he used an entire cartridge on it but the pressure got too high and we had to change the rear wheel. Another huge shame as we were with the attack on the last climb and could have finished with the leaders. We made a little gap on Merida (R. Mennen). Now we have to take each day as it comes. The two teams ahead of us look good. If nothing happens [to them], they can take it home.
Bart Brentjens (NED) BETCH.nl-Superior
Three stages to go – losing ten seconds a day, we’d still be ahead of the chasers. Given today’s conditions I’m very happy because my shoe broke and I had to fix it with tape. I’m confident we’ll stay ahead in the masters category.
Words: Absa Cape Epic Pressemitteilung
Photos: Shaun Roy, Nick Muzik, Sam Clark, Damien Schumann, Gary Perkin, Ewald Sadie, Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of ENDURO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality mountain bike journalism. Click here to learn more.