Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
The fifth prologue in the eleven year history of the Absa Cape Epic set the seeding order for tomorrow’s [Monday, 24 March 2014] Stage 1 of the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race.
Following the resounding success of the 2012 and 2013 Prologues, the eleventh edition of the race kicked off with a 23-kilometer prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate in the Durbanville Wine Valley – the mountain biking Mecca on Cape Town’s doorstep. The event saw 1 200 excited riders from 50 countries enjoy cool weather with the first group of riders starting their 8-day journey at 06:45. Short and filled with loads of purpose built single track, the Prologue was the first test for man and machine for the week to come. Rolling off the start ramp, the route took riders through the historic Manor House after which a surprising twist awaited before riders faced the challenging single track climb up “Stairway to Heaven” to the top of Dorstberg, a mountaintop which boasts magnificent 360 degree views of world famous landmarks such as Table Mountain, Robben Island and Cape Point. Pressed for time, teams had to forgo sight-seeing as they dove straight into a rugged, Renosterveld lined trail that descended into the quarry and adjacent Hoogekraal farm, where sweeping single track forming part of the Tygerberg Mountain Bike Club trail system lay in wait. Well bermed turns made for a fun roller coaster descent as the route ultimately headed back through steep vineyards and a steady climb past dairy fields onto the picturesque Meerendal Wine Estate, finishing off with some more single track, ensuring that riders finished their first day with big smiles on their faces.
This time trial was a race against the clock to decide the seeding in the field and which teams will wear the coveted leader jerseys at the start of Stage 1 in Robertson.
The Spanish/Dutch team of José Hermida and Rudi van Houts (Multivan Merida Biking) will wear the sough-after yellow zebra-striped leader jersey in the Men’s category. Ariane Kleinhans and Annike Langvad (RECM 2) will be leading the women in the orange leader jersey, with Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo of BETCH.nl Superior Meerendal wearing the blue Masters leader jersey. The Grand Masters purple jersey will be worn by Andrew Mclean and Heinz Zoerweg (Cycle Lab Toyota). The Absa African special jersey will be worn by Kevin Evans and Max Knox (FedGroup Itec), and the Exxaro special jersey worn by Siphosenkosi Madolo and Azukile Simayile of team Meerendal Songo Specialized 16.
The Men’s category for the Prologue was won by José Hermida and Rudi van Houts of Multivan Merida Biking in a time of 59.08,0. They were followed by BMC Mountainbike Racing’s Lukas Fluckiger and Martin Fanger in 59.20,0, with German/Czech combo Robert Mennen and Kristian Hynek (Topeak-Ergon Racing) in third place (in 1:00.28,7). In fourth place was Markus Kauffmann and Jochen Kaess of Centurion-Vaude in 1:00.37,8 with Nino Schurter and Philip Buys (SCOTT-Odlo MTB Racing) in fifth place in 1:01.02,0. Four-times Absa Cape Epic winner Karl Platt finished in sixth place with partner Urs Huber (1:01.12,3). Christoph Sauser, also a four-times winner, finished in 9th place with new partner František Raboň in a time of 1:02.22,7. Raboň dropped his chain early on in the race and along with Sauser’s crash, it disrupted the team’s rhythm. It was a tough introduction to the Absa Cape Epic for Raboň.
Says Van Houts of Multivan Merida Biking: “We had a good balance today. Both of us were strong and were racing to the limit the whole time. My heart rate was 180! That’s very high.” Hermida jokingly adds: “It was the hardest stage of the Cape Epic thus far this year! Last year we really wanted to win the Prologue, so I’m very happy with the victory. We wanted a stage and will ride strong in our yellow jerseys.”
Fluckiger of BMC Mountainbike Racing says: “It was like I expected. Martin started strong and I just had to hang on. In the second half I got my legs and rhythm. We have seven days to go and we’ll be fighting for the jersey.”
Mennen of Topeak-Ergon Racing says it was hard. “But all went well. It was a challenging course and we rode really well together. It was easy to go too fast and overcook it today. We now have a good foundation to work from for the rest of the Epic.”
Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad of RECM 2 won the Women’s category in a time of 1:10.07, ahead of Sally Bigham and Esther Süss (Meerendal) in 1:12.16,3. Jennie Stenerhag and Theresa Ralph (Cape Brewing Company) finished third in 1:15.43,3, with Milena Landtwing and Hielke Elferink (Meerendal Wheeler) in fourth place (1:16.12,9).
Says Kleinhans of RECM 2: “Annika is power! She is an amazing partner and was so cool about the crash. I’m very happy with the Prologue. It was a good day and my legs feel great. We had lots of fun and are looking forward to the rest of Epic.” Langvad adds: “It was very tough. I didn’t expect to fall at the start. I was very nervous but luckily nothing happened. I think it was the adrenaline kick I needed. I just have to laugh about it. We’re both in good shape and I think we’ll keep the lead if everything keeps going well.”
Bigham of team Meerendal comments: “We made a good start and it was an enjoyable stage with some nice trails. I did suffer though! It makes me feel more respected as an athlete to race in a more competitive category with so much prize money. We deserve the same attention and respect. Women can now have a career in mountain biking with this kind of money.” Süss feels there is so much more on the table this year. “There is more focus on us from the media’s side and the competition is fierce. We like it and are happy to race for this kind of prize money. We had a good start today and feel strong for the rest of the Epic.”
Ralph comments that they were debating what their goal is. “Especially seeing that I was injured for the most of last year. Initially I wasn’t planning on even racing. Now I’m on the podium! We’re both very competitive and love it out there. We’ll go hard everyday.” Stenerhag continues: “This was a fun stage. I love the single track. I also love fighting for position and we’re both like that, so we’re very much looking forward to the rest.”
The Masters category was won by former Olympic Gold medallist Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo of BETCH.nl Superior Meerendal. Their winning time was 1:08.52,1. They were followed by Shan Wilson and Adrian Enthoven of Definitive Bikes in 1:10.44,1. Pascal de Kort and Bart van de Water of Technofit finished third (1:13.27,0).
The ETIS team of Peter Vesel and Anni Hellstern won the Mixed category (1:15.44,7), followed by Karl Zoetemelk and Sarah Koba of ASSOS Werksmannschaft in 1:16.31,7. The South African team of Theo Blignaut and Cherise Stander (RECM Mixed) finished in third place (1:17.55,3).
Says Vesel of ETIS: “We came to finish in the top three but now we might go for the victory! It was a really hard stage but all went well and now we’re looking forward to rest.” His riding partner Hellstern adds: “We’ll have to see what happens now. We worked so well together and my partner was so strong. I really enjoyed it out there.”
Stander of RECM Mixed says she is not thinking about overall. “Every podium is a bonus. Just to finish the Epic is a victory. It’s an emotional time and I’m not always sure what to expect from my body or mind. We’ll take each day as it comes.” Blignaut adds: “I enjoyed riding with Cherise. She is strong and technically really good. I’m very impressed. There’s still so much to ride for and enough time left so we’re not worried at all.”
Grand Masters Category
Andrew Mclean and Heinz Zoerweg of Cycle Lab Toyota finished in first place in the Grand Masters in a time of 1:09:06,2. They were followed by Bärti Bucher and Doug Brown of Meerendal Songo Specialized 4 in 1:09.38,1 with Eben Espach and Corrie Muller of team Absa Grand Masters in third place (1:14.19,1).
Says Brown: “This was a big wake up call and shock to the system. Luckily for me Bärti was super strong, so it all worked out. We don’t even have to talk. We just look at each other and know. We ride together very well.”
Absa African Jersey
A hotly contested ‘race within a race’ is the one for the red Absa African special jersey, awarded to the highest placed team, with both members holding African passports. Team FedGroup Itec’s Kevin Evans and Max Knox finished first in 1:01.47,7 with Johann Rabie and Neil MacDonald (FedGroup Itec 2) in second (1:02.40,0). They were followed by Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell of RECM in 1:02.48,7.
Says Evans of FedGroup Itec: “After missing out on the action the past few years, I will gladly take the Absa African special jersey! I’m happy to be back and ready to take on Stage 1.”
Siphosenkosi Madolo and Azukile Simayile of team Meerendal Songo Specialized 16 managed to secure the Exxaro jersey with their impressive performance during the Prologue. Their time was 1:09.17,3 and they are placed 31st overall (GC).
Stage 1: ROBERTSON (110km, 2450m of climbing)
Each year, Stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic is referred to as one of the most challenging of the race, and it is no different in 2014. The stage is as tough as it is beautiful with the most spectacular views rewarded after the most demanding climbs. The day is characterised by a fast start to water point 1, where the real challenge begins. Three major climbs, all on rough surfaces, take riders through pristine fynbos deep into the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains. Tortoise Hill stands out with its double peak and precariously steep descent, followed by some relentless ridgeline riding and the sharp zigzag climb starting off through cooling pine trees before once again heading for the skies. It is the harsh surface that will make this day challenging – as well as the fact that most of the climbing is packed into the 45km section in the middle of the stage. Riders will be able to make up some time on the final 25km as the terrain eases back into flowing farm and gravel roads. Temperatures tomorrow will range from 19 to 22 degrees Celsius with light rain.
Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
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