Stage One: Robertson to Robertson (115km, 2350m of climbing)
3-TIME WINNERS PLATT AND SAHM OF BULLS TEAM MOVE TO FIFTH PLACE OVERALL
As the race’s history tells us, stage one is always a rude awakening for the riders. Combining the length, the climbing, the severity of the trail surfaces and the speed of fresh-legged hares at the front of the field – all was a shock to the system, even for the best prepared. Three major climbs loomed ahead of the athletes. The first three-kilometre rise were littered with loose rocks and tilting to 25 per cent, forcing portage, and there was a risky descent lying in wait. Then it was Hangman’s Tree, which may be short, but took up to half an hour to conquer. Beautiful flowing trails then traversed the mountain ridges, showcasing the breathtaking scenery we have come to expect from the race. Tortoise Peak was the third major obstacle (there were still a few lesser ones after) and riders began creeping up this slow, yet rideable five-kilometre ascent, named after its ancient residents. Riders with bar ends had to take care on the descent, with grabbing branches on the off-camber dual tracks. For their considerable efforts, riders were rewarded with a beautiful section of trails through Nama Karoo, with a few gentle rises before finally turning east, back toward Robertson with a final rocky plunge into town.
The Men’s Category for Stage 1 was won for the second consecutive day by the South African/Swiss team of Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser (Team 36ONE-Songo- Specialized) in a time of 4:33.22,6 (overall time 5:45.14,7). They were followed by Urs Huber and Konny Looser of the Stöckli Pro team in 4:38.31,2 (overall time 5:54.40,7) with the Bulls 2 team of Tim Böhme and Thomas Dietsch in third place in 4:38.32,8 (overall time 5:55.07,4). In fourth place was the Bulls 1 team of Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm (4:40.04,8; overall time 5:58.02,3), having moved from tenth place yesterday to fifth place overall today, with Hannes Genze and Andreas Kugler of Multivan Merida Biking in fifth place (4:40.05,7; overall time 5:59.20,6). South African hopefuls Kevin Evans and David George of 360Life finished in fifteenth place today after major problems in a time of 4:57.23,1 (overall 6:09.28,4). They are now placed tenth overall. Last year’s winners Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser lead by 9 minutes and 26 seconds.
Says Burry Stander (Team 36ONE-Songo-Specialized): “We rode well today and were on our own on the last 45km, which we rode at our pace. Some of the guys had problems with the heat or with their tyres. We didn’t have any problems, so it was a nice steady race for us – touch wood. I felt much better today than yesterday and enjoyed the stage. And of course it’s nice to go from 13 seconds in the lead to just under ten minutes. It really helps to have a strong second team and they were close to us for most of the day. It makes a big difference – I’m sure after today team 360Life will agree, as they apparently had many problems.” Sauser adds: “Winning by this margin is a big advantage for us. It feels good to win the stage, but having the time gap is more important. We have a good lead now, but we know that anything can still happen. We also have a second team which is great to have.”
Urs Huber and Konny Looser of the Stöckli Pro team finished in second place. Huber has won over 50 races in his career to date and Looser’s impressive achievements include winning the U23 Marathon European Championships in 2010. Says Huber: “It was really hot today and even more so later in the morning. A lot of teams had problems with the heat and the track. On the one downhill, three of the 5 teams we were riding with, had flats. We had flats twice, but didn’t lose too much time as we only needed to put air into them. We worked really well with the Bulls 2 team today and are delighted with our second place. Burry and Christoph are the best team and the second place is the best we can do – and we did it today!” Adds Looser: “It was a difficult stage for me. My legs didn’t feel great today and we lost time because of it. When I realised that the other riders were also feeling tired on the last long steep climb, it motivated me and we picked up speed on the last downhill, around 25km before the finish.”
Tim Böhme of the Bulls 2 team, who finished in third place, says “the route was tough and a bit of a lottery. Many riders had flats. We had luck on our side as it was really tough, long and super fast. You really had to concentrate.” Adds his team mate, Thomas Dietsch: “It really felt good to finish on the podium today, especially in the Absa Cape Epic. I started getting cramps around 20km before the finish and just tried to survive. We hope to recover well so that we’re ready for tomorrow. We don’t have a game plan – the 36ONE-Songo- Specialized team is really strong. I suppose the plan is just to follow them.”
Sally Bigham and Esther Süss of Wheels4Life won the Ladies category for the second day in a row in a time of 5:20.04,3 (overall time 6:49.31,6), ahead of Theresa Ralph and Nina Gässler of team Biogen Britehouse in a time of 5:27.31,5 (overall 6:59.18,2). Ivonne Kraft and Elisabeth Brandau of botebooksbilliger.de finished in third place in 5:45.19,5 (7:21.20,6). Bigham and Süss lead by 9 minutes and 47 seconds.
Says Sally Bigham of Great Britain: “It was a long stage with lots of steep climbing. I liked it and didn’t suffer too much. We also didn’t have too many problems which is great. My body still feels strong, so our plan for tomorrow is the same.” Adds team mate Esther Süss: “It was very hot today and I drank a lot. The course was steep and loose, then flat and the downhill was difficult – you had to concentrate not to fall or get flats. Hopefully we recover well for tomorrow’s stage.”
Theresa Ralph of Biogen Britehouse reckons “today was a nice awakening from the first stage. It was very different today and luckily what I train for. There was quite a lot of portage and some monster climbs in the beginning. At around the 100km mark, they threw in a character building zoop. The long stretch at the end was fun though. We’re stoked to finish in second place again. We’re not pro’s – we both work and I have kids – so we’re very chaffed with our performance so far.” Her team mate Nina Gässler adds: “It was a very good ride, but it became long. We expected it to be around 4 hours. I have a fantastic riding partner though, so even the hardest day becomes a pleasure. We’ll just hang in there for tomorrow. I’m Esther and Sally’s biggest fan – they’re my idols – so as long as we stay with them, I’m very happy.”
Telkom Business Master’s Category
The Telkom Business Masters Category was won by the Jag Craft team of Adrian Enthoven and Delaney Impey. Their winning time was 5:00.26,9 (overall time 6:27.24,6). They were followed by Robert Sim and Nico Pfitzenmaier of the Robert Daniel Momsen team in 5:02.52,9 (overall time 6:25.53,8), with the World Bicycle Relief team of Bart Brentjens and Jan Weevers in third place in 5:28.32,8 (overall time 6:55.52,2). Sim and Pfitzenmaier lead by 1 minute and 30 seconds.
Says Nico Pfitzenmaier: “It was very, very hot and the steep climbs were barely rideable. We were in the lead, but at the last water point, Rob felt a bit nauseous, so we decided to take the pace down a bit. That’s where the Jag Craft team passed us and we just tried to hang in there and hope for the overall lead. My body’s feeling good – yesterday was a tough day – but I had some reserve for today.” Sim adds: “I had a bit of a rough day. I wasn’t feeling great last night and think I didn’t digest my food very well. I’ll be fine by tomorrow.”
The Contego 28E team of Erik and Ariana Kleinhans won the Mixed Category in 5:16.25,7 (overall 6:49.12,2), followed by Udo Boelts and and Milena Landtwing of Centurion Vaude in 5:21.45,5 (overall 6:53.19,6). Russell de Jager and Andrea Huser finished in third place again in a time of 5:38.36,4 (overall 7:16.03,1). Contego 28E lead by 4 minutes and 7 seconds.
Says Erik Kleinhans: “Today was great. We started out with Udo and Milena and did a lot of walking up the first uphills. The last 30km were flat, but we rode into the wind which was uncomfortable. It took a lot of will power to stay motivated. We’ll take it a bit easier tomorrow now that we’re in the lead and ride a bit more conservatively.” Ariane adds that she is delighted with their result. “I had some problems with my derailleur, but luckily Erik is a great mechanic and fixed it without us losing to much time. We’re happy with the lead and will keep it steady for tomorrow. It’s really tough out there and we don’t want to risk anything.”
Udo Boelts of the Centurion Vaude team says that it was a very hot day, especially for Europeans coming from a cold winter. “Just last week Milena was still doing ski tours. We’ve been here for 4 or 5 days, but it’s not enough. We’re not used to this heat, going at full heart rate. We’ll see how our legs feel tomorrow, perhaps we’ll be more used to the conditions – and then decide. Also, Milena still has a full season ahead of her, so we’re careful not to push too hard. The Kleinhans couple are very strong and I think today is a sign of what’s to come.” Landtwing adds: “It was very hot and tough and we still have a long way to go. We’ll see how the legs are tomorrow and then decide on a plan of action.”
STAGE 2: Robertson to Robertson (119km, 1650m of climbing)
The route traverses the beautiful rolling dual tracks through the stony Klein Karoo, passing through the charming village of McGregor. It’s a special day out for the riders. For those who manage to avoid tunnel vision, it’s a geologist’s paradise with remarkable sandstone formations. Some might say this is too much fun for the Absa Cape Epic, but riders will soon be brought back down to earth – the rocks may create beautiful formations but they’re sharp. With knife-edged shale and a carpet of thorns, heavy-duty tyres are essential. After passing through Van Loveren Wine Estate on some severe vineyard hills, a district road takes the race past Ashton as they head towards the mountains for some short but steep climbs before returning to Robertson.