Stage 2 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic, the 100th stage in the history of the event, was held in another hot, windless day in Tulbagh. The racing in both the Men’s and Women’s categories was fiery too.
The leading men’s Team Bulls pair of Karl Platt and Urs Huber were determined to scorch a path through the Witzenberg Valley and for most of the day everything went according to plan. But on a technical descent just 10km from the finish Huber punctured, allowing the unheralded newbies Nicola Rohrbach and Matthias Pfrommer of Team Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 to take the stage win in a time of 4:16.48,3.
Third place for the stage went to the young Italian pair of Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro (Trek-Selle San Marco A).
The Men’s category winners on the day only came together as a team about a week before the event started, and even then they are participating here in support of Team Centurion Vaude by Meerendal’s Hermann Pernsteiner and Daniel Geismayr. Pernsteiner, though, had a fall on Stage 1, which opened the door for Pfommer and Rohrbach to win a highly-coveted stage at the Absa Cape Epic.
“Hermann had a crash yesterday,” said Pfommer, “so the plan was for him to start and then tell us that they would go on or if we must go on.”
At the stage’s first serious climb, a near 20km trek up an old wagon trail over the Witzenberg mountain range, Pernsteiner realised he was in trouble, and so instructed the “back-up” team to race on. “Hermann and Daniel told us to go, so we did and we hit it full gas,” said Pfommer.
For much of the race there were four teams in the lead bunch, with South African pair Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock (USN Purefit) mixing it up in the front for a while too, until a broken chain for Lill halted their momentum.
“All day it was very tough and very technical, especially the middle part,” said Rohrbach. “But eventually we caught the Bulls and the lead bunch. I think we were about 10 seconds behind the Bulls, but the plan was always to then push hard because Matthias and I are both very fast on the downhill. We passed them on the last descent, but also because they had a flat.”
Crossing the line first, Pfommer and Rohrbach were ecstatic, punching the air and whooping with delight. “We are totally destroyed after that ride. But very happy.”
For the overall leaders, it was another successful, if slightly irritating day. “It was another hot stage, the weather and the racing,” said Huber. “The long climb after 10km definitely woke us up, but then we were on to the trails that we knew quite well after riding in the Tankwa Trek recently. We were riding along very comfortably all day. Even though the puncture was annoying, it was a good day. But like always in racing, it could be better.”
One of the pre-race favourites, Team Topeak Ergon Racing, endured another bout of bad luck, something of a recurring theme for Alban Lakata. After a good Stage 1, Lakata and Hynek would have expected to put more pressure on Team Bulls today.
Unfortunately for them, Lakata’s shoe broke early in the racing. After trying, and failing, to fix it, they eventually had to wait for their back up team so Lakata could take Erik Kleinhans’ shoe. Finishing in one red and one black shoe, the replacement also too small, Lakata said: “My foot is on fire, it’s burning. When these things happen you always think the race is over, but we have to get over it because we don’t know what will happen from here.”
Lakata also punctured later as they hit the top slopes of the wagon trail descent.
In the race for the red Absa African special jersey, Lill and Woolcock remain in front, approximately five minutes ahead of Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (Team NAD Pro MTB). Bell and Combrinck finished eighth overall on Stage 2, with Lill and Woolcock finishing 12th.
After an intriguing day’s racing in the Sasol Women’s category, defending champions Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad surged to victory and the overall lead on Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic – spending 5:06.00,2 in their saddles.
For much of the stage, the 100th in the race’s history, the Spur-Specialized pair bided their time in third place behind the Sport for Good’s Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina and Sally Bigham and Adel Morath of Topeak Ergon. Significantly, Kleinhans and Langvad remained ahead of the erstwhile race leaders, Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag of Ascendis Health and by the time the South African-Swedish pair arrived back in Tulbagh, their 58 seconds lead had turned into a three minute, 17 second defecit.
“It feels amazing to be back in the orange jersey,” said a beaming Kleinhans. “This morning I was confident we could do something but when Sabine and Yana went ahead on the first climb I thought it was going to be a long day. I knew I couldn’t go at the pace that they went up so we decided to keep it really consistent and I remembered from 2011 that the last climb goes into a long descent and is quite technical – I thought that’s where we could decide it.”
Spitz and Belomoina were the protagonists in establishing the pecking order for the day, by laying down a marker that only Bigham and Morath initially followed, up the wagon trail out of Tulbagh onto the Witzenberg mountains. Spitz revealed that their tactics were formulated because of their experience on Monday’s Stage 1.
“Our goal today was to not get fed with dust and the only way to do that is to stay in front for as long as possible,” said the 2003 Cross-country World Champion and 2008 Olympic Champion. “We managed to stay in front of the men until they caught us 500m before the end of the first climb.”
Despite eventually finishing the day in third place, the Sport for Good pairing remained in fourth overall, but were pleased to claim the day’s spot prize and look forward to the remaining stages.
After trailing Spitz and Belomoina through the first two water points, Bigham and Morath took over the lead before the third water point.
“It was really exciting today, particularly because the lead changed hands a few times,” said Bigham. “Ariane and Annika seemed to go full risk on the descent home and that’s where they overtook us.”
Outgoing race leaders, De Groot and Stenerhag were due to do some injury assessment after Stenerhag had a hard tumble onto her left arm on the first descent of the day. “I don’t think it’s badly injured, only a bit sore,” said Stenerhag, while inspecting her blood and dust caked arm.
The Masters category – in which both riders are over 40 – is meanwhile shaping up to be a thrilling race. Defending category champions Bart Brentjens of the Netherlands and Brazilian Abraao Azevedo (CST Superior Brentjens) won Stage 2 by nine minutes from South African’s Adrian Enthoven and Nic White (White Inc). But the White/Enthoven combination holds on to their overall lead thanks to a poor Stage 1 performance by Brentjens and Azevedo when the latter suffered from back problems.
Brentjens and Azevedo have moved up to third in the category now behind second placed Dutch pair John van de Wouw and Maikel Govaarts (Van de Haterd Mtb) and will fancy their chances of hauling in the leaders over the next stage or two.
In the Grand Masters category – both riders over 50 – the South African/German combination of Robert Sim and former Tour de France rider Udo Boelts have a commanding 20-minute lead over South Africans Andrew Mclean and Doug Brown (Cycle Lab) after winning their second stage in succession. The much-vaunted pairing of Austrian Heinz Zoerweg and Swiss Barti Bucher (Meerendal BIXS KTM) appear to have put two bad days behind them and finished second on Tuesday ahead of Mclean and Brown. They are third overall and will be determined to close the gap on the leading team over the remaining five stages.
The Mixed category was again dominated by French team Jean-Francois Bossler and Fanny Bourdon (Open-Kappius Components), who are now 21 minutes ahead of second-placed Hans Fluck and Anita Bucher (Giant Obwalden).
Phillimon Sebona and Lucky Mlangeni (Exxaro/PwC) have taken a commanding lead in the race for the Exxaro special jersey and are now an hour ahead of second-placed Rilamulele Gadabeni and Tovhowani Mavundadavhi (Exxaro/Tronox).
The 2016 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race takes place from 13 to 20 March and the much anticipated racing updates can be viewed here. The 2016 race hosted the 100th stage in the history of the event – the EPIC100 – today, Tuesday 15 March.