South African Philip Buys commandingly won his second stage of the 2014 Absa Cape Epic Saturday with Swiss partner Nino Schurter (Team Scott-Odlo) as the race for the overall winners’ yellow zebra-striped jersey was again touched by drama. – By Chris Whitfield
“Another stage … another flat … another drama,” said Czech Kristian Hynek, leading overall with German Robert Mennen (Topeak-Ergon), after they had again benefited on the day from the sportsmanship of fellow professionals.
Mennen and Hynek finished the 88km sixth stage in second place but more than 10 minutes aheads in the general classification. Barring disaster – an ever-present threat in the 2014 edition of the event – they should win for the first time when the race finishes at Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West Sunday.
They were facing a serious setback Saturday when Hynek picked up a bad cut on his wheel only five kilometres from the start. For the second day running it was fellow professionals Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess (Centurion-Vaude) – out of the race for overall honours after a bad day on Tuesday’s stage two when they broke a frame – who came to their rescue by stopping and swopping a wheel. On Friday they had donated two wheels to Hynek when he “double-flatted”.
The rapid change of tyres Saturday meant Hynek and Mennen could chase and ultimately catch up to their general classification competitors.
“This time it happened on a gravel section – the tyre was cut. We got great, great help from Centurion-Vaude,” said Hynek.
Mennen said he had no idea how to thank fellow Germans Kaufmann and Kaess. “I must actually apologise because we took away their chance of a stage win,” said Mennen. “We’ll have to do something big for them.”
Buys and Schurter, the reigning cross country world champion, blitzed the stage – which started and finished at Oak Valley, Elgin, and went through many of the best single track sections in the Western Cape – in 3:34.51,2, finishing nearly six minutes ahead of the yellow jersey-wearers.
Buys said it was “just great” to be on the top step of the podium for the second time in three days – they also won stage four – and paid tribute to the explosive strength of Schurter. “On the single tracks we work well together, but I suffer quite a lot on the climbs.”
“It was a beautiful stage – a mountain bike stage,” said Schurter. They are now lying fifth overall – but more than 20 minutes behind the leaders after some troubled opening stages – and Schurter was hoping to win the final stage Sunday and get on to the podium.
Pre-race favourite and four-times winner Christoph Sauser of Switzerland and his Czech partner Frantisek Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized) were third Saturday, giving up another 34 seconds to Hynek and Mennen. They remain in second overall but are more than 10 minutes back with only Sunday’s 68km stage to come – a gap that they are unlikely to bridge unless the leading team runs into serious trouble.
Rabon said he had a bad day: “I had no power in my legs … it just wasn’t happening today.”
Sauser said he and Rabon would attack from the start Sunday, but Hynek would not be taking risks: “It would be beautiful to win (the stage into) Lourensford, but there is no reason to take risks. The yellow jersey is our priority,” he said.
Team Bulls 2’s Simon Stiebjahn and Tim Boehme, both Germans, are third overall, six minutes behind Sauser and Rabon.
Ariane Kleinhans of Switzerland and Annike Langvad of Denmark (RECM 2) seem almost certain to be winners of the women’s category after another commanding performance Saturday. They finished in 4:12.44,0 – 10 minutes ahead of their nearest rivals Esther Suss, also Swiss, and Sally Bigham of England (Meerendal).
“Yesterday was a bit too much with the heat, but the single track and all the shade today (Saturday) made me a happy mountain biker again. I wish the final stage of the Epic was like the final day of the Tour de France with handshakes and drinking champagne. But seeing that it is not, we will do the same as every day: riding as strong and fast as we can.”
Kleinhans and Langvad’s overall lead is now 26 minutes.
South Africa’s Theresa Ralph and Swede Jennie Stenerhag (Cape Brewing Company) are lying third but are more than an hour back from the RECM 2 team.
STAGE 7: ELGIN TO LOURENSFORD (69km, 1 800m of climbing)
It will be a traditional final day, all culminating at Lourensford Wine Estate, where a hero’s welcome will await the tired riders. It will be a short day with a late start, but it will not be a free ride to the finish! There will be a few final hurdles, like the climb up Nuweberg on forestry roads, with its steep and washed out descent. Once over the Hottentots Mountain Range, riders will get to enjoy the vistas over False Bay, all the way back to Cape Town where their journey began some odd 700km ago. A final steep single track climb and riders will smell home as they enter the Lourensford Bowl for what promises to be yet another emotional Grand Finale.
Lourensford Wine Estate will once again host the Grand Finale celebrations tomorrow. The Grand Finale will include the Liqui-Fruit Vineyard Trail and MTB races (http://www.vineyard-races.co.za/vr/), live entertainment, a Farmer’s Market, delectable food and wine, as well as glorious scenery. Absa Cape Epic vantage points will be accessible to the general public, so that all can enjoy the mountain biking action. There will also be a Kids Zone offering fun activities such as a cycling race, jumping castles, games, face painting and more. Entrance is free.