German Robert Mennen and his Czech teammate Kristian Hynek (Topeak-Ergon) coolly defended their lead during the seventh and final stage of the Absa Cape Epic to take overall honours in the prestigious mountain bike stage race for the first time.
A large and lively crowd gathered at the finish line at Lourensford Wine Estate, Somerset West, also witnessed Gert Heyns and Matthys Beukes (Scott factory Racing) become the first South Africans ever to win the closing stage – the most sought after stage in the event.
And adopted South African Ariane Kleinhans – Swiss but living in Stellenbosch – and her Danish teammate Annike Langvad were warmly cheered across the line as they won the women’s category by some distance.
Mennen and Hynek started the 67km stage from Elgin with a more than 10-minute lead and defended it comfortably – finishing in a group containing their main general classification rivals.
“I got some revenge for last year,” said Mennen afterwards in reference to the incident in the 2013 Absa Cape Epic when he hit a duiker that ran in front of his bicycle, was thrown over his handlebars and broke his collarbone.
“But I never thought I could win the biggest mountain bike stage race in the world …it feels incredible,” said Mennen, who has competed in the Cape Epic twice before.
Hynek was riding his first Epic and confessed to sleeping very little on Saturday night: “It was a big relief to cross the line after having problems on the earlier stages, but nothing went wrong today.”
With a little bit of help from their friends, Hynek and Mennen held on to the zebra-striped yellow leaders’ jersey from stage three. On earlier stages Hynek had twice been the beneficiary of sportsmanship by fellow professionals Centurion-Vaude – Germans Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess – when they handed over their wheels after he got punctures.
About 45km into Sunday’s stage a group of four riders – none in contention for overall laurels – broke away.
Cross country World Champion Nino Schurter of Switzerland and his South African teammate Philip Buys (Scott-Odlo) turned up the pace and their back-up team – locals Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns (Scott Factory Racing) – joined them. The chasing pack – led by former Epic winner Roel Paulissen of Belgium and Riccardo Chiarini of Italy (Torpado) – could not reel them in.
As the two teams approached the finish line on the grass at Lourensford, Buys and Schurter backed off, allowing the young South Africans to take the stage and make a piece of Epic history.
An emotional Beukes said the win in the prestigious final stage into Lourensford was “unbelievable … to do this with my two best friends (Heyns and Buys) and the world champion – who’s also become our friend – was very special”.
They and the Scott-Odlo team had got away from others on the portage down the old wagon trail alongside Sir Lowry’s Pass. “Once we realised we were going to win in front of our friends and family nothing could have stopped us … we could have gone on forever,” said Beukes.
Four-times winner Christoph Sauser of Switzerland had started the day with Czech partner Frantisek Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized) determined to make inroads into the overall lead of Hynek and Mennen, but had to settle for second overall after being unable to shake off the Topeak-Ergon team.
Sauser said he was disappointed not to win after “chasing the yellow every day … but that’s the Cape Epic, that’s how it is”. He and Rabon suffered several punctures and some technical problems during the race.
Rabon, competing in his first Cape Epic since switching to mountain biking from road racing, said he had been “to hell and back many times”. He had learnt that the racing was more intense than on the road – where you could rest in the peleton on a bad day.
There was some consolation for the Bulls team after losing race favourite Karl Platt to an injury when its back-up team – Germans Tim Boehme and Simon Stiebjahn (Bulls 2) – finished third overall.
Kleinhans and Langvad (RECM2) won the women’s category by more than 30 minutes, overturning a 24-minute deficit after stage one when they were plagued by punctures and mechanical problems.
They had ridden a conservative race Sunday to hold their lead, but still won the stage by 12 minutes.
Langvad said the finish at Lourensford was “amazing … overwhelming … surreal with this huge crowd”
Kleinhans thanked South Africans who had “adopted me as their daughter … their support made me very emotional”.
Esther Suss of Switzerland and Briton Sally Bigham (Meerendal) finished second and South African Theresa Ralph and Swede Jennie Stenerhag (Cape Brewing Company) were third.
Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns of SCOTT Factory Racing won the final stage of this year’s Absa Cape Epic in 3:00.02,3 in a sprint finish with Swiss/South African duo Nino Schurter and Philip Buys (SCOTT-Odlo MTB Racing) in 3:00.02.6. Roel Paulissen and Riccardo Chiarini of Torpado Factory finished in third in 3:02.24,2. Buys also finished in second place with Beukes in the final stage last year, and Schurter in third.
Robert Mennen and Kristian Hynek of Topeak-Ergon Racing were overall winners of the world’s foremost mountain bike stage race, after finishing in an overall time of 30:31.59,2. In second place overall were a disappointed Christoph Sauser, bidding for his fifth win, and František Raboň of Meerendal Songo Specialized in 30:42.22,4. Team Bulls 2 of Tim Boehme and Simon Stiebjahn were ecstatic with their third place overall in 30:45.25,2. Mennen and Hynek won with a lead time of 10 minutes, 23,2 seconds.
Sasol Women’s Category
Swiss/Danish duo Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad (RECM 2) dominated this year’s race and won their category in an overall time of 34:54.53,7 with a lead time of 37 minutes and 44 seconds. They also won the final stage in 3:32.59,0. In second place overall were the Meerendal team of Esther Süss and Sally Bigham in 35:32.38,1, who also finished in second place in the final stage (3:45.06,6). In third place overall were Jennie Stenerhag and Theresa Ralph of Cape Brewing Company in 37:35.38. Milena Landtwing and Hielke Elferink (Meerendal Wheeler) finished in third place today in 3:48.31,9, but placed fourth overall in 38:13.15,5. It was also their first podium this year.
Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (BETCH.nl Superior Meerendal) reigned supreme in the Masters category and won the final stage (3:28.24,9) as well as the overall in a time of 33:53.04,1. South Africans Shan Wilson and Adrian Enthoven of Definitive Bikes finished second overall in 34:12.28,9, with Absa Masters Warren Squires and Nic White in third place overall in 36:34.01,3. Brentjens and Azevedo won by 19 minutes, 24,8 seconds.
Says Brentjens of BETCH.nl Superior Meerendal: “We got stronger everyday and to finish this way is amazing. It’s a great end to a great Epic.” His teammate Azevedo adds: “Riding with Bart was a great experience and very special. I enjoyed being part of the Epic and the team. I enjoyed every day.”
The South African and Austrian duo, Andrew Mclean and Heinz Zoerweg of Cycle Lab Toyota won the Grand Masters overall in a time of 33:56.37,5. They won the Prologue as well as six stages of this year’s race. They were followed by Bärti Bucher and Doug Brown of Meerendal Songo Specialized 4 in an overall time of 34:56.24,2 with Absa Grand Masters Eben Espach and Corrie Muller in third place overall in 36:41.34,6. Bärti Bucher and Doug Brown of Meerendal Songo Specialized 4 won their first stage in this year’s race in 3:33.36,4. Mclean and Zoerweg won this category by 59 minutes, 46,7 seconds.
Says Mclean of Cycle Lab Toyota: “It’s all about the jersey. We ended up winning almost all the stages, but in the end all that we wanted was the jersey. It was a great experience riding with someone I didn’t really know before the time. We worked so well together despite that. I had a good time with Heinz.”
Yannick Lincoln and Aurelie Halbwachs of Synergy won the Mixed category overall in a time of 37:07.20,1. They were followed by Gal Tsachor and Idit Shub of Trek Israel in 39:03.36,6 with Tom Janas and Bettina Uhlig of Sportograf.com – BQ Cycling in third place in 39:42.31,3. They (Sportograf.com – BQ Cycling) also won today’s stage in 3:41.28,9. Synergy beat their closest rivals by 1 hour, 56 minutes and 16,5 seconds.
Says Lincoln of Synergy: “I’ve never experienced the Epic like this. It’s the biggest victory ever. I can’t believe it. We never expected it.” Halbwachs adds: “In 2009 I ended 24th and now I won! It’s not something I really have words for.”
Absa African Jersey
The fastest all-African team was Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns of SCOTT Factory Racing in an overall time of 31:42.52,4. In second place were Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell of RECM in 32:05.11,5 with RED-E Blend’s Andrew Hill and Charles Keey in third place in 32:59.37,3.
Siphosenkosi Madolo and Azukile Simayile of team Meerendal Songo Specialized 16 won the Exxaro special jersey in an overall time of 35:40.05,9. They also won the final stage in 3:31.08,9 and finished in 30th overall (GC).
Comments Madolo: “This is what we wanted. We came to win and to actually finish first and take the Exxaro jersey home, is what we hoped for and dreamt about. I can’t stop smiling right now!”
Source: Purple Pine PR