Jennie Stenerhag and Esther Suss (Meerendal CBC) extended their lead in the Hansgrohe Women’s category after Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic, while Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) took a decent bite out of Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini’s (Cannondale Factory Racing XC) lead in the men’s race.
Debutants Andri Frischknecht and Michiel Van der Heijden (SCOTT-SRAM Young Guns) ruled the day on Stage 4, crossing the line first in a time of 4:10.00,3 with Schurter and Stirnemann popping wheelies (almost into the fencing) right behind them.
Finishing second on the day was enough to move Schurter and Stirnemann into second overall, with Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) slipping to third. They finished fourth on the day, thanks to a puncture late in the stage.
Overall leaders Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC) finished third on Stage 4, two-and-a-half minutes off the pace. Their time was enough to retain the yellow zebra jersey, though.
Stage winner Andri Frischknecht was thrilled with the result. "We are very happy and very surprised. When we looked at the stage - 112km - our main aim was just to survive. But this stage win is amazing; super cool. Riding with Nino and Matthias was great motivation, and when we managed the last sandy climb quite well, we started to think that we could take the stage. It was horrible (up the climb) but we made it!”
The pendulum in the Hansgrohe Women’s category at the Absa Cape Epic swung a little more toward a victory for Suss and Stenerhag with the duo adding another three minutes 40 to their lead after the 112km Stage 4 from Greyton to Elgin.
The Meerendal CBC pair were able to take advantage of some bad luck at a crucial point in Thursday’s race when Sabine Spitz sliced the sidewall of her front tyre and the Ascendis Health team were forced to let the race leaders ride off into the distance.
Ascendis Health’s problems also allowed the young Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro team of Mariske Strauss and Annie Last to claim second position on the stage, three minutes behind the race leaders, and consolidate their third position overall.
Stenerhag was content to take the win and even more pleased to have extended their overall lead to a solid 12 minutes 40 seconds with just three stages remaining.
“Obviously we are happy with the win,” said Stenerhag. “It is not that nice to win because of somebody else’s bad luck, but it is all racing and we have to be happy with the win and extend our lead a little bit.”
In the race for the Absa African special jersey, the PYGA Euro Steel pair of Matthys Beukes and Phil Buys retain a healthy lead, despite losing ground on Stage 4 to Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck (NAD Pro MTB).
“Conditions were good. It had been raining nonstop last month in Nelspruit so we are used to cooler temperatures. Today was a little less punchy so it suited us better,” said Combrinck.
Bell and Combrinck finished the day in ninth, six minutes ahead of Beukes and Buys, but the Absa African special jersey leaders still hold a commanding 17 minute lead overall in the category.
Meanwhile, William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona (Team Diepsloot MTB Academy) strengthened their grip on the Exarro special jersey, romping home on Stage 4 in a time of 5:09.13,9. They now have a seemingly unassailable hour-plus lead in the category over Luyanda Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo (Team BMT Academy Fairtree).
The Dimension Data Masters category on Stage 4 was won by Absa Cape Epic newbies Cadel Evans and George Hincapie (BMC Absa Racing Team). The pair have been acclimatising steadily to the demands of the race and now lie just nine minutes off first place in the category. The overall leaders in the Masters category, Tomi Misser and Ibon Zugasti (Orbea Factory) finished third on Stage 4, with Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (CST Sandd American Eagle) taking second.
Barti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg (Meerendal CBC 3) continued their impressive ride in the Grand Masters category, claiming stage 4 in a time of 4:59.47,1. Their nearest rivals for the jersey sit almost an hour behind them in overall time.
And Olympic gold medallist Jenny Rissveds and her partner Thomas Frischknecht Scott-SRAM Nextlevel have tightened their grip on the Virgin Active Mixed category with another stage and are nearly 25 minutes ahead of Grant Usher and Amy Beth McDougall (joBerg2c-Valencia). It is Rissveds’ first Absa Cape Epic and she is clearly enjoying the experience.
Former Olympic triathlete Mari Rabie and partner Corrie Muller (Fairtree Capital) finished third on the day.
2017 Stage 4 Masters
- BMC Absa Racing Team 63-1 Cadel Evans (Australia) 63-2 George Hincapie (United States of America) 4:38.28,7
- CST Sandd American Eagle 61-1 Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 61-2 Abraao Azevedo (Brazil) 4:39.13,4 +44,7
- Orbea Factory 35-1 Tomi Misser (Spain) 35-2 Ibon Zugasti (Spain) 4:41.00,1 +2.31,4
- Orbea Factory 35-1 Tomi Misser (Spain) 35-2 Ibon Zugasti (Spain) 17:09.17,7
- CST Sandd American Eagle 61-1 Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 61-2 Abraao Azevedo (Brazil) 17:12.24,1 +3.06,4
- BMC Absa Racing Team 63-1 Cadel Evans (Australia) 63-2 George Hincapie (United States of America) 17:18.40,4 +9.22,7
- ROCKY MOUNTAIN - toMotion 62-1 Thorsten Keller (Germany) 62-2 Max Friedrich (Germany) 18:32.49,5 +1:23.31,8
- GACOSUR IEDES CENTAURO 68-1 Manuel Rojo Nieto (Spain) 68-2 Jorge Lopez Janeiro (Spain) 18:36.01,8 +1:26.44,1
- LGE Midas/Slender-Wonder 330-1 Igna de Villiers (South Africa) 330-2 Paul Theron (South Africa) 18:38.04,3 +1:28.46,6
- @40 64-1 Hannes Hanekom (South Africa) 64-2 Ben Melt Swanepoel (South Africa) 18:41.42,4 +1:32.24,7
- Eurocasa Gaggenau 609-1 Richard Lurie (South Africa) 609-2 Brent Russell (South Africa) 19:03.26,1 +1:54.08,4
- Podium Sports 65-1 Nic Lamond (South Africa) 65-2 Simon Lamond (South Africa) 19:06.43,0 +1:57.25,3
- Oakhaven Capital 340-1 Michael Creedon (Ireland) 340-2 Andrew Cairns (South Africa) 19:17.24,4 +2:08.06,7
2017 Stage 4 Grand Masters
- Meerendal CBC 3 67-1 Barti Bucher (Switzerland) 67-2 Heinz Zoerweg (Austria) 4:59.47,1
- ABSA Bus Boys 304-1 Greg Anderson (South Africa) 304-2 Deon Kruger (South Africa) 5:19.36,2 +19.49,1
- Pitstop1Sport24hrs 342-1 Waleed Baker (South Africa) 342-2 Marius Nel (South Africa) 5:21.14,5 +21.27,4
- Meerendal CBC 3 67-1 Barti Bucher (Switzerland) 67-2 Heinz Zoerweg (Austria) 18:15.30,8
- ABSA Bus Boys 304-1 Greg Anderson (South Africa) 304-2 Deon Kruger (South Africa) 19:13.22,0 +57.51,2
- Pitstop1Sport24hrs 342-1 Waleed Baker (South Africa) 342-2 Marius Nel (South Africa) 20:25.31,2 +2:10.00,4
- Cape Airconditioning 594-1 Landon la Grange (South Africa) 594-2 Peter Winn (South Africa) 21:00.56,6 +2:45.25,8
- Bestmed Jaguar Sandton 312-1 Rex Benson (South Africa) 312-2 Rory Mapstone (South Africa) 21:37.33,9 +3:22.03,1
- Holte MTB Club 291-1 Bo Falck Hansen (Denmark) 291-2 Carsten Kristiansen (Denmark) 22:01.33,0 +3:46.02,2
- ALAIN - KAPPIUS 130-1 Alain Broglia (France) 130-2 Alain Morra (France) 22:10.03,5 +3:54.32,7
- Lab Rats 300-1 Arrie Rautenbach (South Africa) 300-2 Philip Vermeulen (South Africa) 22:31.49,1 +4:16.18,3
- PitstopSport24hrs3 483-1 Ahmed Zaid Mahomed (South Africa) 483-2 Dawood Osman (South Africa) 22:45.39,3 +4:30.08,5
- Gutta Boyz 412-1 Ivar Tollefsen (Norway) 412-2 Trond Hilde (Norway) 23:00.10,7 +4:44.39,9
2017 Stage 4 Mixed
- Scott-Sram Nextlevel 70-1 Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) 70-2 Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland) 4:54.59,2
- Joberg2C-Valencia 565-1 Grant Usher (South Africa) 565-2 Amy Beth McDougall (South Africa) 5:03.21,0 +8.21,8
- Fairtree Capital 72-1 Corrie Muller (South Africa) 72-2 Mari Rabie (South Africa) 5:07.02,5 +12.03,3
- Scott-Sram Nextlevel 70-1 Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) 70-2 Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland) 18:16.07,2
- Joberg2C-Valencia 565-1 Grant Usher (South Africa) 565-2 Amy Beth McDougall (South Africa) 18:40.53,6 +24.46,4
- RBI Tech - Mitas 71-1 Johan Labuschagne (South Africa) 71-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 19:10.35,8 +54.28,6
- Fairtree Capital 72-1 Corrie Muller (South Africa) 72-2 Mari Rabie (South Africa) 19:47.38,6 +1:31.31,4
- New World St Martins 668-1 Willy Williams (New Zealand) 668-2 Kate Fluker (New Zealand) 20:07.02,2 +1:50.55,0
- Motor Mile Racing 449-1 Bradley Cobb (United States of America) 449-2 Carla Williams (United States of America) 20:24.34,5 +2:08.27,3
- Meerendal CBC 4 432-1 Heinz Posch (Switzerland) 432-2 Nina Brenn (Switzerland) 20:39.39,8 +2:23.32,6
- Vejer Bike 625-1 Cristina Barberan (Spain) 625-2 Jesus Morillo Romero (Spain) 20:50.33,5 +2:34.26,3
- Comus Clif Bar 583-1 Jean-Luc Perez (France) 583-2 Muriel Bouhet (France) 21:12.42,2 +2:56.35,0
- Globeflight 49-1 Henning Blaauw (South Africa) 49-2 Louise Ferreira (South Africa) 21:20.30,3 +3:04.23,1
2017 Stage 4 Absa African
- NAD Pro MTB 14-1 Nico Bell (South Africa) 14-2 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 4:16.39,3
- PYGA Euro Steel 9-1 Philip Buys (South Africa) 9-2 Matthys Beukes (South Africa) 4:22.38,2 +5.58,9
- The Gear Change 141-1 Justin Tuck (South Africa) 141-2 David George (South Africa) 4:33.27,8 +16.48,5
- PYGA Euro Steel 9-1 Philip Buys (South Africa) 9-2 Matthys Beukes (South Africa) 15:55.21,2
- NAD Pro MTB 14-1 Nico Bell (South Africa) 14-2 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 16:12.20,0 +16.58,8
- BCX 10-1 Hendrik Kruger (South Africa) 10-2 Waylon Woolcock (South Africa) 16:24.06,7 +28.45,5
- The Gear Change 141-1 Justin Tuck (South Africa) 141-2 David George (South Africa) 16:52.34,2 +57.13,0
- SPOT Africa-Agrichem 39-1 Timothy Hammond (South Africa) 39-2 Dominic Calitz (South Africa) 17:04.01,7 +1:08.40,5
- Imbuko Freewheel Cycology 23-1 Christopher Wolhuter (South Africa) 23-2 Dylan Rebello (South Africa) 17:25.30,1 +1:30.08,9
- NFB - Spine & Sport 27-1 Craig Uria (South Africa) 27-2 Andrew Duvenage (South Africa) 17:50.39,2 +1:55.18,0
- William Simpson 33-1 Michael Posthumus (South Africa) 33-2 Derrin Smith (South Africa) 18:03.14,8 +2:07.53,6
- LGE Midas/Slender-Wonder 330-1 Igna de Villiers (South Africa) 330-2 Paul Theron (South Africa) 18:38.04,3 +2:42.43,1
- Joberg2C-Valencia 565-1 Grant Usher (South Africa) 565-2 Amy Beth McDougall (South Africa) 18:40.53,6 +2:45.32,4
2017 Stage 4 Exxaro
- Diepsloot MTB Academy 1 376-1 William Mokgopo (South Africa) 376-2 Phillimon Sebona (South Africa) 5:09.13,9
- DMA Absa 361-1 Sean Baloyi (South Africa) 361-2 Luke Mashiane (South Africa) 5:18.16,1 +9.02,2
- BMT Academy Fairtree 1 362-1 Luyanda Thobigunya (South Africa) 362-2 Baphelele Mbobo (South Africa) 5:30.43,8 +21.29,9
- Diepsloot MTB Academy 1 376-1 William Mokgopo (South Africa) 376-2 Phillimon Sebona (South Africa) 18:56.07,2
- BMT Academy Fairtree 1 362-1 Luyanda Thobigunya (South Africa) 362-2 Baphelele Mbobo (South Africa) 20:03.08,1 +1:07.00,9
- Songo-Investec 1 373-1 Thando Klaas (South Africa) 373-2 Lorenzo Leroux (South Africa) 20:18.38,2 +1:22.31,0
- DMA Absa 361-1 Sean Baloyi (South Africa) 361-2 Luke Mashiane (South Africa) 20:23.19,8 +1:27.12,6
- RMB Change a Life 1 372-1 Bongumusa Zikhali (South Africa) 372-2 Mazwi Smimango (South Africa) 20:46.02,9 +1:49.55,7
- Exxaro MTB Academy2 365-1 Anele Mtalana (South Africa) 365-2 Rilamulele Gadabeni (South Africa) 20:51.46,4 +1:55.39,2
- RMB Change a Life 371-1 Ndumiso Dontso (South Africa) 371-2 Sipho Kupiso (South Africa) 21:47.55,8 +2:51.48,6
- Land Rover 7 370-1 Syanda Masango (South Africa) 370-2 Luvuyo Siyasi (South Africa) 22:03.06,2 +3:06.59,0
- Absa DMA ROSS 305-1 Clement Mabula (South Africa) 305-2 Mphodisa Bruce Sebopa (South Africa) 22:16.57,4 +3:20.50,2
- BMT Academy 377-1 Abongile Bhusakwe (South Africa) 377-2 Siyabulela Tutu (South Africa) 23:09.57,8 +4:13.50,6
Combrinck, Bell close red jersey gap at Absa Cape Epic
After a day of mixed riding conditions on Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic, PYGA Euro Steel riders Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes still hold onto the Absa African special jersey, while NAD Pro MTB (Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck) made a dash to claim a top 10 spot on the stage.
Diepsloot MTB Academy (William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona) flew triumphantly over the finish to extend their lead for the Exxaro special jersey to over an hour. The leading all-African women's team of Vera Adrian and Candice Lill (dormakaba) experienced yet another strong stage to add to their dream Absa Cape Epic debut.
Riding as support team for Investec-Songo-Specialized, NAD Pro MTB raced hard on the day to finish ninth with a time of 4:16.39,3.
Combrink was happy after the strong result. “Today was more of a marathon stage, so if you were smart you could hide away in the bunch. We were just in the front at the right times and Nico really set a tough pace. In the end, guys really got going but being in the front made it a little easier for us.
“Our goal was just to stay in the front and support Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy if they had problems. We want to be right there to help if they they have any mechanical issues,” said Combrinck.
The NAD Pro MTB pair were well prepared to keep up with the pace of the front runners.
“Conditions were good. It had been raining nonstop last month in Nelspruit so we are used to cooler temperatures. Today was a little less punchy so it suited us better,” added Combrinck.
PYGA Euro Steel have managed keep the Absa African special jersey, though. Having a healthy overall lead in the category, the South Africans could afford small mishaps. Although they finished 15th for Stage 4, they still lead the chase for the special jersey. They are nearly 17 minutes in front of NAD Pro MTB in overall time.
Buys says he is happy to have the Absa African special jersey heading into Stage 5, but admits Stage 4 didn’t go according to plan.
“Before we started that long climb I was a bit off the pace. There was a particular area where we went over what I think was a piece of fence, and it looked like half of the bunch got caught out by it too. So from there we had to chase them all over again just as we started with the climb so it was tough going,” said Buys.
Buys continued that in spite of PYGA Euro Steel’s mediocre day, there is no need to change strategy and a stage win is still possible.
Meanwhile, Diepsloot MTB Academy are growing in confidence. With a lead that is worth over an hour in time, the Exxaro special jersey leaders are among the few content teams on the Absa Cape Epic. Their time today was 5:09.13,9.
Sebona said, “Yesterday was a very strong day; today we continued with that strength. It wasn't easy though because we spent some long hours out there on the saddle, but everything is going according to plan.”
His partner Mokgopo, added, “Today, the most important thing was keeping consistency and pacing ourselves from the start and we did that. We weren't trying to kill the legs today because I think the test is going to be stage six where we are going to try as hard as we can because we only have one day to go, so we can risk whatever we have. If we manage to build up an hour’s gap then I think we can afford to play around.
The dormakaba riders Vera Adrian and Candice Lill finished fifth yet again. The pair have looked fit every day of this year’s Cape Epic, collecting a time of 5:14.42,6 on Stage 4.
Candice Lill explained the conditions on Stage 4, “ In the beginning it was a lot of open roads and quite windy so being in the group it was a bit difficult because you had to fight for position all the time to stay out the wind and there were even a couple of crashes.
“Then there was a point when it got really hard and we did not make that break, so we were in the second group, but I think we still rode strong and maybe made a bit of time on the leaders near the end.”
Evans and Hincapie having a ball at the Absa Cape Epic
“This is an absolutely fantastic event. I have raced for some 20 years on the road and mountain bike and I have never ever experience anything like the Absa Cape Epic.”
Those are the words of Cadel Evans, a man who has seen nearly all there has to be seen in cycling. Besides his heralded Tour de France win he was a professional mountain biker in his time and was twice a World Cup series winner.
Evans’s Absa Cape Epic partner is road racing veteran George Hincapie (BMC Absa Racing). It is Hincapie’s first ever mountain bike stage race but they are third in the Dimension Data Masters category and clearly enjoying themselves.
“This is a completely new experience for me. This is not only my first Cape Epic, but also my first time in South Africa and I am loving every moment of the experience,” said Evans.
Evans and Hincapie have won stages 3 and 4 in the Dimension Data Masters’ category. They are now third in a very competitive category.
“At one stage today (Stage 4) it felt like a road race because of the big bunch riding and open roads. George being a 99.9% road cyclist did really well today! He is actually doing an awesome job,” added Evans
Hincapie said: “The Absa Cape Epic is certainly something new. It is a lot harder than I expected or thought it would be for sure. I will be in shape again at the end of the race!
“With it being my first time in South Africa I would have loved to look around while we are riding and try to appreciate the beauty of it, but these guys are really racing hard so there is no time to look around. I am staying a week longer in the country so will use that time to have a look around.”
For many years mountain bikers have labelled the Absa Cape Epic as the Tour de France of mountain biking. Evans, as a former winner of the Tour, believes there is some truth in this.
“Firstly I believe the Absa Cape Epic should pride itself on its uniqueness with regards to the racing environment and the event that it is. But in terms of prestige, endurance and the event being the pinnacle of the sport, yes, the Absa Cape Epic is the Tour de France on the mountain bike stage racing, especially in a non-Olympic year.”
*The 2017 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race is taking place until Sunday 26 March. Watch the action live on our website www.cape-epic.com
Joel Stransky eager to ride again
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Oak Valley, Elgin - Joel Stransky was forced to drop out of this year’s Absa Cape Epic after sustaining several injuries on the event’s Prologue event at Meerendal. Today he visited the Cape Epic as a spectator for the first time since his tumble.
The 49-year-old crashed his bike last Sunday, resulting in a punctured lung, two broken ribs and a damaged right hand.
Of his injuries, Stransky is positive he will make a full recovery, “I had some bad lacerations that required plastic surgery. Doctors also put a drain into my ribcage to relieve the pressure and help the lung respond.”
Stransky says the damage to his face was serious and admits he is lucky to keep his right eye.
Managing a laugh, he said, “I did ask for a facelift while I was under anaesthetic, but the doctor said not even that could help me!”
The Prologue is a 26km-long time trial course to introduce riders to the thrill of the untamed Absa Cape Epic and to help seeding for Stage 1. Unfortunately, Stransky couldn’t complete the day or the event after crashing out.
“I think I went into the technical section a little too quickly. I got airborne over one of the humps there and the back wheel overtook the front wheel. It spat me over the handlebars and I did a face plough.”
The 1995 Rugby World Cup winner is glad to be back at the Absa Cape Epic, but is naturally disappointed not to be involved as a participant as planned.
“When you’re not part of an event like this you realise how special it is to be a part of it. Even though I am wobbling around here feeling a little down on myself, it’s a great privilege to be here and it’s still a special environment.
“I’m disappointed that I let my partner Jeremy Thomson down, as well as the Land Rover team, but these things can happen. Once you embark on this journey, there is no point where you want it to end because you want to cross the finish line, wave the banner and get the T-shirt,” says Stransky
Stransky says he will keep his support up for his now solo teammate Thompson.
“Obviously I will be supporting him. He is my ride partner and has been keeping Gary Kirsten company as part of the Land Rover team. Gary’s partner has also had to pull out.”
As for his return and future Absa Cape Epics, Stransky says, “I have endured some pain and I’ll need a couple of weeks of recovery but I’ll be back on the bike in a few weeks, so it can’t be the end of the world.”
Will he be back at the Absa Cape Epic in 2018? “Absolutely.”