With just over five minutes separating the top three men’s teams on the general classification it was full gas from the gun on Stage 5’s 39km time-trial in Wellington.
With a brutal 39km/1430m to negotiate, there was no rest for Investec Songo Specialized, Cannondale Factory Racing and Canyon Topeak as the hunt for the yellow jersey intensified on Stage 5 in Wellington. On paper the course looked to favour the cross-country specialists – more specifically the Cannondale Factory Racing boys and Prologue winners, Centurion Vaude, but as it turned out that was not the case...
Cannondale Factory Racing were the biggest losers of the day, a direct result of yesterday’s heroic efforts having caught up with them. Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini looked out of sorts for most of the route, the latter of whom was taking tremendous strain on the climbs.
“We rode really hard and took some risks,” said Avancini. “We gave it a shot but had no legs – it is what it is.”
Cannondale Factory Racing would eventually finish in fifth place, and with that result, drop one place below Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek (Canyon Topeak) on the general classification to third.
According to Kristian Hynek, Lakata was making him “suffer” for a large part of the time-trial but eventually “found his legs”.
“Pacing is key on a stage like this but on the other hand, like the Prologue, you have to go flat out. I wasn’t feeling good at the beginning but Alban still pushed the tempo and made me suffer,” laughed Hynek. “I eventually started to feel better and like to think Alban was also on the limit at some point – we rode well in the end.”
Although Canyon Topeak trail Kulhavy and Grotts by over seven minutes, the reigning marathon World Champion believes he and Hynek are still in with a shot of winning the Absa Cape Epic.
“We did not expect to have such a good day after yesterday’s suffering,” said Lakata. “We rode to our strategy and it worked well. We are still in it to win it and the next two stages suit us – more climbing, less flats.”
After winning yesterday’s Queen Stage, Centurion Vaude’s Daniel Geismayr and Nicola Rohrbach would finish in a disappointing seventh place – 3.39,9 off the pace.
“Nicola (Rohrbach) wasn’t feeling well today,” said Geismayr after the stage. “We had to go at a steady and slow pace. We will see what happens in the next two days.”
The day however, belonged to Investec Songo Specialized who are showing no signs of weakness. It was a flawless display in which Kulhavy and Grotts asserted their dominance closing down Cannondale Factory Racing, who started three minutes ahead of them, within the first 20km.
“It was amazing for us. We are really happy because we went at our own tempo and when we caught Cannondale we felt confident,” said Kulhavy. “It felt like the hardest stage because of the elevation and steep climbs.”
“I knew today’s course would suit us a little better,” said Grotts. “I really felt more comfortable today and Jaro (Kulhavy) was setting a perfect pace. It was just us against the clock and we didn’t have to worry about anyone else.”
Investec Songo Specialized now carry a 7.15,8 lead going into Stage 6 – a tough 76km/2000m day out in Wellington. They’ll be well aware of the threat Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek present to their position at the top of the general classification and will need a mechanical-free day to keep the charging Canyon Topeak pairing at bay.
In the Absa African Men’s special jersey race it was NAD MTB that posted the fastest time of the day, a solid result considering just a few days ago Matthew Beers was nursing a stomach bug. For current red jersey wearers of PYGA Euro Steel it was a day of consolidation.
“It was a really nice route and we started fast and tried to gain on the flats with me on the front and Julian (Jessop) in my slip,” said Beukes. “We raced hard on flats and backed off on the climbs. That was our strategy.”
The PYGA Euro Steel pairing still managed to secure the second step of the podium with Marco Joubert and Dylan Rebello (Imbuko Momsen) registering third place for a second day in a row. The young duo now find themselves in third place overall – just under a minute and a half ahead of Timothy Hammond and Arno Du Toit (SPOT Africa) who trail in fourth.
“We came into the Absa Cape Epic looking to finish top 20 and possibly grab a podium in the Absa African Men’s special jersey race,” said Joubert. “ We have not had a smooth race as we’ve suffered with mechanicals but we will just keep going and keep it consistent. Today was the first time we attacked and with Matt (Beers) starting to come right we will have to watch out for them (NAD MTB).”