After an intriguing week's racing in the Sasol Women's category, Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad are now three-time Absa Cape Epic champions; the Swiss-Danish duo joining Karl Platt (who earlier on Sunday won his fifth title) and Stefan Sahm as three-time champion pairings.
As was the case throughout the "eight days of courage", Swiss Kleinhans and Dane Langvad didn't have it their own way during Sunday's Grand Finale, the 86km from Stellenbosch to Meerendal Wine Estate. The Spur-Specialized pair led going into the final two kilometres before the Sport for Good pairing of German Sabine Spitz and Ukranian Yana Belomoina overtook them and ecstatically crossed the finish line first in 3:53.31,4 – their third straight stage victory.
Langvad acknowledged that this has been a tough week for the pairing, after initially facing a strong challenge from Ascendis Health's Robyn de Groot of South Africa and Swede Jennie Stenehag. Then Spitz and Belomoina found their legs in the closing stages but Spur-Specialized's overall winning margin of 14.56 highlighted their superiority over the eight days.
"It was a difficult stage after a tough week of racing, but we are happy with our overall win and super happy with our third Epic title," said the Dane. "Winning the Epic is a big goal. To celebrate I'm going to drink some of the great South African wine that I didn't get to drink this week."
Kleinhans, who came into the Absa Cape Epic unsure about her form once again had to dig deep to keep pace with her partner. As a result, she is looking forward to home comforts after celebrating her fifth Absa Cape Epic title in a row across the Mixed and Women's categories.
"This stage was a bit messy – we had a lot of men overtaking us today, but in general the route over the Epic was really good for the women, because we didn't get bunched with the men. To celebrate I'm going to sleep, eat and recover. It's been super tough."
Grand Finale winners Spitz and Belomoina, who have got stronger and stronger through the eight days, cranked up the pace to make the decisive move on Meerendal's famous Stairway to Heaven.
"On the final climb Yana was riding like crazy," said a delighted Spitz. "She overtook a men's team and I was sitting behind them thinking 'oh my gosh', then I saw her overtake the girls and I realised I had to use my last grain of power to get to her. To win three stages in a race is amazing. I'm really pleased I took the decision to come ride the Cape Epic."
Belomoina, who at 23 is Spitz's junior by 21 years, was happy that her cross-country skills could be the decisive factor on the day.
"The finish was very good, it was like a lap of cross-country so I had to go fast. I saw a small chance so I went for it and luckily Sabine could catch up. I'm very happy to win three stages in a row."
Topeak Ergon rounded off the Sasol Women's category podium – with another third place finish at Meerendal.
Two-time winner Sally Bigham of England lamented the fact that her upset stomach affected their challenge once the racing hotted up on Sunday, leaving her teammate, Adel Morath, to sum up their day.
"Today was a tactical race, which I like," said Morath, now a first-time Absa Cape Epic finisher. "When the men caught up with us we were in a big group and the pace was super fast but we couldn't keep up near the end. The new start for the women has really been great for the women's race but in the end Annika and Ariane were too strong. They have the experience together, they train here and knew the stages which was an advantage for them. I'm happy for them, they did the best."
Meanwhile, the champagne-soaked Spur-Specialized pair couldn't be drawn on whether they would be back next year to defend their crown. "First we need a break," said Langvad.
2016 Stage 7 Women
- Sport for Good 54-2 Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) 54-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 3:53.31,4
- Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 3:54.18,5 +47,1
- Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 3:55.22,2 +1.50,8
- Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 33:30.48,0
- Sport for Good 54-2 Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) 54-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 33:45.44,5 +14.56,5
- Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 33:51.30,3 +20.42,3
- Meerendal Wheeler 52-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 52-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 35:02.03,9 +1:31.15,9
- Galileo Risk 55-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 55-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 36:38.01,9 +3:07.13,9
- Meerendal Rocky EBE 56-1 Hielke Elferink (Netherlands) 56-2 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) 36:45.02,1 +3:14.14,1
- Energade Racing 202-1 Dalene van der Leek (South Africa) 202-2 Sharon Laws (England) 36:46.33,2 +3:15.45,2
- Asrin Cycling 71-1 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 71-2 Sandra Santanyes Murillo (Spain) 37:12.07,6 +3:41.19,6
- Liv - MTB Pro 59-1 Muriel Bouhet (France) 59-2 Merce Pacios Pujado (Spain) 40:56.05,4 +7:25.17,4
- Speed Structures 68-1 Marleen Lourens (South Africa) 68-2 Nicky Giliomee (South Africa) 43:07.26,6 +9:36.38,6
Twelve years after claiming his first Absa Cape Epic title Karl Platt today became only the second person to win the event five times when he and Urs Huber (Team Bulls) calmly sealed a dominant victory.
German Manuel Fumic and Brazilian Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing) claimed Stage 7 – the prestigious Grand Finale win – but it was Team Bulls who took overall glory in front of thousands of spectators at the Meerendal Wine Estate finish.
German Platt and Swiss teammate Huber of Switzerland rolled comfortably across the line at Meerendal in fifth place after the fast 86km stage, with Fumic and Avancini still joyously celebrating their stage win.
"We've wanted this all week," said Fumic. "We targeted the Prologue, then Stage 4 and today. This was our last chance at a stage win after the other two didn't work out, so we were really determined to take this one. There is nothing better than winning the final stage of the Cape Epic. There are always a lot of people here, but when we came over the bridge I couldn't believe how many people were at the finish. It's such a special feeling."
Avancini, the 2015 Brazilian cross-country champion, was equally thrilled with a stage victory in his debut Cape Epic. "This is very special," said Avancini. "We were chasing this stage win today so to get it in front of so many fans was incredible. We wanted Stage 4, but Manny had a few issues, so this was it for us."
Fumic and Avancini crossed the line in 3:13.38,2, lightning fast riding on a stage without much climbing, quite a few district roads and in fairly cool conditions.
Second and third on the stage was wrapped up by the two Centurion Vaude by Meerendal teams. At one stage, on the last climb before the final 2016 Cape Epic descent, it looked as though they had positioned themselves for a one-two stage finish, but Cannondale Factory Racing snuck in front. "We are not the strongest team in the field," said Avancini, "so today we had to be the smartest."
The biggest smiles on the day, though, belonged to Platt and Huber. Their preparation for the 2016 race has been superb, with both riders spending weeks in South Africa, racing and riding in local conditions.
This is the 10th year that Team Bulls have competed in the Cape Epic, and that experience was in full display throughout the week. The Cape Epic also holds a special place in the heart of the Bulls team, as this was the first event they raced as a pro outfit. To commemorate the 10 years, the Bulls came into the event under the banner of Project Zebra – their mission to claim a fifth Cape Epic victory. Their kit and bikes were created to reflect the theme and to show their affinity for their adopted country. The hard work and enthusiasm for riding in South Africa paid off.
"This is unbelievable... unbelievable," said Platt seconds after crossing the line as the 2016 champion. I have no words to say now." Platt, who won the very first Absa Cape Epic in 2004, has had to wait six years for his fifth win. "I must be getting better with age! I've been waiting a long time for this fifth win, so to actually have it now... I still can't believe it."
The race strategy on the day was a case of no heroics. With a 15-minute overall race lead over Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2, Platt and Huber just had to enjoy the ride. "Everyone was racing hard again, but we did what we could to control it," said Platt. "Then a bunch made a break, but Urs and I decided to take it easy and just enjoy the last 20km."
This was Huber's first Cape Epic victory, in his seventh event. "I was a bit nervous at the start," said Huber, "but once the race began and we could control the pace for a while, I calmed down. We could see that lots of teams were going for the stage win, but we decided that was not for us. Today we said, no suffering!"
Huber says Team Bulls will be back in 2016 to race for a sixth title for Platt, but first he's looking forward to a week off. "We are definitely coming back next year. But first I'm going to relax for a while. I fly home tomorrow. I can't wait for my own bed."
Meanwhile, the South African and African challenge was wrapped up comfortably by Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock (USN Purefit). They claimed sixth on the day and sixth overall in the race. It was a highly impressive performance from the former road riders who, apart from the Prologue, were in complete control of the Absa African Special Jersey. "We're happy and relieved," said Woolcock. "It was another day of fast racing, so to make it into the finish in the red jersey, and to win the category overall, is a great result."
2016 Stage 7 Men
- Cannondale Factory Racing 14-1 Manuel Fumic (Germany) 14-2 Henrique Avancini (Brazil) 3:13.38,2
- Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 17-1 Nicola Rohrbach (Switzerland) 17-2 Matthias Pfrommer (Germany) 3:14.06,6 +28,4
- Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 4-1 Daniel Geismayr (Austria) 4-2 Hermann Pernsteiner (Austria) 3:14.06,8 +28,6
- Bulls 3-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 3-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland) 28:13.28,4
- Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 17-1 Nicola Rohrbach (Switzerland) 17-2 Matthias Pfrommer (Germany) 28:26.36,7 +13.08,3
- Trek-Selle San Marco A 13-1 Samuele Porro (Italy) 13-2 Damiano Ferraro (Italy) 28:38.32,9 +25.04,5
- Cannondale Factory Racing 14-1 Manuel Fumic (Germany) 14-2 Henrique Avancini (Brazil) 28:39.12,3 +25.43,9
- Dolomiti Superbike 11-1 Periklis Ilias (Greece) 11-2 Tiago Jorge Ferreira Oliveira (Portugal) 28:52.33,4 +39.05,0
- USN Purefit 7-1 Darren Lill (South Africa) 7-2 Waylon Woolcock (South Africa) 29:03.22,9 +49.54,5
- Bulls 2 10-1 Simon Stiebjahn (Germany) 10-2 Tim Boehme (Germany) 29:08.49,4 +55.21,0
- Trek-Selle San Marco B 18-1 Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Spain) 18-2 Fabian Rabensteiner (Italy) 29:13.39,5 +1:00.11,1
- Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 4-1 Daniel Geismayr (Austria) 4-2 Hermann Pernsteiner (Austria) 29:16.16,9 +1:02.48,5
- Topeak Ergon Racing 2 16-1 Jeremiah Bishop (United States of America) 16-2 Erik Kleinhans (South Africa) 29:20.44,8 +1:07.16,4