There was a tacit admission from their nearest rivals that the mountain biking-road riding combination of Annika Langvad and Anna van der Breggen have already almost done enough to ensure their rivals are racing for second in the Women’s category at the Absa Cape Epic.
After just two days of racing at the Absa Cape Epic, the Investec-songo-Specialized duo have already opened up a massive five-minute 42-second lead over Kross-Spur Racing’s Ariane Lüthi (Switzerland) and Maja Wloszczowska (Poland).
After crossing the line following the gruelling 111km Stage 1 that started and finished in Hermanus on Monday, Wloszczowska made it clear their strategy for the day was aimed more at defending second place rather than closing the gap on the leading pair.
“We did not even try and stay with (Langvad and Van der Breggen),” said the 2010 cross country World Champion. “If we had tried to go with them at the beginning we would have killed ourselves.”
Langvad, a five-time mountain bike marathon world champion, and her equally proficient road-riding specialist partner Van der Breggen, were allowed to ride away from their rivals on the early climbs out of Hermanus. They built such a big gap so early that the only other riders they saw for almost 100km were the male riders they caught and passed from the elite male batch which started 10 minutes earlier.
At the finish, after five hours, nine minutes and 11 seconds of riding, the Danish / Dutch combination had extended their stage lead to 3:07 with a controlled ride.
While the overall lead grew alarmingly for their rivals, their ride was not completely faultless as Van der Breggen arrived at the finish with a trickle of blood down her left shin.
“On the gravel road I took a tumble,” she said. “It is so slippery everywhere out there. The technical stuff is okay, it is just difficult because you have to pay attention all day.”
Van der Breggen also found the overhead conditions difficult on Monday and despite their growing advantage was wary about making predictions going forward.
“It was hot today ... it was really hot out there. On a MTB you have to go hard from the beginning so it is more than five hours of going fast which is tough for the body of course. First we get some recovery after today and then we see what happens tomorrow. I am so tired at the moment” she added with a smile. “But we are really happy with how it has gone so far.”
Wloszczowska was pleased with Stage 1 despite a tough 111km ride where they struggled to hold off the third-placed- Summit Fin team of Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath.
“I have a huge back pain, but otherwise it was all good,” said Wloszczowska. “We tried to keep the pace steady so we can reach the finish without hitting the wall on the way, but it was a hard stage.
“The Summit Fin girls were pushing super hard almost all the time. First we got a pretty big advantage and then they closed the gap again, so we had to push hard again – it was a crazy battle today.”
“If we had tried to go with (Langvad and Van der Breggen) it would have been quite risky with 111 kays, so I hope they enjoyed the ride. I am happy we are still only three minutes back. I think for five hours of racing it is not really a lot ... I was expecting a lot more so I think it is still close.” Wloszczowska added.
Close is a relative term, but Van der Breggen’s minor tumble will also serve as a warning that although Investec-songo-Specialized are clearly a step above their rivals, the nature of mountain biking means victory is never guaranteed and a mechanical or a fall can shake up the leader board at any time.
In the race for the African Women’s jersey race, the dormakaba Ladies team of Samantha Sanders and Amy Mcdougall added 13 minutes to their advantage over the Galileo Risk pairing of Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill and now lead the jersey by 42 minutes.
Tuesday’s Stage 2 is relatively short in kilometres, but with 2 250m of climbing packed into the 86km stage from Hermanus to Oak Valley, the day will still be a tough test likely to be remembered by the riders for the brutal six kilometre Wildekrans Tokoloshe that gains over 500m in one tough climb.
Swiss Pair Consolidate Overnight Lead
The all-Swiss pairing of Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing won the 111km Stage 1 of the 2019 Absa Cape Epic in emphatic fashion on Monday 18 March. Nino Schurter and Lars Forster finished in a time of 04:24:04 to extend their overnight lead to 3.33 over Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini of Cannondale Factory Racing, who finished second. The Team BULLS Legends outfit of Alban Lakata and five-time champion Karl Platt, rounded out the podium.
“I’m very happy with the win,” Schurter commented shortly after the finish on another cloudy and cool day which made for fast racing. “It was a good day out. I hurt a bit toward the end, but now we have time to recover for tomorrow,” he said.
Jaroslav Kulhavy and Sam Gaze of Investec-songo-Specialized crossed the line at Hermanus High School in the chasing bunch not too far behind, to limit their losses and climb up to third place on the GC.
However, if the big story is that three all cross-country teams are firmly placed on the top of a gruelling stage race GC, then there were many sub plots at play on a day not without its dramas.
The first – and perhaps most interesting – is the fierce battle which developed throughout the stage between the front two teams: A group of around 20 riders, featuring all the top contenders stayed together until the Dimension Data Hot Spot at 37km in. From there, the bunch began to split apart after Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing (who took the hot spot) pushed the pace.
Cannondale Factory Racing were able to stay in the mix as were Investec-songo-Specialized, one of the Trek Selle San Marco outfits, Canyon and the two senior BULLS teams. It stayed like this until Henrique Avancini went up the road to drop his much-storied hydration vest at water point three. This acted as something of a catalyst and the real fireworks started.
At around 74kms Sam Gaze washed out his wheel in a sandy section and went down hard. He was able to recover the rejoin the chase, but by then though Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing and Cannondale Factory Racing had already opened a gap on the chasing teams.
It wasn’t long after this that Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing went out alone. “The guys didn’t really want to work so we attacked them,” Schurter explained. “That’s how it works.”
“Everyone in the bunch was a bit nervous and it was hectic in the beginning, but then the racing really started after that water point,” Fumic added afterward.
“Scott was playing a few games and we didn’t really want to get involved in that,” he said. “So we just kept riding consistent and it’s all good. It’s a long week and you need to be strong at the end.”
His partner, Avancini, was rather more vocal after the finish. “They (Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing) were very strong today,” he commented. “Lars (Forster) is a world class rider – as I said yesterday – and Nino (Schurter) is perhaps the best ever.”
“But, it would be nice to have some microphones on the bikes so that people could hear the real Nino,” he chirped. “He’s always having a go at everyone. It’s fine, I will show him little by little. In this type of race I am really confident. I trust my legs, my body, my partner and my team. It’s a long week and I hope we’re going to have a nice fight in the next few days.”
Aside from Gaze’s crash and how much the chase work Investec-songo-Specialized had to do might cost them later in week, the other big talking point of the day was the renaissance ride of Team BULLS Legends Karl Platt and Alban Lakata, who finished third on the day.
“The last two years went really badly and that was difficult for motivation” and overjoyed Platt mused after the finish. “To finish on the podium is just such a joy and big relief for myself.”
“It went really well,” agreed Lakata. “We didn’t expect it to go like that and if it can go like this all week then it will be really good. But we also have to take care of ourselves,” he added. “It’s a long week and today took quite a lot out of us.”
The SpecializedFoundationNAD outfit of Matt Beers and Alan Hatherly had mechanical issues early on and spent the day battling back, but did manage to retain the Absa African Jersey.
Tuesday’s Stage 2 promises to take even more out of the riders with some 2250m of climbing over the 90km from Hermanus to Oak Valley.