Much speculation had been made around a clean-sweep of wins for the men’s Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing and women’s Investec-songo-Specialized pairs ahead of Stage 3’s 107km out-and-back loop from Oak Valley Estate in Elgin; but this is the Absa Cape Epic and it’s not often that a story can be concluded prior to the crossing of the finish line at Val de Vie Estate.
In the Men’s category, overnight leaders Nino Schurter and Lars Forster (Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing) started the fourth day of racing with a healthy four-minute lead after three stage wins, but a puncture on Groenlandberg for Forster – and problems removing the tyre – meant he was forced to ride on the rim for a while before receiving a new wheel.
Their problems ended up costing the dominant leaders a massive nine minutes and the overall lead before they could start their chase back.
Second-placed Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing) then proceeded to ride almost 70km by themselves to win the stage ahead of Urs Huber and Simon Stiebjahn (BULLS Heroes) with Damiano Ferraro and Samuele Porro (Trek Selle San Marco) third.
Cannondale’s trouble-free-run means they have taken over the ASSOS leader’s jerseys with a two-minute 42-second advantage over Scott-SRAM MTB-Racing, while BULLS Heroes have moved up to third, five minutes further back and just 11 seconds ahead of the Trek Selle San Marco pair.
In the Women’s category there was also drama, although Annika Langvad and Anna van der Breggen (Investec-songo-Specialized) cruised to their fourth win from four stages and now lead that race by a massive 23 minutes.
Behind them, second-placed Ariane Lüthi punctured and with partner Maja Wloszczowska (Kross-Spur Racing) lost a chunk of time to slip down to third on the overall standings, behind South African Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath (Summit Fin) who also finished second on the stage.
While there was plenty of movement in the GC of the Men’s and Women’s races, the other racing categories mostly followed the same patterns as the opening three stages, except for the Absa African Women’s special jersey, which now has a new leader.
Amy McDougall was forced to withdraw with a stomach bug, leaving her dormakaba Ladies teammate Sam Sanders to ride on alone in the Leopard jersey. Their withdrawal leaves the Galileo Risk pairing of Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill to take over the top all-African team with a lead of almost three hours.
The SpecializedFoundationNAD team, who are leading Absa African Men’s special jersey race, also looked to be in danger when Matt Beers took a heavy fall, but the tough former Moto-X rider picked himself up and continued. Alan Hatherly and Beers calmly rode back to the front of the all-Africa race and now lead the jersey by 23 minutes with IMBUKO Giant (Marco Joubert and Nicol Carstens) in second.
Sebastian and Laura Stark (TBR Werner), the German husband and wife team who are living and working in Cape Town for a year, consolidated their lead in the Virgin Acive Mixed category and added another five minutes to their lead. Former road riding world champion Oscar Freire Gomez and his partner Natalia Fischer Egusquiza (MMR Mixed) are second.
Popular Spaniard Jose Hermida and his partner, multiple Grand Tour stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Merida Factory Racing), added to their lead in the Dimension Data Masters category and are now a huge 48-minutes ahead of Erik Dekker and Maarten Tjallingii (IBS Capital Allies).
Grand Masters leaders Abraao Azevedo and Bart Brentjens (CST Sandd Bafang) have a lead of 37 minutes over Barti Bucher and Hans Juerg Gerber (Meerendal) after winning Wednesday’s stage by 17 minutes.
For the first time this year the Exxaro special jersey race did not see a change in leader, although Exxaro Pepto Sport’s Sean Baloyi and Anele Mtalana did concede ten minutes to Lucky Mlangeni and Tshepo Tlou (Exxaro/PWC 1). The stage winners have now moved into second position, ahead of Luyanda Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo (BMT Fairtree), and less than three minutes behind Baloyi and Mtalana.
Thursday’s Stage 4 is a 43km time trial starting at Oak Valley.
Dimension Data Masters categoryStage Results
- Merida Factory Racing 59-1 Jose Hermida (Spain) 59-2 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) 05:03.29,5
- MITAS HEAD NEW RACE 63-1 Ondrej Fojtik (Czech Republic) 63-2 José Silva (Portugal) 05:14.58,4 +11.28,9
- Dani Schnider Radsport 593-1 Oliver Imfeld (Switzerland) 593-2 Stefan Duss (Switzerland) 05:28.47,6 +25.18,1
- Merida Factory Racing 59-1 Jose Hermida (Spain) 59-2 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) 14:38.27,3
- IBS Capital Allies 64-1 Erik Dekker (Netherlands) 64-2 Maarten Tjallingii (Netherlands) 15:26.33,0 +48.05,7
- MITAS HEAD NEW RACE 63-1 Ondrej Fojtik (Czech Republic) 63-2 José Silva (Portugal) 15:26.51,8 +48.24,5
Grand Masters categoryStage Results
- CST Sandd Bafang 66-1 Abraao Azevedo (Brazil) 66-2 Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 05:15.27,7
- Meerendal 65-1 Barti Bucher (Switzerland) 65-2 Hans Juerg Gerber (Switzerland) 05:33.01,2 +17.33,5
- Zboys Racing 292-1 Tim Zimmerman (United States of America) 292-2 Troy Zimmerman (United States of America) 05:35.46,5 +20.18,8
- CST Sandd Bafang 66-1 Abraao Azevedo (Brazil) 66-2 Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 15:29.03,4
- Meerendal 65-1 Barti Bucher (Switzerland) 65-2 Hans Juerg Gerber (Switzerland) 16:06.20,4 +37.17,0
- Zboys Racing 292-1 Tim Zimmerman (United States of America) 292-2 Troy Zimmerman (United States of America) 16:34.17,2 +1:05.13,8
Virgin Active Mixed category
- TBR-Werner 72-1 Sebastian Stark (Germany) 72-2 Laura Stark (Germany) 05:42.21,6
- MMR MIXED 70-1 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain) 70-2 Natalia Fischer Egusquiza (Spain) 05:47.29,3 +5.07,7
- Miller Paneling 226-1 David Miller (United States of America) 226-2 Shayna Powless (United States of America) 05:54.18,1 +11.56,5
- TBR-Werner 72-1 Sebastian Stark (Germany) 72-2 Laura Stark (Germany) 16:21.08,5
- Miller Paneling 226-1 David Miller (United States of America) 226-2 Shayna Powless (United States of America) 17:06.24,7 +45.16,2
- MMR MIXED 70-1 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain) 70-2 Natalia Fischer Egusquiza (Spain) 17:06.58,0 +45.49,5
Absa African Men’s jerseyStage Results
- 1. SpecializedFoundationNAD 13-1 Alan Hatherly (South Africa) 13-2 Matthew Beers (South Africa) 04:38.33,3
- 2. IMBUKO GIANT 35-1 Marco Joubert (South Africa) 35-2 Nicol Carstens (South Africa) 04:44.20,4 +5.47,1
- 3. NAD MTB 15-2 Wessel Botha (South Africa) 15-1 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 04:52.51,6 +14.18,3
- SpecializedFoundationNAD 13-1 Alan Hatherly (South Africa) 13-2 Matthew Beers (South Africa) 13:37.55,1
- IMBUKO GIANT 35-1 Marco Joubert (South Africa) 35-2 Nicol Carstens (South Africa) 14:01.07,3 +23.12,2
- DSV Pro Cycling 28-1 Julian Jessop (South Africa) 28-2 Arno Du Toit (South Africa) 14:15.46,1 +37.51,0
Absa African Women’s jerseyStage Results
- Galileo Risk 56-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 56-2 Sarah Hill (South Africa) 05:55.15,6
- Land Rover Jaguars 46-1 Hannele Steyn (South Africa) 46-2 Katja Steenkamp (South Africa) 06:59.58,2 +1:04.42,6
- T and T 351-1 Jeanette Treherne (South Africa) 351-2 Vivienne Turvey (South Africa) 07:50.56,7 +1:55.41,1
- Overall Results
- 1. Galileo Risk 56-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 56-2 Sarah Hill (South Africa) 17:38.11,4
- 2. Land Rover Jaguars 46-1 Hannele Steyn (South Africa) 46-2 Katja Steenkamp (South Africa) 20:27.03,6 +2:48.52,2
- 3. T and T 351-1 Jeanette Treherne (South Africa) 351-2 Vivienne Turvey (South Africa) 22:43.57,6 +5:05.46,2
- EXXARO/PWC 1 82-1 Lucky Mlangeni (South Africa) 82-2 Tshepo Tlou (South Africa) 05:41.01,4
- Exxaro Pepto Sport 81-1 Sean Baloyi (South Africa) 81-2 Anele Mtalana (South Africa) 05:51.00,4 +9.59,0
- THESELE Velokhaya 275-1 Mthetheleli Boya (South Africa) 275-2 Loyiso Fulu (South Africa) 06:07.15,8 +26.14,4
- Exxaro Pepto Sport 81-1 Sean Baloyi (South Africa) 81-2 Anele Mtalana (South Africa) 16:58.52,4
- EXXARO/PWC 1 82-1 Lucky Mlangeni (South Africa) 82-2 Tshepo Tlou (South Africa) 17:01.33,4 +2.41,0
- BMT Fairtree 446-1 Luyanda Thobigunya (South Africa) 446-2 Baphelele Mbobo (South Africa) 17:32.23,3 +33.30,9
Dust to Dust
Not all the riders in the Absa Cape Epic have their choice of carbon steeds, motorhomes to kip in and creature comforts many see as basic. Since 2012, the Exxaro Jersey race has catered for riders from historically-disadvantaged backgrounds with a race-within-a-race that is often more thrilling than the pros’.
With an age cap of 26 years old, the Exxaro Jersey attracts young, hungry talent from across South Africa. In 2019, there are nine entries collectively from the Exxaro Development Academy in Gauteng, KZN-based RMB Change a Life, BMT Fairtree Academy and songo.info, both based in the Western Cape. The winners not only get kudos on the podium, but also a trip to the Bakala Academy in Belgium, the heartland of European cycling and home to the Deceuninck-QuickStep pro road team. The winners spend ten days learning about the latest developments in sport science – including training, nutrition and sports psychology – which will surely help them take the next step in their cycling careers.
Tucked in at the back of this experienced field is the Khayelitsha-based Thesele Velokhaya team of Mthetheleli Boya and Loyiso Fulu. Boya has a single Epic finish to his name – which already puts the 25-year-old in arrears compared to the multi-finisher teams riding for the jersey, while Fulu is not just an Absa Cape Epic first-timer; he is also the youngest rider in the field, at the tender age of 18.
Velokhaya is one of the oldest development academies in the Western Cape, and has a wonderful track record of developing road riders – former pro Luthando Kaka led the charge a decade ago, and current Dimension Data pro Nicholas Dlamini is a proud ambassador (replace, don’t like end-product) for an academy that prioritises education over riding bikes (but only just). They have capacity for around 60 riders, without stretching their basic cycling infrastructure, but currently run a membership of over 200, ranging from six to 20 years old, all school-going and committed to the ethos of the programme. Part of the huge growth in numbers they have seen has been through the employment of a full-time teacher to mentor and assist the learners at the academy... the kids are as hungry to learn as they are to become one of the bike riders. And that is 200 kids dodging the drugs, violence and hopelessness that is the reality of life in Khayelitsha.
So, why bring a team to the Epic? “We want to expose the riders to the bigger picture of mountain biking, and cycling,” says Luthando Kaka. “The experience and the exposure to foreign riders and different things helps so much with their personal development. Obviously, we would love to contest for the jersey, but we will have to see how that works out – my two guys are quite new to this race.” The Prologue was a disaster, with a cut tyre costing the pair nearly an hour... but that has opened the nothing-to-lose door, which they have stepped through with gusto.”
Mthetheleli is accomplished on the road – he was the Western Province U23 time trial champion a few years ago, and is a regular podium finisher in WP league races. He is also studying Sports Management at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (one of Velokhaya’s partners), using cycling to work his way off the dusty, desperate streets of Cape Town’s largest township, “After the Prologue, we are already under pressure. It would be great to get on the podium come Sunday but we’ll take it a day at a time.” Team Glass-Half-Full forges ahead, with a classy third-place finish on Stage 2 offering a glimpse of their potential.
For Luyiso, the Epic is proving a bit of a baptism of fire. He is still working towards gaining his matric, in spite of reminding Kaka of a young Dlamini; “He is so much like Nicholas, he is lean and super-strong, and has the desire. We are working hard with him to keep the balance between academics and what looks to be a bright future on the bike, and the Absa Cape Epic will be a good window on the real world for him.”
After their rocky start, Luyiso remains youthfully optimistic; “On Sunday we had a mechanical and lost a lot of time, so Stage 1 turned out to be a hard time-trial session for us as we were trying to get back into the racing groups. We are learning the hard way, but I’m happy to be able to take part and see what I can do.”
For the moment, the Thesele Velokhaya pair is bringing up the rear of the Exxarro field, but making friends and connections every metre of the way with their chatty enthusiasm.