After two days of extreme weather conditions Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic was shortened to 62km. Instead of riding the 102km to Elandskloof near Greyton, riders finished at what would have been the second water point for the day at the Botanical Gardens just outside Caledon.
The short distance, though, meant nothing to the elite men’s field, as they cranked up the pace on what essentially became a longish cross-country course.
Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized) were first over the line in a thrilling sprint finish to claim their first stage win of the 2017 event, with Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) just behind in second. Overall leaders Manual Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC) were in the sprint but finished third on the day and hold a decent two minute-plus lead over Sauser and Kulhavy in the race for the Absa Cape Epic title.
From the outset, the pace was fast and furious as some teams eyed a potential stage win with the distance cut by 40km. According to Fumic and Schurter, it was Philiip Buys and Matthys Beukes (PYGA Euro Steel) who started like an all too common Western Cape veld fire, blazing their way out of Hermanus.
“It was hectic at the start, really frantic stuff,” said Fumic. “The Pyga guys clearly wanted a stage win, so they went off like rockets. But I wasn’t surprised by the pace; it was just pure cross-country racing today. There was a lot of suffering on the route, but I am used to suffering.
“Henrique and I weren’t too worried, because our plan was always to sit in the peloton and to see what happens. Nino and Matthias pushed at the Hot Spot so we went with. Jaro and Susi dropped off but Jaro kept bringing them back on the flats. At this stage he was doing all the work.”
Schurter added, “That was a hard and fast day. The pace was hot from start to finish. I think the teams chasing the Absa African special jersey wanted a stage win and they went really fast from the start. Phil (Buys) and Matthys (Beukes) really flew from the minute we started.”
Despite the cross-country like conditions, it was the marathon men who came away victorious on the stage. “That was very tough. The first half was so fast, and then we didn't stop at all for water. I was worried at one stage, but we managed to pull through,” said Kulhavy. “Christoph lost contact up the big climb, but luckily he caught and we were able to push on for the stage win.”
Schurter was happy with his performance on the shortened stage. “It was a good race today. I knew that when they made it shorter we could expect a fast day,” he said. “Our plan was just to see how the day unfolded. We decided to attack on the Dimension Data Hotspot and Manny and Henrique came with us. Jaro and Susi dropped off, but then after some single track there was a flat section where Jaro’s power helped. Susi was able to hang in and they got over the line first.”
For Fumic and Avancini, the surprise leaders as the race heads into Stage 3, there is the prospect of a major upset in the air. Stage 3 will, at 78km, will also suit their considerable talents, and leave the chasing pack with the tricky task of trying to eat into their lead on another shortish day.
They are playing their cards close to their chest, though, and will continue a so far successful strategy of riding hard at the front and attempting to control the pace of the race. They’ll also continue having fun.
“For us it’s all about limiting damage and making the chasing teams do the work. They are the ones under pressure, not us. We are very comfortable and we just try to stay in front and control the situation,” said Fumic. “So far it is working. Our tactics going forward are pretty simple; every night that we are in the yellow leaders’ jersey we drink red wine, that is our motivation to stay in front for the rest of the week.”
Stage 3 of the Absa Cape Epic is a 78km circular route of the area surrounding Greyton and Genadendal that starts and finishes at Elandskloof.
Stenerhag and Suss consolidate Absa Cape Epic lead
Jennie Stenerhag and Esther Suss (Meerendal CBC) claimed another stage victory at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic, crossing the line of the shortened Stage 2 in a time of 3:05.51,7.
Their nearest rivals for the Hansgrohe Women’s category, Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) were right behind them in second, but Meerendal CBC’s overall lead sits at a comfortable eight minutes and 58 seconds.
Third on the day went to defending champion Ariane Lüthi and her new partner Adelheid Morath (Spur), who finished just over five minutes after the first two teams. Barring a major mishap for the leaders or the intervention of a minor miracle for Spur, it would appear that a new women’s champion will be crowned in 2017.
On a day that was shortened from 102km to 62km due to the extreme heat of the previous day and the potential for more hot weather and humid conditions on Stage 2, it was always going to be tough for De Groot and Spitz to cut into the lead of Stenerhag and Suss; and so it proved.
The four riders spent the entire stage riding together, with neither team being able to make a break. De Groot, though, was in high spirits and finished the stage all smiles. “It was a good ride; in fact it was very nice to ride together with Jennie and Esther,” she said. “Sabine and I were comfortable. We wanted a risk-free day, so we just took it easy. On a day like this there is not much you can do, so we kept it nice and tight and just enjoyed the ride.”
Stenerhag, who’s 2016 Absa Cape Epic, where she partnered De Groot, ended prematurely due to ill-health, is enjoying her moment in the orange leaders jersey. “I am very happy with the way the week is going,” she said. “It’s great to be in the lead, and Esther and I are having a great time. I must admit, though, that today was quite strange.”
Like the men’s race, the shorter distance didn’t mean an easier ride for those chasing titles. “Shorter often equals harder,” said Stenerhag. “The pace was really up from the minute we started. But we didn’t mind. As we’ve done every day, Esther and I just took it kilometre by kilometre; our only real strategy is to see how each day unfolds. Today Robyn and Sabine were really strong, so our plan was just to stay with them and let them do all the work. In the days to come, the pressure is really on them to make a move.”
Suss is also enjoying her time in orange again. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium at the Absa Cape Epic, so to be able to ride like this with Jennie and be in the lead is fantastic,” she said. “I am very happy with my form and just enjoying the experience of being in front again!”