Leaders take firm grip on a good day for SA
With just one day to go, both the men’s and women’s overall race leaders at the Absa Cape Epic have their hands firmly on the respective crowns after the Queen Stage around Grabouw on Saturday – but it was all change in the battle for the other podium positions.
Olympic and world mountain bike champion Nino Schurter and his Scott-Sram MTB Racing teammate Matthias Stirnemann were comfortable winners of the 103km Stage 6, beating South African Max Knox and his Colombian partner Hector Paez (Kansai Plascon) into second.
In doing so, Schurter and Stirnemann opened up a lead of almost seven minutes in the overall standings ahead of a struggling Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized), who ended the stage fourth, behind Nicola Rohrbach and Daniel Geismayr (Centurion Vaude 2).
The storming day by Knox and Paez also means they move up to third overall, deposing the winners of the Prologue and Stage 1, Team Cannondale’s Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini, from the final place on the podium. Cannondale have in turn slipped from third at the start of the stage to fifth overall, also falling behind the Centurion Vaude pair.
“I don’t know what happened today, but it was much less suffering than yesterday! It was a good day on the bike,” said Stirnemann. “Every day I feel like I am getting stronger on the bike. I recovered well last night; that showed this morning when I could get my rhythm a lot quicker.”
Reigning South African marathon champion Knox and Paez (a multiple Colombian national champion) have been in good shape all week, but have been rumbled by bad luck at inopportune moments. Today things finally went their way. Knox, tired but elated with second on the day, had nothing but praise for his teammate.
“The stage was tough, very tough. The pace was hard,” he said. “I have to say, my partner Hector is incredibly strong. I was riding at the limit, pushing myself to go harder the whole time. I was dropping off and barely hanging in, but Hector just kept encouraging me, kept pulling me along. He’s incredible. I have been feeling off my game all week, but he has been immense.”
In the Hansgrohe Women’s race it was a similar story with Esther Suss and Jennie Stenerhag (Team Meerendal CBC) finishing second in the stage, but increasing their overall lead to a massive 35 minutes.
The stage winners on Saturday were Mariske Strauss and Annie Last from Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro, and their victorious ride, combined with a crash and resultant broken handlebar to Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health), means the young stage winners have inherited second overall and are 12 minutes up on De Groot and Spitz.
As De Groot and Spitz crossed the line, Spitz summed the feelings of the team when she said with resignation that she “had about all the (trouble) I can take on this race”.
A massively disappointed De Groot simply said she “had no words today … it was a disaster” before going and crying on the shoulders of her parents near the finish line.
Stenerhag had mixed feelings about the day’s result. “It is never nice to hear that someone else has crashed, but when I was so tired it did mean I could slow down a bit because we knew they were not coming back at us.
“But taking nothing for granted, this race is not over until it is over. Nothing is finalised until it is finished.”
Suss added another word of warning.
“I am extremely happy and it is nice that we have the bigger gap but we know with their handlebar that broke that it can happen to us as well. We still have to be safe until the finish line.”
In the Virgin Active Mixed Category, Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds and Thomas Frischknecht (Scott Sram Nextlevel) won their seventh day in a row - the Prologue and six stages - and are now a massive 54 minutes ahead of Grant Usher and Amy Beth McDougall (joBerg2c-Valencia), with Johan Labuschagne and Catherine Williamson (RBI Tech-Mitas) 37 minutes further back.
Going into the final stage, the Dimension Data Masters category is wide open with Tomi Misser and Ibon Zugasti (Orbea Factory) less than three minutes ahead of both the BMC Absa team of Tour de France Champion Cadel Evans and George Hincapie and the CST Sandd American Eagle pairing of Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo.
In the grandmasters, Barti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg have a massive lead of almost two hours; while Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes (PYGA Euro Steel) are 25 minutes ahead in the Absa African Jersey; and William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona of Diepsloot MTB Academy have over an hour’s lead in the Exxaro Category.
2017 Stage 6 Masters
- BMC Absa Racing Team 63-1 Cadel Evans (Australia) 63-2 George Hincapie (United States of America) 4:48.11,9
- CST Sandd American Eagle 61-1 Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 61-2 Abraao Azevedo (Brazil) 4:49.54,4 +1.42,5
- Orbea Factory 35-1 Tomi Misser (Spain) 35-2 Ibon Zugasti (Spain) 4:51.12,4 +3.00,5
- Orbea Factory 35-1 Tomi Misser (Spain) 35-2 Ibon Zugasti (Spain) 26:16.01,9
- BMC Absa Racing Team 63-1 Cadel Evans (Australia) 63-2 George Hincapie (United States of America) 26:18.45,3 +2.43,4
- CST Sandd American Eagle 61-1 Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 61-2 Abraao Azevedo (Brazil) 26:18.50,3 +2.48,4
- ROCKY MOUNTAIN - toMotion 62-1 Thorsten Keller (Germany) 62-2 Max Friedrich (Germany) 28:30.12,8 +2:14.10,9
- LGE Midas/Slender-Wonder 330-1 Igna de Villiers (South Africa) 330-2 Paul Theron (South Africa) 28:36.30,8 +2:20.28,9
- GACOSUR IEDES CENTAURO 68-1 Manuel Rojo Nieto (Spain) 68-2 Jorge Lopez Janeiro (Spain) 29:09.20,5 +2:53.18,6
- Oakhaven Capital 340-1 Michael Creedon (Ireland) 340-2 Andrew Cairns (South Africa) 29:11.10,2 +2:55.08,3
- Podium Sports 65-1 Nic Lamond (South Africa) 65-2 Simon Lamond (South Africa) 29:13.52,7 +2:57.50,8
- Eurocasa Gaggenau 609-1 Richard Lurie (South Africa) 609-2 Brent Russell (South Africa) 29:19.28,8 +3:03.26,9
- @40 64-1 Hannes Hanekom (South Africa) 64-2 Ben Melt Swanepoel (South Africa) 29:36.13,3 +3:20.11,4
2017 Stage 6 Grand Masters
- Meerendal CBC 3 67-1 Barti Bucher (Switzerland) 67-2 Heinz Zoerweg (Austria) 5:12.40,6
- ABSA Bus Boys 304-1 Greg Anderson (South Africa) 304-2 Deon Kruger (South Africa) 5:50.12,1 +37.31,5
- ALAIN - KAPPIUS 130-1 Alain Broglia (France) 130-2 Alain Morra (France) 5:56.39,0 +43.58,4
- Meerendal CBC 3 67-1 Barti Bucher (Switzerland) 67-2 Heinz Zoerweg (Austria) 28:00.36,8
- ABSA Bus Boys 304-1 Greg Anderson (South Africa) 304-2 Deon Kruger (South Africa) 30:00.08,2 +1:59.31,4
- Pitstop1Sport24hrs 342-1 Waleed Baker (South Africa) 342-2 Marius Nel (South Africa) 31:42.38,9 +3:42.02,1
- Cape Airconditioning 594-1 Landon la Grange (South Africa) 594-2 Peter Winn (South Africa) 32:11.51,3 +4:11.14,5
- Bestmed Jaguar Sandton 312-1 Rex Benson (South Africa) 312-2 Rory Mapstone (South Africa) 32:50.22,4 +4:49.45,6
- ALAIN - KAPPIUS 130-1 Alain Broglia (France) 130-2 Alain Morra (France) 33:23.02,5 +5:22.25,7
- Holte MTB Club 291-1 Bo Falck Hansen (Denmark) 291-2 Carsten Kristiansen (Denmark) 34:04.42,2 +6:04.05,4
- PitstopSport24hrs3 483-1 Ahmed Zaid Mahomed (South Africa) 483-2 Dawood Osman (South Africa) 34:54.50,6 +6:54.13,8
- Lab Rats 300-1 Arrie Rautenbach (South Africa) 300-2 Philip Vermeulen (South Africa) 34:56.00,8 +6:55.24,0
- Pedal Damn It 481-1 Renaat Verbeke (Belgium) 481-2 Jozef De Meyer (Belgium) 36:05.24,6 +8:04.47,8
2017 Stage 6 Mixed
- Scott-Sram Nextlevel 70-1 Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) 70-2 Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland) 5:23.29,7
- New World St Martins 668-1 Willy Williams (New Zealand) 668-2 Kate Fluker (New Zealand) 5:27.28,6 +3.58,9
- RBI Tech - Mitas 71-1 Johan Labuschagne (South Africa) 71-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 5:32.00,8 +8.31,1
- Scott-Sram Nextlevel 70-1 Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) 70-2 Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland) 28:05.46,8
- Joberg2C-Valencia 565-1 Grant Usher (South Africa) 565-2 Amy Beth McDougall (South Africa) 29:00.01,8 +54.15,0
- RBI Tech - Mitas 71-1 Johan Labuschagne (South Africa) 71-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 29:37.28,7 +1:31.41,9
- Fairtree Capital 72-1 Corrie Muller (South Africa) 72-2 Mari Rabie (South Africa) 30:09.54,5 +2:04.07,7
- New World St Martins 668-1 Willy Williams (New Zealand) 668-2 Kate Fluker (New Zealand) 30:28.20,2 +2:22.33,4
- Motor Mile Racing 449-1 Bradley Cobb (United States of America) 449-2 Carla Williams (United States of America) 31:13.16,8 +3:07.30,0
- Vejer Bike 625-1 Cristina Barberan (Spain) 625-2 Jesus Morillo Romero (Spain) 32:04.03,3 +3:58.16,5
- Comus Clif Bar 583-1 Jean-Luc Perez (France) 583-2 Muriel Bouhet (France) 32:44.14,8 +4:38.28,0
- Globeflight 49-1 Henning Blaauw (South Africa) 49-2 Louise Ferreira (South Africa) 32:45.34,9 +4:39.48,1
- SAICA 139-1 Ila Stow (South Africa) 139-2 Darryn Stow (South Africa) 33:32.00,7 +5:26.13,9
Diepsloot MTB Academy charge on at Absa Cape Epic
Cooler temperatures greeted riders early on at Stage 6 of the Absa Cape Epic, but temperatures warmed up again as the day progressed. Thankfully, a consistent, fresh breeze gave relief to riders and spectators alike on a sunny Saturday.
Enjoying the conditions were Diepsloot MTB Academy riders William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona, who keep the Exxaro special jersey for yet another day (they finished the day in a time of 5:22.28,4).
In the Absa African special jersey race PYGA Euro Steel (Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes) completed a routine ride to come first in their category (4:41.24,0). NAD Pro MTB riders Gawie Combrink and Nico Bell followed with a time of 4:50.44,7.
An unusually tired Mokgopo, who has been ebullient throughout the week, was happy to achieve the result, especially after falling back a handful of places in the overall standings.
“At the last water point, we were about fourth in the chase for the Exxaro special jersey which was difficult because at that point it was very hot. We had to make a big comeback but good consistent riding helped us take back the top spot on the day.”
Mokgopo hasn’t let exhaustion get the better of him. He and Sebona understood the penultimate stage of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic was always going to be tiring, especially with the challenge of Groenlandberg.
“This stage has been one of the toughest, but we did our homework last night, checked our tyre pressures and ensured all parts of the bike were in good working order,” said Mokgopo.
Sebona added, “It was difficult today. But we have been conserving energy all week so our only real big challenge was Groenlandberg. That is not to say we weren’t prepared. We know that pass very well. So we already knew that if we could just get to the top, the rest of the race would be easier.”
As commanding Exxaro special jersey leaders, Diepsloot MTB Academy will relish the prize of R50 000. Mokgopo said, “If we win tomorrow, I will use the prize money to pay for my education and if there is left over after that, I will decide then!”
This isn’t all the Exxaro winners can enjoy. It was announced in January that the Bakala Academy in Leuven, Belgium will host the winners for eight days, where they will undergo testing and training of the highest quality.
In the Absa African special jersey race, PYGA Euro Steel rider Philip Buys was pleased to keep the red jersey, despite a puncture.
“I think the cooler conditions definitely made it a little bit easier. It was still a tough day out there. Any stage that includes Groenlandberg is a tough one. It’s not just the climb that is tough – coming down is also a challenge. But it was good riding.
“I was a just off the leading bunch just before Groenlandberg but on one of the downhills I got a pinch flat. I managed to plug it and then changed the wheel at the techzone just for safety,” said Buys.
NAD Pro MTB’s Gawie Combrink also enjoyed the stage.
“We just tried to stay with the front bunch but we had a few issues after Groenlandberg.
“It wasn’t anything major, it was just that Nico flatted and then I flatted right after. When we got everything repaired, we just rode steady on to the finish,” said Combrink.
2017 Stage 6 Absa African
- PYGA Euro Steel 9-1 Philip Buys (South Africa) 9-2 Matthys Beukes (South Africa) 4:41.24,0
- NAD Pro MTB 14-1 Nico Bell (South Africa) 14-2 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 4:50.44,7 +9.20,7
- The Gear Change 141-1 Justin Tuck (South Africa) 141-2 David George (South Africa) 4:52.50,4 +11.26,4
- PYGA Euro Steel 9-1 Philip Buys (South Africa) 9-2 Matthys Beukes (South Africa) 24:36.57,0
- NAD Pro MTB 14-1 Nico Bell (South Africa) 14-2 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 25:02.03,3 +25.06,3
- The Gear Change 141-1 Justin Tuck (South Africa) 141-2 David George (South Africa) 26:01.42,6 +1:24.45,6
- BCX 10-1 Hendrik Kruger (South Africa) 10-2 Waylon Woolcock (South Africa) 26:09.52,7 +1:32.55,7
- SPOT Africa-Agrichem 39-1 Timothy Hammond (South Africa) 39-2 Dominic Calitz (South Africa) 26:25.59,0 +1:49.02,0
- Imbuko Freewheel Cycology 23-1 Christopher Wolhuter (South Africa) 23-2 Dylan Rebello (South Africa) 26:46.04,7 +2:09.07,7
- NFB - Spine & Sport 27-1 Craig Uria (South Africa) 27-2 Andrew Duvenage (South Africa) 27:33.46,9 +2:56.49,9
- William Simpson 33-1 Michael Posthumus (South Africa) 33-2 Derrin Smith (South Africa) 27:55.09,0 +3:18.12,0
- LGE Midas/Slender-Wonder 330-1 Igna de Villiers (South Africa) 330-2 Paul Theron (South Africa) 28:36.30,8 +3:59.33,8
- Diepsloot MTB Academy 1 376-1 William Mokgopo (South Africa) 376-2 Phillimon Sebona (South Africa) 28:49.04,3 +4:12.07,3
2017 Stage 6 Exxaro
- Diepsloot MTB Academy 1 376-1 William Mokgopo (South Africa) 376-2 Phillimon Sebona (South Africa) 5:22.28,4
- BMT Academy Fairtree 1 362-1 Luyanda Thobigunya (South Africa) 362-2 Baphelele Mbobo (South Africa) 5:23.50,9 +1.22,5
- Songo-Investec 1 373-1 Thando Klaas (South Africa) 373-2 Lorenzo Leroux (South Africa) 5:32.32,4 +10.04,0
- Diepsloot MTB Academy 1 376-1 William Mokgopo (South Africa) 376-2 Phillimon Sebona (South Africa) 28:49.04,3
- BMT Academy Fairtree 1 362-1 Luyanda Thobigunya (South Africa) 362-2 Baphelele Mbobo (South Africa) 30:26.25,1 +1:37.20,8
- Songo-Investec 1 373-1 Thando Klaas (South Africa) 373-2 Lorenzo Leroux (South Africa) 30:50.37,4 +2:01.33,1
- DMA Absa 361-1 Sean Baloyi (South Africa) 361-2 Luke Mashiane (South Africa) 31:07.39,8 +2:18.35,5
- Exxaro MTB Academy2 365-1 Anele Mtalana (South Africa) 365-2 Rilamulele Gadabeni (South Africa) 31:27.07,1 +2:38.02,8
- RMB Change a Life 1 372-1 Bongumusa Zikhali (South Africa) 372-2 Mazwi Smimango (South Africa) 31:38.58,7 +2:49.54,4
- RMB Change a Life 371-1 Ndumiso Dontso (South Africa) 371-2 Sipho Kupiso (South Africa) 32:24.19,9 +3:35.15,6
- Land Rover 7 370-1 Syanda Masango (South Africa) 370-2 Luvuyo Siyasi (South Africa) 33:02.58,5 +4:13.54,2
- Absa DMA ROSS 305-1 Clement Mabula (South Africa) 305-2 Mphodisa Bruce Sebopa (South Africa) 34:10.19,4 +5:21.15,1
- BMT Academy 377-1 Abongile Bhusakwe (South Africa) 377-2 Siyabulela Tutu (South Africa) 34:32.14,5 +5:43.10,2
These Hyenas won’t bite
Every day at the Absa Cape Epic, the same two riders finish last. They ride slowly and deliberately, neither rushing to water points nor fretting over cut-off times. For the Absa Cape Epic Hyenas, the race is not a race at all, but rather a procession at the back of the pack to make sure the slowest participants have it in them to reach the various cut-offs along the route – and if not, to make sure they are safely guided to the nearest race exit.
The 2017 Absa Cape Epic has been tough on many of the riders, but also on the Hyenas. Both of them are new to their role as sweeps this year. The blazing heat of Stages 1 and 2 took a toll on them too, while the long days on the bike have also tested their innate desire to race.
“This has been hard,” said Hyena Robert Vogel at the end of Stage 4. “I really think it’s easier to race - as I have experienced as a participant of the event. When you are racing you spend less time on the bike and have more time to recover. We finished at 5pm last night; so there isn’t much time. It definitely gives you a different perspective of the race.”
At the back of the field the wind howls, the sun beats down or the cold catches up with you. Every element that hits the riders is magnified by the isolation of cycling slowly and passing practically deserted water points. There are cheers, according to the Hyenas, but mainly from the volunteers manning the water points who know that sighting a Hyena means the end of their long shift for the day.
Riders battle on at the back, dealing with illness or mechanical issues or lack of preparation. Some riders can even end up taking wrong turns. On Stage 5 Hyena Richard McMartin got word of one such team and had to turn back to point them in the right direction. To McMartin’s surprise, the team was quite strong and shot off to rejoin the race, meaning for once a Hyena was chasing a pack instead of doddling behind it.
In that case, the Hyenas can help, but in any other instances, they are not allowed to interfere with a participant’s ride - no fixing of broken bikes, no lending of tools or spares and certainly no pushing. Vocal encouragement is okay, but even that can prove tricky.
“There is obviously a desire to help,” says McMartin. “But that is not our role. We can’t get involved in any way. Offering encouragement is fine, but I stopped doing that after a day because I didn’t want to give a rider false hope.
“It’s very cool to be out there at the back, and I am definitely enjoying it. But the first few days were a struggle; it was a real emotional roller-coaster at the start. I wanted these people to make the cut-off, but then you realise there will be drop outs and you just get on with the job.”
McMartin adds, “It’s a lonely road at the back. Only broken bodies and bikes, yet tons of determination to keep going.”
The best example of pure Epic grit has come from two people this year, a Finnish female rider whose partner pulled out after the Prologue forcing her to ride solo the entire race, and a Danish rider called Claus.
On Stage 4 the great Dane, also without a partner, was battling the effects of severe diarrhoea. He was wobbling uphill and cursing downhill. McMartin stayed just behind him, silently willing him home. Eventually, he slumped over the finish line with an hour to spare, muttering “Hurting so much. It was so painful” before bursting into tears and thanking the Hyenas.
For McMartin it was a happy ending after a few days of sad finishes. “The first few days were tough because we came home after cut-off with people who hadn’t made it. Claus finishing inside the cut-off was the first uplifting story for the Hyenas. That made it a better experience.”