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Sauser and Kulhavy take first-day honours at Epic

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 1 Elgin

In a day of drama, Christoph Sauser has laid down a significant marker on Monday in his bid to become the first person to win the Absa Cape Epic five times.
The Swiss master and his Czech teammate Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) showed great form on the 113km Stage 1 as they overcame a puncture to finish the day almost a minute ahead of Sauser’s great rival, Karl Platt of Germany, who is riding with Swiss strongman Urs Huber.
One of the top professionals in the field, Kargo Pro MTB’s Emil Lindgren, was out of the race after crashing on a descent off the flank of the Groenlandberg and breaking his arm.
He was riding with South African Brendon Davids, who will have to soldier on as an Outcast – professional riders who can continue to take part but not compete and may not influence the outcome of the race.
Bad luck struck another of the pre-race favourite teams, Topeak Ergon’s defending champion Kristian Hynek of the Czech Republic and Austrian Alban Lakata, when they had to repair two punctures and swop a wheel at a tech zone.
They managed, however, to recover and finish fourth, some four minutes behind Sauser and Kulhavy.
The day was a tough one for riders throughout the field, with some 2 800m of vertical gain through the Stage and then a steady drizzle which made surfaces slippery and occasionally treacherous.
‘It’s cool being in yellow zebra jersey after the first stage,’ said Sauser. ‘It was my first real test of the season and everything went well. My legs were good today and we were able to put the Bulls under pressure at times.’
Sauser and Kulhavy had built up a lead in the early stages of the race but picked up a sidewall puncture and lost time as they repaired it.
The Bulls pair swept past and their lead grew to more than two minutes as Sauser stopped to change the entire wheel at one of the official tech zones.
‘I felt under pressure today because I didn’t have a good prologue,’ added Sauser. ‘I felt super comfortable going over Groenlandberg (the major climb of the day). I was in control.’
He added, however, that ‘you can’t control the downhill’ and that is where he picked up the puncture.
However, the Swiss/Czech pairing was strong enough to catch Platt and Huber and build another lead before the finish: ‘Fortunately we caught them, recovered and attacked,’ said Sauser, who had notched up his 32nd Absa Cape Epic stage win.
‘I’m glad to be riding with Jaro again (they won the 2013 Absa Cape Epic together) … he’s a powerhouse.’
Kulhavy said Sauser had recovered strongly from his prologue difficulties.
‘We must do it for ‘Susi’ because this race means so much to him,’ said Kulhavy.
Platt said that he was pleased to be on the podium.
‘Everyone was fresh and motivated and the pace on the first climb (up Groenlandberg after 20km) was really high. I was racing on the limit today … it’s going to be a really fast Epic.’
It was good day for Spaniard Jose Hermida, one of the characters of the professional circuit, and his Dutch partner Rudi van Houts (Multivan Merida), who finished third after a steady ride.
‘It’s a good feeling being on the podium after last year’s bad luck (when he fell ill),’ said Hermida. ‘We have the legs to fight for the overall, but anything can happen.’
Overnight yellow zebra jersey leaders Fabian Giger and Martin Gujan, both of Switzerland, dropped back to fifth place.
Giger confessed afterwards that his decision to ride a ‘hardtail’ – with no suspension on the back wheel – had meant for a ‘very rough’ ride on the descents off the Groenlandberg.
‘Towards the end the course wasn’t so bumpy, so it got better,’ he added.
The first South African pair home were USN’s Rourke Croeser and Travis Walker, who were behind the RED-E Blend team of Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock for much of the day but managed to catch them in the last 25km and come home seventh.
Monday’s stage took orders in a loop which started and ended at Oak Valley Wine Estate in the Elgin Valley.
Team RECM’s Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad survived a crash scare to charge home and into the orange leader’s jersey once again, in the process opening up an overall gap of just over 20 minutes on second placed Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot of Team Ascendis. Meerendal Wheeler’s Esther Suss and Alice Pirard finished third on the 113km Stage 1, moving into third on the overall standings at the same time.
‘I’m not a huge fan of the colour orange,’ said Kleinhans, ‘but I like the orange colour of this leader’s jersey. It’s definitely one I want to keep.’ Kleinhans fell on the stage while overtaking some slower riders, but shrugged it off as a minor mishap on an otherwise dominant day.
‘The crash was just something silly – maybe blame the pine cones – luckily it was nothing serious, though. It was a very hard first stage. Besides the small crash we managed to stay problem-free out there.’
Team RECM admits that they came into the Cape Epic with the goal of winning it, so both riders are thrilled with their racing so far. ‘It feels wonderful to be on the podium again,’ says Langvad. ‘We want to win this race, it’s a huge season goal for Ariane, and right now it feels like we are on track.’
The day started out dry and dusty, with vision on the route poor at times due to bikes kicking up dust. ‘It was a funny day,’ said Langvad. ‘It was very dusty and loose in the beginning, and then once we went over the mountain it was cold and rainy. I survived the Danish winter okay, but I wasn’t prepared for this.’
Second-placed team on the day, Ascendis Health, started the race with no major expectations and are taking the race day-by-day. However, their form in the Prologue and Stage 1 has been impressive and both riders are happy to be in the top three so far. ‘It was hard out there, especially when the rain came,’ said De Groot.
‘We are riding well together and we had another good day, though we did feel it in the legs towards the end.’
‘We are riding as hard as we can,’ added Stenerhag, ‘but Ariane and Annika are still miles ahead of us. They are just two absolutely phenomenal riders. This is definitely one of the strongest women’s fields the Cape Epic has ever had, but it feels like they have no competition out there.’

Stage 1 Results:
1 Investec-Songo-Specialized; 4:47.39,7; 2-1 Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) 2-2 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic), 2  Bulls; +51,3; 4-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 4-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland), 3  Multivan Merida; +1.14,7; 6-1 Jose Hermida (Spain) 6-2 Rudi van Houts Netherlands)

Overall General Classification after Stage 1:
1 Investec-Songo-Specialized; 2-1 Christoph Sauser  (Switzerland) 2-2 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic); 5:34.21,8, 2 Bulls; 4-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 4-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland); 5:35.07,7; +45,9, 3 Multivan Merida; 6-1 Jose Hermida  (Spain) 6-2 Rudi van Houts (Natherlands); 5:35.54,8; +1.33,0, 4 Topeak Ergon; 1-1 Kristian Hynek  (Czech Republic)1-2 Alban Lakata (Austria); 5:38.59,6; +4.37,8, 5 Novus OMX Pro; 23-1 Martin Gujan (Switzerland) 23-2 Fabian Giger (Switzerland); 5:45.08,0; +10.46,2, 6 USN; 11-1 Rourke Croeser  (South Africa)11-2 Travis Walker (South Africa); 5:50.42,4; +16.20,6, 7 Meerendal Centurion Vaude; 5-1 Jochen Kaess  (Germany) 5-2 Daniel Geismayr (Austria); 5:51.09,2; +16.47,4, 8 EAI South Africa; 33-1 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 33-2 Johann Rabie (South Africa); 5:54.04,1; +19.42,3, 9 Scott Factory Racing; 7-1 Philip Buys (South Africa) 7-2 Matthys Beukes (South Africa); 5:55.31,2; +21.09,4, 10 Mitas Superior; 38-1 Jan Jobanek (Czech Republic) 38-2 Filip Adel (Czech Republic); 5:56.17,1; +21.55,3

Women
Stage results
1. RECM Specialized; 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark); Stage time 5:3 2.00,5; 2. Ascendis Health; 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (SA) Stage time 5:49.39,9; 3. Meerendal Wheeler; 51-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 51-2 Alice Pirard (Belgium); Stage time 5:53.16,1

Overall
1. RECM Specialized; 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark); 6:25.39, 2. Ascendis Health; 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (SA); 6:46.54,4; +21.15,2 3. Meerendal Wheeler; 51-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 51-2 Alice Pirard (Belgium); 6:51.40,1; +26.00,9 4. SasolRacing; 56-1 Yolande de Villiers (SA) 56-2 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia); 7:03.07,9; +37.28, 7 5. Sellaronda Hero; 52-1 Sally Bigham (England) 52-2 Christina Kollmann (Austria); 7:05.39,6; +40.00,4 6. Meerendal Wheeler C’dale; 54-1 Milena Landtwing (Switzerland) 54-2 Hielke Elferink (Netherlands); 7:11.30,7; +45.51,5 7. RBS; 137-1 Theresa Ralph (SA) 137-2 Jeannie Bomford (SA); 7:12.46,5; +47.07,3 8. World Bicycle Relief; 53-1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja (Norway) 53-2 Kathrin Stirnemann (Switzerland); 7:23.44,4;+58.05,2

Photo of the men’s leaders by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS


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