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Sauser stays in control as leading women bounce back at Cape Epic
- Updated: March 19, 2015
A transition stage on the Absa Cape Epic – from one race village host town to another – is sometimes regarded as being easier, but Wednesday’s 128-kilomete third stage from Elgin Valley to Worcester was ‘very rough and really sandy’, according to race leader Christoph Sauser.
Riders further back in the field also spent several hours battling in baking heat as the temperature steadily ticked up towards the 30ºC mark.
Swiss Sauser and his Czech partner Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) were again imperious at the front of the field, powering away on the last 15km to register a 25-second win and extend their overall lead to more than seven minutes. It was their third stage win in succession and Sauser looks increasingly likely to become the first person to win the event five times.
Kulhavy’s rear tyre developed a slow leak midway on the ride, but they ‘bombed’ it – pumped it with a canister containing compressed CO2 – and replaced the tyre at Water Point 2.
A dust-caked Kristian Hynek of the Czech Republic, who finished second with Austrian Alban Lakata (Topeak Ergon), said immediately after finishing that the course was a ‘really tough one … I thought a transition might be easier’.
‘Today was really close and it’s still an open race,’ he added. ‘We’re fighting, we’re really strong and we’re good climbers.’
Asked about the difference in this year’s race compared to last year, Hynek said simply: ‘Jaro is a game changer’.
The Topeak Ergon pair moved up into second position overall as the Bulls – four-time winner Karl Platt of Germany and Switzerland’s Urs Huber – dropped from second to fourth after some bad luck. Platt had punctured badly a couple of kilometres from Water Point 3 and ended up riding on his rim to the tech zone and a spare wheel.
‘I think we lost about three-and-a-half minutes there,’ said Platt. They also lost contact with the front group and by the end were nearly seven minutes back from Sauser.
Multivan Merida’s Jose Hermida of Spain and Rudi van Houts of the Netherlands also moved past the Bulls into the top three in spite of the former suffering from stomach problems.
A notable performance yesterday was that of Topeak Ergon support team Robert Mennen (Germany) and Jeremiah Bishop (USA), who finished third overall. The American said later that they had helped Lakata get back to the front group when he dropped back and ‘we rode our hearts out’.
Meanwhile, there was a change in the race for the red Absa African special jersey – for the first team from the continent to win – when RED-E Blend’s Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock finished sixth overall. They now lead from Scott Factory Racing’s Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes and USN’s Rourke Croeser and Travis Walker, who have worn the red jersey for all three stages so far.
Thursday’s fourth stage is a 111km loop, starting and finishing in Worcester, and during which riders will gain a total of 2 000 vertical metres. It also promises to be a rugged affair.
Meanwhile there was more drama in the women’s race
Immediately after Team RECM Specialized’s Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad crossed the line they collapsed to the ground in exhaustion and elation.
The 128km ride – blitz in their case – from Elgin to Worcester had been an emotional rollercoaster. Moments later, Kleinhans was in tears as a close friend offered his congratulations. The 1hr 13min time penalty from Stage Two had been wiped out by an incredible day in the saddle on a course that left many of the riders dreaming of the lush surrounds in the hills and valleys of Elgin. While photographers jostled for images that told the story of the day, Kleinhans smiled broadly in between wiping away the tears. Langvad, cool as a Copenhagen snowman despite the 30-degree temperature on the windswept high school field, was as composed as ever. ‘We were very motivated when we started this morning,’ she said. ‘We needed to put ourselves onto another level, and we did that.’ So potent was Team RECM Specialized on Stage three that they now go into Stage four with a nine-minute overall lead over Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot of Team Ascendis. It was not a good day on the bike for the first-time Cape Epic pairing as they finished sixth on the stage, 36 minutes and 25 seconds off the lead. Stenerhag and De Groot have been riding well all week, but there were suggestions from out on the course that De Groot might have been ill, with the rider herself admitting at the finish that she felt ‘flat’ on the day. Kleinhans and Langvad certainly took advantage of Team Ascendis Health’s bad luck, finishing 20th in the general classification on the day. This is the best result for a women’s team in the history of the Absa Cape Epic.
‘It was tough and flat, and nowhere near as entertaining as stage three. Some sections were so sandy that it felt like we would never get anywhere,’ said Kleinhans. ‘It was a mentally tough day for us too, especially after the time penalty. It was our intention to claw back as much time as possible, though we didn’t expect to do it in one day. We didn’t want to risk anything, though we were motivated to do well.’ Elsewhere in the Sasol Women’s category, six-time cross country world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja and her partner Kathrin Stirnemann of Team World Bicycle Relief finally came to the Cape Epic party (though Dahle Flesja has insisted from the start that she’s using 2015 as a Cape Epic ‘sighter’), finishing second on the day.
Seconds later, former Mixed and Women’s category winner Esther Suss and debutant Alica Pirard of Team Meerendal Wheeler crossed the line in third. ’We’re very happy to be up in second place for the stage,’ said Dahle Flesja. ‘This is where the racing is and for the first time in the Cape Epic we felt like we were in the race. It was a long, sandy day and some places it felt like we weren’t moving at all.’
Stirnemann has been struggling with illness all week, but it looks like the pair are cranking up the pace. ‘We didn’t push too hard today, but we got into it eventually,’ said Dahle Flesja.
‘I’m just happy to be at this event and to be part of it at last. It’s so cool and we are having a lot of fun. I think my job now will be to go and tell everyone else about the Cape Epic.’
Picture of Kleinhans (right) and Langvad courtesy of Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
Men’s category Stage Three results
1 Investec-Songo-Specialized 2-1 Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) 2-2 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) 5hr 01min 17,2sec
2 Topeak Ergon 1-1 Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic) 1-2 Alban Lakata (Austria) 5:01.43,0 +25,8
3 Topeak Ergon 2 8-1 Robert Mennen (Germany) 8-2 Jeremiah Bishop (USA) 5:03.29,0 +2.11,8
1 Investec-Songo-Specialized 2-1 Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) 2-2 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) 14:42.29,8
2 Topeak Ergon 1-1 Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic)1-2 Alban Lakata (Austria) 14:49.51,7 +7.21,9
3 Multivan Merida 6-1 Jose Hermida (Spain) 6-2 Rudi van Houts (Netherlands) 14:53.22,1 +10.52,3
4 Bulls 4-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 4-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland)14:56.02,9 +13.33,1
5 Novus OMX Pro 23-1 Martin Gujan (Switzerland) 23-2 Fabian Giger (Switzerland) 15:16.40,3 +34.10,5
6 Meerendal Centurion Vaude 5-1 Jochen Kaess (Germany) 5-2 Daniel Geismayr (Austria)15:24.44,1 +42.14,3
7 RED-E Blend 36-1 Darren Lill (South Africa) 36-2 Waylon Woolcock (South Africa) 15:27.22,6 +44.52,8
8 Scott Factory Racing 7-1 Philip Buys (South Africa) 7-2 Matthys Beukes (South Africa) 15:33.50,7 +51.20,9
9 USN 11-1 Rourke Croeser (South Africa) 11-2 Travis Walker (South Africa) 15:35.25,4 +52.55,6
10 EAI South Africa 33-1 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 33-2 Johann Rabie (South Africa) 15:38.46,4 +56
Stage 3 results
1 RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 5:46.21,3
2 World Bicycle Relief 53-1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja (Norway) 53-2 Kathrin Stirnemann (Switzerland) 6:15.51,6 +29.30,3
3 Meerendal Wheeler 51-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 51-2 Alice Pirard (Belgium) 6:16.03,8 +29.24,5
1 RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 18:03.10,6
2 Ascendis Health 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (South Africa) 18:12.29,2 +9.18,6
3 Meerendal Wheeler 51-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 51-2 Alice Pirard (Belgium) 18:17.30,9 +14.20,3
4 SasolRacing 56-1 Yolande de Villiers (South Africa) 56-2 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 18:44.33,2 +41.22,6
5 Meerendal Wheeler C’dale 54-1 Milena Landtwing (Switzerland) 54-2 Hielke Elferink (Netherlands) 18:50.24,7 +47.14,1
6 World Bicycle Relief 53-1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja (Norway) 53-2 Kathrin Stirnemann (Switzerland) 18:51.28,1 +48.17,5
7 RBS 137-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 137-2 Jeannie Bomford (South Africa) 18:52.18,1 +49.07,5
8 Novus OMX Pro 79-1 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 79-2 Cherie Vale (South Africa) 20:05.59,8 +2:02.49,2
9 SasolRacing 2 59-1 Leana de Jager (South Africa) 59-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 20:21.11,5 +2:18.00,9
10 Lovechock Specialized 57-1 Sanne van Paassen (Netherlands) 57-2 Jolien Janssen (Netherlands) 20:56.22,4 +2:53.11,8