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Sauser set to make Epic history in Durbanville
- Updated: March 22, 2015
Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser is 87 kilometres away from becoming the first person to win the Absa Cape Epic five times after he and partner Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic won Stage Six in a sprint finish into Wellington on Saturday.
For the first time in the seven days of the event Mother Nature chose to smile on the weary competitors: some rain early in the day dampened down the excessively dusty conditions of the past few days and added some grip to the many trails which littered Stage Six’s 71km day. Earlier in the week riders had been confronted by rain and mud, excessive heat, headwinds and an excess of dust after an exceptionally dry summer.
But on Saturday Sauser and Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) tore through the course with only one team – Topeak Ergon’s Kristian Hynek and Alban Lakata – able to stay with them.
The day ended with a thrilling sprint but Hynek misjudged his line through a corner just before the finish and the Sauser/Kulhavy combination pipped them for their fifth stage win out of six.
The win was Sauser’s 36th stage win in the Absa Cape Epic since his first race in 2005. He said afterwards that ‘it was a very exciting finish and today we didn’t have to eat dust (thanks to the rain)’.
He said the early part of the course had been tough but they had enjoyed the nearly 30km of ‘lovely singletrack’.
Kulhavy added: ‘Now we have one more stage and we’ll do everything to win it.’
Czech Hynek and Austrian Lakata remain second overall, but are ten minutes and 51 seconds back, a gap that they will not make up unless Sauser and Kulhavy have a calamitous final stage on Sunday.
Hynek admitted he had made a mistake in the sprint and said ‘it will take me a few days to get over it’.
Lakata described it as the ‘best day of riding in the whole week’.
He indicated that they would be going all out to win Sunday’s Grand Finale: ‘We’ve had four second places so far and we have to win a stage.’
Early in the day South Africans Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes (Scott Factory Racing) had tried to replicate their heroics of Stage Four but could not get away from the two leading teams. They did, however, finish third to ensure that a South African team was on the podium for the third day in succession. In doing so they also snatched back the Absa African special jersey – making it the fourth day in a row the red jersey has changed hands.
‘Our goal this morning was to get the red, so it was a bonus to get on the podium as well,’ said Buys.
It was a good day for South African teams, with five in the top 10 finishers, but disastrous for two of the top teams: the Bulls’s Karl Platt (German) and Urs Huber (Swiss) came home more than 13 minutes back and Multivan Merida’s Jose Hermida (Spain) and Rudi van Houts (Netherlands) were nearly 22 minutes off the pace. They remain in third and fourth place respectively. Huber was off colour and had no power in his legs and Hermida has apparently been battling with a stomach bug.
‘At the beginning we were fighting for the overall, but now we are fighting for survival,’ said van Houts.
Meanwhile in the women’s race Team RECM Specialized stepping once more into the orange jersey in the late-morning heat.
Stage Six was a cross-country day, featuring over 30km of singletrack on the route. Annika Langvad asked Arianne Kleinhans at the start if they should take it easy, the Swiss rider replying ‘Ja’.
‘We considered pushing it, but we don’t need to take risks,’ admitted Langvad. ‘Right now it’s all about getting to the finish, so we don’t actually need to dig too deep.’
Both Langvad and Kleinhans said they are starting to feel the effects of their assault on the 2015 race course. ‘I’m very relieved it’s almost over,’ said Langvad.
Kleinhans added that her hands and arms had taken a beating over the last two days. ‘Today was a lot more fun, though. The rain kept the dust away and the singletrack was great.’
Team Ascendis Health’s Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot rolled over the line in second place yet again, 17 minutes after RECM Specialized. ‘It’s hard work,’ declared a tired looking Stenerhag.
From a local perspective, the story of the day was the first podium of the week for an all-South African women’s team. Commonwealth Games rider Mariske Strauss and Cherie Vale, riding in the colours of Novus OMX Pro, are at home on singletrack and used their excellent technical abilities to great effect on Stage Six.
Earlier in the week other leading women riders confirmed that they heard the pair whooping with delight on singletrack sections, so Stage Six was always going to suit the team.
Strauss won South African cross-country National Championship Elite women’s title in 2014 and her talent showed on what was a great day for this new Epic partnership. ‘We’re cross country riders,’ said Strauss. ‘So we started this race with the ambition of finishing, that’s it!’
Vale, staring around the finish area in a state of disbelief, was shaking and overcome with emotion after walking off the podium.
‘My body was not agreeing with me this morning,’ she said. ‘We started fast and I wasn’t feeling great, but the singletrack revived me and I said a few prayers which were definitely answered. Mariske is a champion, an absolute champion.’
Earlier in the week, Strauss said that being able to eat anything she wanted was her favourite part of the race. After Saturday, both riders might feel differently about their race highlight.
On Sunday, the finish of what many are calling the toughest Absa Cape Epic in a long time, is just 87km away. Riders will leave Wellington and set out for Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville. Along the way they will come face-to-face with a climb that will enter Cape Epic folklore – the Paardeberg.
The stage starts with 25km of fast riding on farm and district roads, but all the time the Paardeberg’s brooding presence will loom in the distance.
After Water Point 1 the route goes straight into the climb – and continues on it for nearly 6km, during which about 600m of elevation will be gained – one last giant hurdle before a well-earned rest on Monday morning.
Photo of Sauser at the front of the Epic field courtesy of Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
Stage Six results
1 Investec-Songo-Specialized 2-1 Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) 2-2 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) 3:15.25,3
2 Topeak Ergon 1-1 Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic) 1-2 Alban Lakata (Austria) 3:15.25,6 +0,3
3 Scott Factory Racing 7-1 Philip Buys (South Africa) 7-2 Matthys Beukes (South Africa) 3:18.07,6 +2.42,3
1 Investec-Songo-Specialized 2-1 Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) 2-2 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) 27:30.55,2
2 Topeak Ergon 1-1 Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic) 1-2 Alban Lakata (Austria) 27:41.46,9 +10.51,7
3 Bulls 4-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 4-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland) 28:00.05,9 +29.10,7
4 Multivan Merida 6-1 Jose Hermida (Spain) 6-2 Rudi van Houts (Netherlands) 28:19.30,0 +48.34,8
5 Scott Factory Racing 7-1 Philip Buys (South Africa) 7-2 Matthys Beukes (South Africa) 28:34.21,9 +1:03.26,7
6 RED-E Blend 36-1 Darren Lill (South Africa) 36-2 Waylon Woolcock (South Africa) 28:39.58,9 +1:09.03,7
7 EAI South Africa 33-1 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 33-2 Johann Rabie (South Africa) 28:42.46,4 +1:11.51,2
8 USN #1 11-1 Rourke Croeser (South Africa) 11-2 Travis Walker (South Africa) 28:46.44,6 +1:15.49,4
9 Meerendal Centurion Vaude 5-1 Jochen Kaess (Germany) 5-2 Daniel Geismayr (Austria) 28:48.13,4 +1:17.18,2
10 Novus OMX Pro 23-1 Martin Gujan (Switzerland) 23-2 Fabian Giger (Switzerland) 28:48.59,6 +1:18.04,4
1 RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 3:55.49,8 2 Ascendis Health 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (South Africa) 4:12.58,2 +17.08,4 3 Novus OMX Pro 79-1 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 79-2 Cherie Vale (South Africa) 4:15.27,9 +19.38,1
1 RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 33:00.31,5
2 Ascendis Health 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (South Africa) 34:11.21,5 +1:10.50,0
3 SasolRacing 56-1 Yolande de Villiers (South Africa) 56-2 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 34:56.52,9 +1:56.21,4
4 RBS 137-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 137-2 Jeannie Bomford (South Africa) 35:13.26,7 +2:12.55,2
5 Meerendal Wheeler 51-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 51-2 Alice Pirard (Belgium) 35:32.29,2 +2:31.57,7
6 Novus OMX Pro 79-1 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 79-2 Cherie Vale (South Africa) 36:57.02,4 +3:56.30,9
7 SasolRacing 2 59-1 Leana de Jager (South Africa) 59-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 38:01.51,2 +5:01.19,7
8 Dawn Wing/Momsen 78-1 Ann Harrison (South Africa) 78-2 Marleen Lourens (South Africa) 40:13.28,6 +7:12.57,1
9 Lovechock Specialized 57-1 Sanne van Paassen (Netherlands) 57-2 Jolien Janssen (Netherlands) 40:40.33,5 +7:40.02,0
10 Central Family Practice 381-1 Genevieve Weber (South Africa) 381-2 Wanda Tattersall (Namibia) 42:57.52,5 +9:57.21,0