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Sauser wheels his way into Cape Epic history with a fifth win
- Updated: March 23, 2015
Swiss mountain biking legend Christoph Sauser’s last Absa Cape Epic as a professional rider ended in triumph on Sunday as he inked his name into history by becoming the first person to win it five times.
The 39-year-old and Czech partner Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) rode conservatively to finish fifth on a sun-drenched 92-kilometre final stage from Wellington to Meerendal Wine Estate, Durbanville.
After eight days of thrilling racing and 748km they won the general classification by 10 minutes and 41 seconds from Topeak Ergon’s Alban Lakata of Austria and Kristian Hynek of the Czech Republic.
The prestigious Grand Finale stage was won by Meerendal Centurion Vaude’s German/Swiss combination of Jochen Kaess and Daniel Geismayr. The day was described by some veterans of the Absa Cape Epic as probably its toughest Stage Seven yet.
Sauser’s landmark win sparked a huge celebration on the finish line, with the riders and their support crew being drenched in champagne as thousands of mountain biking fans celebrated at Meerendal Wine Estate.
‘This is the coolest thing in the world with all these spectators cheering us on … these moments are very rare,’ said an elated Sauser at the finish. ‘With five kilometres to go I knew that we had it. I tried to absorb as much of it as I could, and thought about all the memories this race has given me.’
He said crossing the finish line had been ‘a big relief … a big weight off my back’.
The normally taciturn Kulhavy was also grinning broadly, saying ‘it was really good racing with ‘Susi’ … I enjoyed every kilometre of the stage today and especially the finish line’.
Commenting on his fifth win, Sauser said ‘it is really cool, but one day someone will beat the record’.
‘Maybe when I’m old and grumpy it will mean something, but I’m just enjoying the moment now,’ added Sauser.
Earlier Kaess and Geismayr and Multivan Merida’s Rudi van Houts (Netherlands) and Jose Hermida (Spain) had broken away on the massive Paardeberg climb, about 20km into the route.
They were both chasing the stage win and Kulhavy and Sauser chose to ignore their challenge and rather keep an eye on the second placed team of Lakata and Hynek.
Kaess and Geismayr managed to keep Hermida and Van Houts at bay as they climbed up the Dorstberg behind Meerendal and then down the estate’s renowned singletrack to cross the line five seconds ahead. Novus OMX Pro’s Swiss pair Martin Gujan and Fabian Giger were third on the day.
Hynek said afterwards: ‘I never thought I’d be disappointed with second … not being able to defend the title (which he won last year with Robert Mennen) was a great blow.’
Lakata said it had been a ‘roller coaster’ race for him. ‘Winning the Epic is a major goal for my career … I’m getting closer. I’ve come fifth, fourth, third and second – maybe next year will be my turn’.
Perhaps the most disappointed rider on the finish line was Team Bulls’s Karl Platt of Germany, also bidding for a fifth win, but he and partner Urs Huber struggled throughout. They did have the consolation of finishing on the overall podium as third-placed finisher, but that was two steps lower than they had aimed for and they eventually finished more than 30 minutes behind Sauser and Kulhavy.
Platt said he had ‘enjoyed half the Epic, but not the other half – we probably put ourselves under too much pressure’.
Huber said he had suffered badly over the closing two stages.
The first all-South African team home was Scott Factory Racing’s Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes, who both secured a top five placing and got to take home the Absa African special jersey and Burry Stander memorial trophy, for the first team from the continent to cross the line.
Meanwhile the Absa Cape Epic’s most impressive ever pairing in the Sasol Women’s category started high-fiving spectators 3km from the finish line.
From the Prologue to Stage Seen, Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad dominated the 2015 Absa Cape Epic with their intensity and world class mountain biking ability.
The pair suffered a minor blip on Stage Two when they received a 1hr 13min time penalty, but all that did was spur them on to an even more impressive ride for the rest of the race. They made up the lost time in one day and never looked back.
Stage Seven was more of the same, with RECM Specialized taking first place in a time of 4:06.53,8. Ascendis Health pair of Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot, in her first Absa Cape Epic, came in second yet again with a time of 4:14.16,6. SasolRacing’s Yolande de Villiers and Janka Keseg Stevkova rounded out the Stage Seven podium places, finishing in 4:20.16,5.
With spectators packed onto the field at Meerandal Wine Estate – the host for the Grand Finale for the first time in the event’s history – Kleinhans and Langvad raised their arms in triumph one last time as they popped out of the vineyards and onto the finishing straight.
Their entire support crew waited for them on the finish line, immediately spraying champagne over the 2015 champions before quickly disappearing and remerging with a birthday cake and balloons for Langvad.
‘We are very happy,’ said Langvad. ‘This is such a special moment – defending our title, winning again with Ariane and being able to celebrate the victory on my birthday.’
Kleinhans said it was another tough day on the bike, before admitting that she was slightly surprised by the margin of victory for Team RECM Specialized. ‘We always wanted to defend our title, but when we saw the quality in the field we didn’t know what to expect. Everything just went so smoothly for us.’
RECM Specialized’s team manager Kandice Buys says both women start preparing for the Epic a year in advance, so winning so convincingly is the happy culmination of preparation and intense focus. It’s Kleinhans’ major goal for the season, so now the champion can take it easy for a while. ‘I think I’ll celebrate tonight, and then make sure I get a good rest in the next week or two!’
Earlier in the day, the entire field left Wellington with 92km still to ride to Meerendal before completing the 2015 Absa Cape Epic. The major obstacle of the day was a climb up the Paardeberg, a 6km trek that broke the spirit of many finishers, though perhaps not as much as the final climb up Meerandal’s Dorstberg.
Jennie Stenerhag, who had raced at the limit all week, said the new Stage Seven could be the toughest ever. ‘I thought we were almost done,’ said Stenerhag. ‘I said to Robyn, ‘we must go down now’. And then we just kept climbing. It was a brutal last day.’
In their debut Cape Epic as a team, Ascendis Health achieved more than they expected. ‘We were originally aiming for a top 5 finish,’ said Stenerhag, ‘so finishing second is brilliant. Congratulations to Annika and Ariane though. Those ladies are something else.’
In an interesting quirk of the race, and thanks to Sasol’s sponsorship of the Sasol Women’s category, Kleinhans and Langvad will actually take home more prize money than the men.
For first place they walk away with R200 000. They also win an extra R5000 for the Prologue and per stage win (seven this year), and they receive R15 000 for each of the Sasol Women’s Hotspots that they won (three this year).
In the final overall standings, it’s RECM Specialized in first, Ascendis Health in second and SasolRacing’s Yolande de Villiers and Janka Keseg Stevkova in third.
Picture of Sauser and Kulhavy celebrating victory courtesy of Shaun Roy/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
Stage Seven Men
1 Meerendal Centurion Vaude 5-1 Jochen Kaess (Germany) 5-2 Daniel Geismayr (Austria) 3hr 28min 12,7sec
2 Multivan Merida 6-1 Jose Hermida (Spain) 6-2 Rudi van Houts (Netherlands) 3:28.17,3 +4,6
3 Novus OMX Pro 23-1 Martin Gujan (Switzerland) 23-2 Fabian Giger (Switzerland) 3:29.23,8 +1.11,1
1 Investec-Songo-Specialized 2-1 Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) 2-2 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) 31:00.57,7
2 Topeak Ergon 1-1 Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic) 1-2 Alban Lakata (Austria) 31:11.39,5 +10.41,8
3 Bulls 4-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 4-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland) 31:35.23,0 +34.25,3
4 Multivan Merida 6-1 Jose Hermida (Spain) 6-2 Rudi van Houts (Netherlands) 31:47.47,3 +46.49,6
5 Scott Factory Racing 7-1 Philip Buys (South Africa) 7-2 Matthys Beukes (South Africa) 32:07.26,0 +1:06.28,3
6 EAI South Africa 33-1 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 33-2 Johann Rabie (South Africa) 32:14.49,9 +1:13.52,2
7 RED-E Blend 36-1 Darren Lill (South Africa) 36-2 Waylon Woolcock (South Africa) 32:15.16,4 +1:14.18,7
8 Meerendal Centurion Vaude 5-1 Jochen Kaess (Germany) 5-2 Daniel Geismayr (Austria) 32:16.26,1 +1:15.28,4
9 Novus OMX Pro 23-1 Martin Gujan (Switzerland) 23-2 Fabian Giger (Switzerland) 32:18.23,4 +1:17.25,7
10 USN #1 11-1 Rourke Croeser (South Africa) 11-2 Travis Walker (South Africa) 32:23.36,7 +1:22.39,0
1 RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 4:06.53,8
2 Ascendis Health 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (South Africa) 4:14.16,6 +7.22,8
3 SasolRacing 56-1 Yolande de Villiers (South Africa) 56-2 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 4:20.16,5 +13.22,7
1 RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 37:07.25,3
2 Ascendis Health 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (South Africa) 38:25.38,1 +1:18.12,8
3 SasolRacing 56-1 Yolande de Villiers (South Africa) 56-2 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 39:17.09,4 +2:09.44,1
4 RBS 137-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 137-2 Jeannie Bomford (South Africa) 39:37.58,7 +2:30.33,4
5 Meerendal Wheeler 51-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 51-2 Alice Pirard (Belgium) 39:54.25,7 +2:47.00,4
6 Novus OMX Pro 79-1 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 79-2 Cherie Vale (South Africa) 41:41.44,4 +4:34.19,1
7 SasolRacing 2 59-1 Leana de Jager (South Africa) 59-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 42:50.10,6 +5:42.45,3
8 Dawn Wing/Momsen 78-1 Ann Harrison (South Africa) 78-2 Marleen Lourens (South Africa) 45:12.32,0 +8:05.06,7
9 Lovechock Specialized 57-1 Sanne van Paassen (Netherlands) 57-2 Jolien Janssen (Netherlands) 45:32.21,3 +8:24.56,0
10 Central Family Practice 381-1 Genevieve Weber (South Africa) 381-2 Wanda Tattersall (Namibia) 48:12.35,1 +11:05.09,8