Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser proved their world-class stature by winning their third consecutive stage of this year’s Absa Cape Epic.
The Songo.info team crossed the finish line of stage 2 in 03:53:48, 2 minutes and 20 seconds ahead of Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm (Bulls).
With an overall time advantage of 6min 35sec after the prologue and first 2 stages, the duo team will wear the yellow jersey for stage 3 today.
For the second stage of the Absa Cape Epic, riders followed a 110km route with 1,527m of climbing from Villiersdorp to Worcester, before heading back via Robertson, with the Trek-Brentjens team leading until half way.
Sauser and Stander (Songo.info) were the first to cross the finish line of Stage 2 in a time of 03:53:48 (overall time 09:24:58). Germans Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm (Bulls) finished in second place in a time of 03:56:08, which also secured them second place overall (09:31:23). In third place were Emil Lindgren of Sweden and Andreas Kugler of Switzerland (Felt Factory 2) in a time of 03:56:09, finishing in 5th place overall (09:42:19).
Attackers Bart Brentjens and Chris Jongewaard (Trek-Brentjens) eventually finished in 5th place (03:58:46), but secured the third overall position (09:36:00). The South African team Kevin Evans and David George (MTN Energade) finished in fourth place in 03:56:12, and also fourth overall (09:36:25).
Brentjens and Jongewaard again attacked from the start of the stage and had a 5-minute lead at one of the main obstacles of the day – a 3km technical 8 percent climb. By the time they reached the bottom on the other side, the Songo.info and Bulls team had caught up with them. The Bulls team struggled with punctures all day and had to repair tyres at least 5 times.
Sauser said: “Yesterday was a very tough stage and we were both tired. Today we felt good and on the last climb we really went for it. We also made up some time on the flat sections whenever we could.”
Stander had a flat tyre, but after fixing it the duo hit the gas and caught up with Trek-Brentjens again, riding hard whenever conditions allowed. Sauser said: “I know how difficult it is mentally to have two teams in front and you have to ride hard to catch up.”
The terrain was extremely technical and at times even the pros had to get off and carry their bikes. “It’s not that we wouldn’t be able to ride it, but in terms of race tactics, walking is sometimes quicker," said Sauser.
"You also don’t run the risk of injuring yourself or damaging your equipment. Our focus is to win overall – over the next days we won’t focus so much on winning the stages, but rather on maintaining our overall lead.”
Stage 2 runners-up Stefan Sahm and Karl Platt (Karin Schermbrucker/SPORTZPICS)
Stander added: “On arrival I thought I was in worse shape than last year, but in fact I’m in much better form. I feel better every day and I’m mentally much stronger. We don’t discuss race tactics. Christoph is very experienced so I do what he says and so far listening to him has always paid off.”
Songo.info’s tactics were to push as hard as possible on both the climbs and descents, sometimes making up a minute or more to increase their lead.
Many of the other participants also struggled with flat tyres caused by thorns. Normally riders use sealing liquids (slime) to temporarily repair the damage, but the holes were too big and it took time to fix.
Stefan Sahm of the Bulls said: “This is what makes it really hard. Not only were the other teams pushing, but we constantly had flat tyres. If you have a gap of 200m in such terrain, it takes you up to 10 or 15 minutes to catch up, and that takes a lot of energy out of you. Nearer the end we were both feeling quite tired, but Karl and I have an excellent sprinting routine and lots of experience, so we could win the sprint finish.”
The Bulls, Felt Factory 2 and MTN Energade teams caused quite a stir as they sprinted against each other to the finish line.
Sahm said: “With regards to the 6-minute lead that Christoph and Burry have – they are in such incredible shape – unless they have a major breakdown or injury, I don’t think that the overall result will change. It’s going to be very difficult to catch them, but we’ll try our best every single day.”
The first women to complete stage 2 were Hanlie Booyens and Sharon Laws, finishing in 05:11:17, also keeping them in the overall lead (12:46:17). They were followed by Robyn Adendorff and Sarah van Heerden (WSP – Jeep Girls) in a time of 06:01:41, placing them second overall (14:53:12). The Tread Magazine Ladies, Nolene Saunders and Sarah Wielopolska, had their first podium finish in a time of 06:10:47, placing them in third position for this stage and overall.
Booyens said: “It was a great ride today. We’ve actually stopped thinking about the competitive side of the race – the riding is tough enough. You just hope that you arrive in one piece, so we’re not looking at what the other teams are doing. We want to finish every stage well and ride at our own pace.”
Laws added: “We’ll see over the next few days how we compare with the teams we’re currently riding with to monitor whether we are getting stronger or weaker.”
Women's category leaders Sharon Laws & Hannalie Booyens (Gary Perkin/SPORTZPICS)
Team Adidas Big Tree, Nico Pfitzenmaier and Alison Sydor, followed in Songo.info’s footsteps by winning the green leader jersey in the mixed category for the third day in a row. They finished in a time of 04:23:10 putting them in the overall lead (10:43:40).
They were followed by Marcel Bartholet and Esther Süss (Wheeler-IXS Pro) in a time of 04:38:20 (second overall – 11:16:08), with Paul Cordes and Yolande Speedy (IMC/Momentum/GT Activeworx) in third place (04:39:40). They are also third overall (11:22:51)
Pfitzenmaier said: “We were riding very carefully today. There were so many crashes on the first section of singletrack due to all the dust. One couldn’t always see the holes and ditches – this even affected the pro riders.
"We didn’t want to risk anything and tried to stay with the leaders, as they are more experienced and it therefore makes it safer. Despite this, Alison was pushed into the bushes by other riders and I didn’t notice. I thought she was riding ahead of me and some riders even confirmed it. I was hitting the gas and ended up in front with the leaders only to realise that she was nowhere to be found. I then waited for her.
"I really enjoy riding with her – there was one super-steep climb where everyone got off, even me, and Alison stayed on her bike. I really take my hat off to her and her capabilities.”
Sydor added: “I was pushed into the bushes and because I saw some bad crashes ahead and behind me in the men’s, I tried to stay out of trouble and was working my way through the thicket rather than with these guys.
"The terrain was unforgiving, but suited us very well. Some sections were loose and very technical and both Nico and I know how to ride it. We were still riding conservatively though and had no problems, not even a flat.”
Pfitzenmaier and Sydor are in 14th position overall, having moved up 5 positions since yesterday, and are leading their category by 32 min 28 sec.
The Absa Masters, Doug Brown and Barti Bucher, again took top honours in stage 2 (04:19:51), with an overall masters lead time of 10:32:43. They were followed by Shan Wilson and Andrew McLean (Cycle Lab Toyota) who finished the stage in 04:25:05 (overall time 10:59:08). In third place were Corrie Muller and Robert Sim (Van Loveren / SAND) in 4:48:04 (overall 11:56:08). Brown and Bucher now lead their category by 26 min 25 sec.
Stage 3 will take riders from Villiersdorp to Greyton, a 73km route with 1,976m of climbing. Riders will need to tackle the tracks towards Kaaimansgat where they climb 900m in the first 20km.
A canal lies at the 20km mark where the riders steel their resolves for a long ascent up a rugged 4x4 trail. From 400m to 1,000m altitude in 5km, it feels like they are riding straight up a wall. This is a 3km stretch of portage that takes the best part of 45 minutes. If any rider has the time to turn around they will see 180-degree mountain vistas to help lighten the load.
This takes them to the top of Boskloof, from where they need to take care on their way down as erosion has not been kind to these roads. Another gem in the Overberg awaits – the sleepy town of Greyton nestles in the beautiful Riviersonderend mountains, but there are 3 fun but tough pieces of singletrack to go, along the last section of the route.
Masters winners Bartu Boucher and Doug Brown (Karin Schermbrucker/SPORTZPICS)