Young South African mountain biker, Burry Stander, proved he could compete with the best by finishing first with his teammate, reigning cross country world champion Christoph Sauser (team songo.info) in the first stage of the Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas.
For the first stage of the Absa Cape Epic, the 1,200 riders had to make the journey of 112km from Gordon's Bay to Villiersdorp, with the songo.info team leading most of the way after their prologue win on the slopes of Table Mountain yesterday. This stage included climbs of 2,769m.
For those who have participated in the Absa Cape Epic before, it felt strange to start Stage 1 in the Overberg region. In previous years they were getting closer to the finish by the time they got to Villiersdorp. Memory played a few tricks on them as they imagined being quite close to the finish line, only to then be taken on another 10km loop with some steep and nasty climbs. Many also felt that this stage was more difficult than the first stage in previous years which took them from Knysna to Saasveld, with most of the route being in the forest and therefore much cooler. Temperatures soared on-route today, making it all the more difficult to maintain their pace.
Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander of songo.info were the first to cross the finish line of Stage 1 in a time of 04:50:11. They are also the overall leaders of the race following yesterday's prologue (05:31:09). The German Bulls team Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm finished in second place in a time of 04:52:23, which also secured them the second place overall (05:35:15). In third place were Tim Böhme and Thomas Dietsch (Bulls 2) in a time of 04:54:42, finishing in fourth place overall (05:38:28). Bart Brentjens and Chris Jongewaard (Trek-Brentjens) finished in 4th place today, but secured the third overall position (05:37:44).
Brentjens and Jongewaard together with Sauser and Stander broke away from the rest of the riders early on in the race. After they passed the second water point, Jongewaard suffered from severe muscle cramps after which he and Brentjens rode at their own pace, keeping a close following distance with visual contact. One of the rules of the race is that team members cannot be more than two minutes apart so as not to be penalised. They had to let Sauser and Stander take the lead when Jongewaard started feeling too weak.
Twenty one year-old Stander of South Africa said that mentally he found the first stage of the race a lot easier than last year: "After the first hard climb, Christoph did 90% of the pacing on the flat road. Towards the end my legs came back and I could help again."
said Sauser: "Although one can't really pre-empt what all could happen during a stage race, today went very much according to plan. We decided to stay with whichever team would attack and maintain their pace until the finish. We managed to overtake Bart and Chris in the climb at Groenlandberg. Unfortunately we had a flat 10 km before the finish which we repaired with paper – a quick fix - so that we didn't lose too much time and could maintain our lead."
Sauser said they are very different riders. "I'm a diesel and Burry is very explosive - if you know your strengths, you can ride smart and work with it. The long downhill off Groenlandberg was very rocky and that woke us. There was also one stretch when we thought we're almost there, only to realise we had to do another loop. One had to really be strong mentally to carry on. Our four minute lead in a stage race is nothing – one small technical issue can even the playing field. We'll continue to ride strong."
The South African team Kevin Evans and David George (MTN Energade) finished in 6th place today in a time of 04:59:09, placing them in 5th position overall (05:40:13).
The first ladies to complete Stage 1 were Hanlie Booyens and Sharon Laws (Absa Ladies) finishing in 06:38:33, also keeping them in the overall lead (07:34:59). Finishing in second place were the 2 Swiss Epic Girls, Sarah Koch and Daniela Hartmann (07:43:13), securing their second place overall in a time of 08:45:44. In third place were Robyn Adendorff and Sarah van Heerden (WSP – Jeep Girls) in a time of 07:43:29. They are also placed third overall in the Ladies (08:51:31).
Laws, a conservationist and Booyens, a self-employed architect, are both happy that the first stage of this tough race went so well. They knew the first day would involve the most climbing of all the stages and since they both enjoy ascents, they wanted to do well. said Booyens: "I think I'm happier just to be here and having survived this tough course than I am about winning the stage. I found the last 20km to be extremely hard, but of course one is always honoured to do well in such a prestigious race.
"When I heard about the new route and that most of it will be in the Overberg region, I felt very positive. Today's route proved that this year's Absa Cape Epic will offer some great mountain biking. It was just too hot which made it even tougher." Laws added "Right now, I'm not sure if I can get back on my bike tomorrow, but during the last Epic I got stronger every day, and hope it will also be the case this year. I can tell that I haven't been on my mountain bike for a long time." Booyens comments that she's usually strong in the first four days, and then her strength declines. "Hopefully Sharon will then take over."
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