April 29, 2006 – Today mountain bikers from all over the world competed in what would prove to be by far the toughest stage of the Absa Cape Epic to date. Long, steep, grueling climbs and fast descents on rugged, technical terrain characterised stage 7 as the Epic riders climbed up 2920 metres from the coast in into the Franschhoek valley.
Today belonged to the climbers – the ‘goats’ of mountain biking – with a high percentage of steep and technical ascents. Riders spent almost half (48%) the route from Hermanus to Boschendal fighting against gravity to conquer the hills. As they neared the end of the race, temperatures soared to 32 degrees challenging the pros and amateurs alike both mentally and physically.
Top Men’s riders, Christoph Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI) of team Specialized proved their worth today by gaining an overall lead of 13 minutes in stage seven increasing their total lead time to 32 minutes and confirming their 2006 race victory. They are very aware of not becoming too complacent about their win though, as according to Christoph, “If you get too comfortable with your success that is when unexpected things happen, you must enter each stage with a racing mentality in order to perform your best”. Although they were really proud of their massive lead from so early today, at the same time according to Christoph “It is not as enjoyable when a stage win is such a sure thing from so early on. This is why we both consider our stage four win the most satisfying in this race. A photo-finish will always be more gratifying and exciting for a rider than an early one, as you are only really sure when you have crossed the finish that it is yours. On a day like today you know from way before the finish line when you look back and see how far the other riders are behind you; that is really when you get the ‘rush’ of winning and not when you physically ride across the finisher pad”, he said.
Making today’s tough route look easy is no mean feat, but this is exactly what team Specialized managed to do. The fact that they train on similar terrain in their ‘backyard’ of the Swiss Alps explains why they felt ‘right at home’. In the technical climb they broke away riding at their own fast pace and not as part of a group. Christoph compared it to driving on the highway – passing a truck, needing to stop at a rest point, and having the truck fly past. It is only when you get back on the road that you realise how much time you have lost by stopping. This is what happens when you are riding as part of a group. They hit the gas to attack or break up the bunch, then slow down again which in the end kills a lot of time. For this reason by riding at a consistent pace on their own today Christoph and Silvio managed to break ahead and stay ahead. It also helped that both have been coming to South Africa to train in and around the Stellenbosch area for many years, hence giving them the advantage of knowing parts of today’s route inside out as for instance Franschhoek Pass.
Arno Viljoen (NAM) and Marc Bassingthwaite (NAM) of team GT Mr Price came in second, winning their first podium position of the event. The Namibians are also based in Stellenbosch making this terrain a part of their usual training routine. This helped them to avoid making the same mistake as in stage six – attacking too soon and running out of steam for the tougher, more difficult climbs ahead. Their attacks bore no fruit as the other teams were just as aggressive not yielding an inch especially during the last 15 kilometres. Today’s race was the most prestigious in this year’s event, and the results at this point decisive which explains the top teams’ reluctance to relax even for a second.
Arno decided towards the end of the race to change the strategy and staged a solo attack. “I said to him I’ll go ahead, that’s the only chance we’ve got. I didn’t focus on checking Marc’s progress during the race, but rather concentrated on the game ahead and hoped that he was keeping up. As I slowed down at the gates of Boschendal I looked over my shoulder for the first time. I was thrilled to see Marc riding over the horizon.” The team have persevered for the duration of this year’s race but had never managed to place in the top 3. “Today’s result has made the whole experience worth it”, reported Marc “we have now finished in the top six”.
Master’s division winners Geddan Ruddock and Linus van Onselen of team Absa Business Banking Services found today’s ride extremely tough but worthwhile. “Today was the hardest stage; I had to do a lot of pacing. Considering it is day seven we have already worked so hard. The terrain was rough but it is an incredible feeling to have won our division. It was very emotional to ride past the respective vantage points and hear complete strangers chanting your name. It really lifted our spirits when we needed it most”, said Geddan.
Carsten Bresser and Karl Platt of team Rocky Mountain Business Objects said that they too struggled to secure their third place ahead of team Stevens Racing. Johannes and Christian of Stevens Racing still have more than two minutes on the overall time of Carsten and Karl. “We were unsure of what to expect of them”, said Carsten, “they had just finished the Cyclocross season so their fitness was hard to gauge. Both have ridden a strong race though and there are some times in competitive sports that you just have to admit defeat and realise that another team is performing better or stronger than your own. This has been the case with team Stevens Racing. As long as we leave this race with a podium placing we are happy.”
It seems that the majority of backmarkers underestimated the route and the harsh South African climate, even though it is autumn. Waterpoint 2 ran out of water at one stage as riders were using water to cool themselves down. Absa Cape Epic Logistics Manager Richard McMartin responded quickly – arranging for additional water to be flown in via helicopter. He also sent mattresses in the sweep vehicle to provide additional comfort for riders waiting to be collected. Joerg Scheiderbauer was impressed by the amateurs – especially the women. “They ride on average for two hours longer than the top Men’s , Mixed and Master’s riders and still finish before cut off time. Their endurance is amazing”.
The Absa Cape Epic’s penultimate stage also saw the first stage win of former top triathlete, Australian Joanne Marie King and her team partner Anna Sutton (AUS) of team Homebrew lite. The Epic is their first mountain bike race and they were overwhelmed by doing so well, especially on the toughest day of all.
Tomorrow sees the last stage of the 2006 Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas and most participants should enjoy it. It is a true mountain bike ride in the traditional sense of the word with many single track and technical stages. So watch this space tomorrow to find out the overall winners of this Epic mountain biking experience.
1. Team Specialized: Christoph Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI) – 05:35:24
2. GT Mr Price: Marc Bassingthwaighte (NAM) and Arno Viljoen (NAM) – 05:49:02
3. Rocky Mountain Business Object: Karl Platt (GER) and Carsten Bresser (GER) – 05:49:06
1. Absa Business Banking Services: Linus van Onselen (RSA) and Geddan Ruddock (RSA) – 06:26:50
2. dennis mccann: Ergee du Toit (RSA) and Corrie Muller (RSA) – 06:36:48
3. Marsilio Projects: Tony Conlon (RSA) and Lieb Loots (RSA) – 06:46:31
1. radys.com: Dolores Maechler (SUI) and Severin Rupp (SUI) – 06:26:58
2. GHOST International: Jorg Scheiderbauer (GER) and Anna Baylis-Scheiderbauer (AUS) – 06:38:25
3. adidas / WE Cycles / Bianchi: Fourie Kotze (RSA) and Anke Erlank (RSA) – 06:40:25
1. Homebrew Lite – Anna Sutton (AUS) and Joanne Marie King (AUS) – 7:41:59
2. adidas-Fiat-Rotwild: Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER) – 07:46:57
3. Mountainbike Revue: Elisabeth Hager (AUT) and Sandra Lettner (AUT) – 07:59:40
Overall after penultimate stage
1. Sauser/ Bundi – 31:59:03
2. Sickmueller/ Heule – 32:25:57
3. Platt/ Bresser – 32:28:05
1. Grona/ Brachtendorf – 42:21:40
2. Hager/ Lettner – 43:29:40
3. Kreisle/ Begy – 48:17:56
1. van Onselen/ Ruddock – 35:28:43
2. Du Toit/ Muller – 36:30:30
3. Conlon/ Loots – 37:25:18
1. Baylis-Scheiderbauer/ Scheiderbauer – 36:00:46
2. Meachler/ Rupp – 36:44:55
3. Erlank/ Kotze – 36:45:01