March 20, 2013 (Citrusdal, South Africa) – Stage one was a 96-kilometer loop in 37 degrees with 2 350m of climbing on virgin Absa Cape Epic territory that started and finished in Citrusdal, a small farming town at the foot of the Cederberg Mountains. The stage started with climbing from the word go, up Piekenierskloof on relatively smooth and sandy roads, before descending nearly 600 meters in seven rocky kilometers of a wet Olifants River crossing. A steady eight-kilometer climb led to a four-kilometer section of rugged dual track and a short, but thrilling, single-track descent. The gradual descent to water point two was on uneven farm roads through citrus orchards. Riders needed to fill up here as the most challenging section of the day awaited them – seven kilometers of climbing, a brief rutted descent and then a portage that tested bodies and humour. The long descent to water point three was followed by approximately 20 kilometers through the farmlands in the Olifants River Valley. With no significant climbs, though by no means flat, riders enjoyed a slight reprieve before reaching the final obstacle of the day: a tough, sandy slog up the mountain side and the just reward of a fast, fun descent into the race village in Citrusdal.
The Men’s category of Stage 1 of this year’s Absa Cape Epic was won by the Multivan Merida team of José Hermida and Rudi van Houts in a time of 4:30.56,7. They were closely followed by Karl Platt and Urs Huber of team Bulls in 4:32.17,6. Thomas Dietsch and Tim Boehme of team Bulls 2 crossed the finish line 1,3 seconds after team Bulls, to claim the third place for Stage 1 in a time of 4:32.18,9. Winners of yesterday’s Prologue Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy of team Burry Stander – SONGO followed in fourth place in 4:33.46,0, placing them in second place overall with a time of 5:28.56,1. Multivan Merida leads the race with an overall time of 5:27.13,8.
Hermida and Van Houts now lead the men’s category with an overall lead time of 1 minute 42 seconds. Sauser and Jaroslav of team Burry Stander – SONGO are placed second with an overall time of 5:28.56,1 with Karl Platt and Urs Huber of team Bulls in third place overall (5:29.36,3). In fourth place overall are team Bulls 2 consisting of Thomas Dietsch and Tim Boehme with an overall time of 5:30.10,8.
Says Rudi van Houts of Multivan Merida: “I think we’re now in the lead, which is great. It’s always hard to get a stage win in the Absa Cape Epic. I’m really happy. Now we just need to focus on the overall and try and stay in front every day. Today’s stage was very sandy with loose rocks and we did a lot of running. Luckily we’re both light riders and could stay in the saddle in some sections. It was quite a technical ride.” Team mate José Hermida adds: “I have no energy left, not even to talk. Today I again realised what the Absa Cape Epic means – I gave my all to get the yellow zebra leader jersey. Rudi was unbelievable over the last 20 km. There was a tough sandy section and he brought me home. He established the pace and I was hanging in his pocket. I’m really happy though – finally after 4 Epics I have the leader jersey and will do my best to keep it for as long as possible. We’re all riding for Burry.”
Karl Platt of the Bulls says: “We expected it to be very hard, but it was a bit harder than THAT. This is the real Absa Cape Epic and we shouldn’t complain. The Epic must be hard – it’s the hardest race in the world, but after stage 8 we forget everything again. There was so much running in deep sand in between. You just need to switch off your brain and do it. Think of the prize money!”
Thomas Dietsch of the Bulls 2 team says “it went really well until I started having cramps and suffered in the last part of the race. I was riding in the wind of the three Bulls. It’s really nice to be on the podium; it’s a nice start to the Epic!” His team mate Tim Boehme adds: “Today was tough. It was a difficult stage to ride and you needed a lot of power. We’re very happy about our podium finish, but also worried about the next stage. I think it’s going to be tough.”
Says Christoph Sauser, who is now in second place overall with his team mate Jaroslav Kulhavy: “On the first downhill I hit a big rock and broke my rim. We had to wait for another wheel. After that we did a lot of chasing. Tomorrow’s going to be hard and hopefully a bit faster. The sand slowed us down today.”
A small antelope brought Robert Mennen’s Absa Cape Epic quest to a premature end when he collided with the animal early in the first stage. He crashed snapping his handlebars and broke his left clavicle (shoulder). The disappointment was huge for Mennen who along with Alban Lakata were in fourth place overall and certain podium contenders.
Absa African Jersey:
The Absa African Leader jersey was won by Darren Lill and Charles Keey of team Cannondale Blend (overall 5:39.45,7).
Siphosenkosi Madolo and Azukile Simayile of team Exxaro RMB Academy-songo managed to secure the Exxaro jersey for the second day in a row with their impressive performance during stage 1. Their overall time is 5:53.52,7 and they are placed 59th overall.
Says Azukile Simayile: “It was a very hard stage and I’m not good in sand. We’re happy that we’re stilll in the lead, but my partner pushed me quite hard today.” Siphosenkosi Madolo adds: “Today was a big day for us. Yesterday we were leading by two minutes, but we lost some time today. I like competition and know it’s going to be tough. We’ll push as hard as we can tomorrow – we’re still feeling strong.”
Esther Süss and Jane Nuessli of BMC Wheeler won the Ladies category in a time of 5:29.00,5 (overall 6:37.22,1), ahead of African/British duo Yolande Speedy and Catherine Williamson (Energas) in a time of 5:58.12,7 (overall 7:10.09,1). In third place were South Africans Hanlie Booyens and Ischen Stopforth of Pragma Volcan ladies (6:03.44,7; overall 7;19.07,6). Süss and Nuessli lead Speedy and Williamson by 32 minutes and 47 seconds.
Says Jane Nuessli of BMC Wheeler: “It was quite a hard day and we had to walk lots of times. There was a lot of sand, which made it really tough. The beginning of this stage was demanding and we’re very happy with the victory.” Adds team mate Esther Süss: “I’m very happy with our performance. It proves that my training worked this winter. There was a lot of sand today and we lost a lot of time there.”
Telkom Business Master’s Category:
The Telkom Business Masters category was won by Carsten Bresser and Udo Boelts (Juwi) in a time of 4:59.16,1 (overall 6:01.15). They were followed by Bart Brentjens and Robert Sim of Superior-Brentjens 2 in 5:08.43,6 (overall 6:09.58,1). In third place were Neil Bradford and Tim Osrin of HCL/Harvest Foundation 1 in 5:11.31,8 (6:18.14,7). Bresser and Boelts lead this category by 8 minutes and 43,1 seconds and are placed 15th overall.
Says Carsten Bresser of team Juwi: “It was a tough day as the first stage in the Absa Cape Epic always is. We suffered a lot and we’re very happy with our stage win. I think we’re under the first 15 overall, which is very good for us. Now I’ll get a good massage and relax, stay out of the sun and eat well, so that we’re ready for tomorrow.”
Bart Brentjens, who finished in second place, liked the first stage. “It was pretty tough with a lot of loose sand and walking. That’s part of the Absa Cape Epic. You mustn’t think about whether it’s long or not – just walk if you have to walk.”
Bärti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg of Songo.info again finished in first place in the Grand Masters in a time of 5:31.54,6 (overall 6:38.07,0). They were followed by Linus van Onselen and Doug Brown (BALAMORY) in 5:45.32,8 (overall 6:55.03,0) with Paul Furbank and Chris Brand of Genesis Capital in third place in 5:52.37,7 (overall 7:01.31,5).
Says Bärti Bucher of Songo.info: “They put the hardest stage first. Tomorrow is another long one, but hopefully with not as much sand.” His partner Heinz Zoerweg agreed that it was a very difficult stage.
Doug Brown adds that Stage 1 “will go down in history as the sandiest stage. It even beats the one from 2008, which was also very sandy. I’ve never pushed my bike so much but it was the same for everybody. Tomorrow will suit us better. It’s a longer stage and there’s more opportunity for my partner to slipstream me.”
The RE:CM team of Erik and Ariane Kleinhans won the Mixed category (5:17.44,3; overall 6:24.08,2), followed by Peta Mullens and Jarrod Moroni of Target TREK-Moronis Bikes in 5:38.24,0 (overall 6:49.46,1). In third place were Johan Labuschagne and Yolandi de Villiers in 5:42.18,4 (overall 6:54.56,0).
Says Australian Jarrod Moroni: “The second place feels very good, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I thought I was on Bondi Beach, there was so much sand. It really is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done – it’s good fun, but hell at the same time. This is my first Absa Cape Epic and I think we rode really well. We didn’t know what to expect, but would like to finish on the podium and things are looking good at the moment.” Mullens adds that it was a mentally challenging race. “We’re newbies and haven’t done many stage races. Hopefully it gets easier after tomorrow.”
STAGE 2: CITRUSDAL TO TULBAGH (146 km, 2,350 m of climbing)
Riders had to head into the Koue-Bokkeveld, known for its spectacular sandstone formations and summer temperatures regularly in the upper-30 degrees Celsius. Riders put mileage into their piggy banks early on when they scaled Middelberg Pass, 900 meters of altitude gain over the first 18 kilometers, on tar and smooth gravel. The descent onto the plateau was fast with a few sharp bends. Riders made up some time until just before the halfway mark, where a four-kilometer climb took them to the highest point of the entire race (1 150 meters above sea level). They were then rewarded with a five-kilometer single-track section that wounded through red sandstone formations. This stage felt fast and relatively flat, until the rugged and challenging wagon trail took the field into the Witzenberg Valley. Cleared for the race by local mountain bike-enthusiast farmers, this part of the race offered some of the finest terrain the Western Cape provides. The best was saved for last: a technical five-kilometer single-track, an old wagon trail opened up for the 2010 Absa Cape Epic, which plummeted into the Tulbagh Valley. It was a challenging transition onto a new playground, from the rugged and remote Cederberg to the fertile Tulbagh Valley with its quaint village and wine farms.
The temperature during stage 2 was ideal and not as hot as during stage 1. It was less sandy and a fast rolling stage with exciting racing. The course was particularly rugged and there were two major casualties in the pro-field – the first being the yellow zebra leader jersey and the second José Hermida picking up a five-inch nail. He had to repair it to get him to the next tech zone for a wheel change. This cost the team over 11 minutes at the end of the day. Riding at the front were Karl Platt and Urs Huber as well as Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser, until Kulhavy broke his chain. They lost a few minutes repairing the chain and in the process broke the chain tool. With a bit of improvisation, they managed to get it back together again, but lost 9 minutes in the process.
The Men’s category of Stage 2 of this year’s Absa Cape Epic was won by the Bulls team of Karl Platt and Urs Huber in 5:35.32,1. Platt has won the event four times and this is his thirteenth Absa Cape Epic stage win in his career. They were followed by the Bulls 2 team of Thomas Dietsch and Tim Boehme in 5:41.20,6 with Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy of Burry Stander – SONGO in third place (5:44.16,2). Yesterday’s winners José Hermida and Rudi van Houts finished in fifth place in 5:47.00,4.
Platt and Huber (Bulls) now lead the men’s category by 6 minutes and 23 seconds (11:05,08,4). Dietsch and Boehme (Bulls 2) are placed second overall (11:11.31,4) and Sauser and Kulhavy (Burry Stander – SONGO) are third in 11:13.12,3. Multivan Merida’s José Hermida and Rudi van Houts are in fourth place overall (11:14.14,2).
Says Huber of the Bulls team: “It all feels like a dream. It’s my first stage win at the Absa Cape Epic. We were fighting hard today and it was a really good day for me. I hope we can keep our rhythm for the next few stages.” Platt adds: “I can’t find any words to express how I feel. We were hoping for a stage win at this year’s race, but didn’t expect it on Stage 2. This is the Absa Cape Epic – you need to improvise, take your chances and go for it. We were also riding conservatively today. At one point Kulhavy attacked and we just tried to keep up. He was going very fast – I can see why he is the Olympic champion.”
Says Van Houts of Multivan Merida: “We lost some time today as we had a puncture and had to replace a tube.” His teammate Hermida adds: “And if you ride on your own it’s difficult to ride as fast as when you’re with the group which keeps pushing you. But we rode at a steady pace and eventually joined up with the second group. We also rode carefully as we didn’t want to get a puncture again.” Van Houts continues: “Especially after winning yesterday, we had to push hard. Sauser and Kulhavy were riding hard again today, but everything evened out again on the flat sections. We’ll check the map tonight and be careful tomorrow. We’re still in a good position in the overall and will keep on fighting.”
Jaroslav Kulhavy (Burry Stander – SONGO) broke his chain during the race today. “It was very hard and very hot. Now I know what everyone means when they talk about how hard the Absa Cape Epic can be.”
Absa African Jersey:
The Absa African Leader jersey was won by Darren Lill and Charles Keey of team Cannondale Blend (5:47.01,0; overall 11:26.46,7) for the second day in a row. Says Keey: “We tried to ride as conservatively for as long as possible. Around the middle of this stage, 5 or 6 teams broke away and we rode together until we got to some jeep track where we started splitting up. We managed to stay with the Bulls team at first but couldn’t keep the pace. We’re happy with our performance.”
Prince Maseko and Phillimon Sebona of Exxaro PwC Academy 1 won the Exxaro Jersey today in a time of 6:58.01,8 (overall 14:07.38,0).
African/British duo Yolande Speedy and Catherine Williamson (Energas) won today’s stage in a time of 6:51.21,7. They were followed by the Pragma Volcan Ladies, Hanlie Booyens and Ischen Stopforth in 7:18.30,2 (overall 14:37.37,8). In third place were Kath Kelly and Erin Greene of www.rrsport.co.nz in 7:27.53,9 (overall 15:06.25,6). Speedy and Williamson now lead this category by 36 minutes and 7 seconds.
Says Speedy (Energas): “I must confess my partner is a powerhouse – she’s really strong. Esther and Jane must have had some problems. Hanlie and Ischen caught up with us and we were riding as hard as we could to the finish. It was a super fast stage for us, even with the sting in the tail at the end. It’s very nice to win a stage. We just hope that Esther and Jane are ok. It’s so sad that Sally and Milena had to withdraw yesterday due to illness.” Adds Williamson: “It was a very long, hard stage, but winning a stage is brilliant. I kept looking behind me – I was really worried that the others were going to catch up with us. I think we ruined a few egos along the way today.”
Esther Süss and Jane Nuessli of BMC Wheeler had some bad luck today. Says Süss: “I had a tummy bug and felt very weak. After the first few kilometers I said to Jane that my legs aren’t feeling strong and that I’m not sure if I can do this. Jane said that whatever I decide to do, would be fine – she’ll support me.” Adds Nuessli, who was in tears: “Esther just carried on. I’ve never seen such courage. She’s a real tough cookie and I’m so proud of her.” Süss added: I would not have been able to finish today without Jane. She supported me the whole way without complaining.”
Telkom Business Master’s Category:
The Telkom Business Masters category was again won by Carsten Bresser and Udo Boelts (Juwi) in a time of 6:04.23,5 (overall 12:05.38,5). They were followed by Nico Pftizenmaier and Abraao Azevedo of the Bridge team in 6:05.36,2 (overall 12:22.24,6) with Neil Bradford and Tim Osrin of HCL/Harvest Foundation 1 in third place (6:28.46,7; overall 12:47.01,4).
Bresser and Boelts now lead this category by 16 minutes and 46 seconds and are placed 15th overall.
Pfitzenmaier of team Bridge says: “Abraao had a sore back yesterday and we had to see a chiropractor. We’re very happy with today’s stage. We rode with Bresser and Boelts until the last steep hill, when they started running off their bikes. We couldn’t chase them down again, but it was good riding today. It’s still a long race and anything can happen. We’re optimistic and looking forward to having a close race.”
Bärti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg of Songo.info again finished in first place in the Grand Masters in a time of 6:23.57,7 (overall 13:02.04,7). They were followed by Linus van Onselen and Doug Brown (BALAMORY) in 6:37.07,1 (overall 13:32.10,1) with Paul Furbank and Chris Brand of Genesis Capital in third place in 6:52.53,7 (overall 13:54.25,2).
Says Bärti Bucher of Songo.info: “Today was much better than yesterday. It wasn’t as hot as the day before and the heat was more manageable. It was also greener and not so sandy. Every day we give our best and it’s nice to have a lead. It’s great fun riding with Heinz, but also tough.”
It was a hat trick for the RE:CM team of Erik and Ariane Kleinhans when they won the Mixed category in 6:27.02,8 (overall 12:51.11,0), followed by Theresa Ralph and Damian Perrin of Biogen Britehouse (6:35.11,5; ovcerall 14:29.27,0). In third place were Peta Mullens and Jarrod Moroni of Target TREK-Moronis Bikes (6:45.03,6; overall 13:34.49,7).
Johan Labuschagne and Yolandi de Villiers of Exxaro Cycle Lab 1 finished in fourth place in 6:45.14,5 (overall 13:40.10,5). Erik and Ariane Kleinhans lead this category by 43 minutes and 38 seconds.
Says Ralph of Biogen Britehouse: “We started hard and were in front of Erik and Ariane. I thought we lost them, but when I looked over my shoulder shortly after the climb, they were on our heels. We had a very nice cruise down the hill chatting and sharing the work, and rode together to around the 90 or 100 km mark. From there I just couldn’t keep up and we lost 4 or 5 minutes on them. It was such a pleasure riding with them. Yesterday we had some bad luck – Damian had a fall and we had to try and repair his bike ourselves. We lost a lot of time – probably an hour or so. Yesterday was a tough day.”
Stage 3: Saronsberg Wine Estate (Tulbagh) to Saronsberg Wine Estate (94 km, 1 950 m of climbing)
Mountains surround the town of Tulbagh and stage three offers a tour of the basin, with a figure of eight traversing the vineyards and farmlands, skirting these mountains. By now riders should be used to starting with a climb. This 400-meter climb over 15 kilometers, with a short warm up, should be rather gentle on the legs. This is followed by three kilometers of sweeping single-track, finishing off with a section through popular forest. This is a pleasant day, with lots of ups and downs interspersed with flowing single-track sections. The day is more gentle, the soil is softer, the vegetation more lush and the hills shorter. If riders happen to hear the finish line, smell the race village, but their odometer only reads 55 kilometers, they need to keep pedaling. The second part of the figure of eight is shorter, but includes the same amount of climbing as the first one. Dr Evil and the route-design team show their true colours after water points three: a 1,5-kilometer climb on a steep farm road, followed by a short descent and three more short but sharp climbs on rough surface, before it is finally (almost) all downhill and back to the fields of Saronsberg Wine Estate.