March 30, 2008 (George, South Africa) – Arguably the toughest stage ever in the history of the Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas saw the Cannondale Vredestein team – Roel Paulissen (BEL) and Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) — rise to the occasion and prove their endurance by winning both the time bonus competition, and the stage challenge of the day.
With an overall time advantage (after winning Stage 1), the Songo.Info team of Christoph Sauser (SUI) and Burry Stander (RSA) is still in the lead to wear the yellow leader jersey for Stage 3. Songo.Info crossed the finish line second, approximately five minutes after the stage winners.
For Stage 2, Absa Cape Epic riders travelled from George to Calitzdorp, a 137 km journey with 2,518m of climbing. The route took riders through a very hot Karoo (39˚C) and up the toughest climbs. The first challenge of the day was Montagu Pass, with dirt roads winding 9km up an 8% average gradient through the spectacular mountains and valleys. After some loose, rolling tracks through Chandelier Game Reserve came the Gamkaberg killer — Breakback Mountain. The climb reached 1,100m in altitude with the steepest gradients at 18%. It was a technical climb and riders lost some traction with loose rocks in the path. The high-stakes descent with sharp rocks and hairpin bends made it scarier than the uphill. The last 15km to the Calitzdorp Spa was flat and fast, but still gruelling as temperatures soared and wind conditions made it worse.
Cannondale Vredestein gain time bonus and win stage
Roel Paulissen (BEL) and Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) of team Cannondale Vredestein, crossed the finish line of Stage 2 first at an impressive time of 5:07:11. They were followed by Stage 1 winners Songo.Info, Christoph Sauser (SUI) and Burry Stander (RSA) at 5:12:44. In third place was the German Alb-Gold Mountainbike team, Hannes Genze and Jochen Kaess (5:14:43), who beat South Africans MTN Energade (1), Kevin Evans and David George (5:14:46) by three seconds in a sprint finish.
For the first time in any major mountain bike stage race, time bonus points were awarded today in the King of the Mountain competition at the top of the first major climb of the day (Montague Pass), 25 km into the race. The Cannondale Vredestein team of Roel Paulissen and Jakob Fuglsang managed to gain a 40 second time bonus, thanks to their win of the challenge. They were followed by the Songo.Info team, Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander, who managed to secure a 20 second time bonus. In third place with a 10 second time bonus was MTN Energade (1) – Kevin Evans and David George.
The overall leaders are still Songo.Info at 10:24:49, no doubt feeling the pressure from Cannondale Vredestein who is only 4 minutes behind at 10:27:48. Third overall is Alb-Gold Mountainbike (10:34:05), with Bulls (10:43:29) and Dolphin (10:51:17) in the fourth and fifth places respectively.
Paulissen said that after Stage 1, where they placed sixth, they wanted to prove to themselves that it was an exception. “We decided early on in the race to just go for it and take the risk, and therefore raced hard from the beginning. The first three days of any stage race is always difficult for me as I’m more used to two hour races, compared to the five hours of the Absa Cape Epic every day – but then I get stronger as we complete stage after stage.” Commenting on his racing partner Fuglsang, he said that he was extremely proud of him. “Jakob was leading our team for 70 to 80 kilometres of the race. He is just such a talent — I love to watch him. Not many young riders have his mental strength out there — he’s a great fighter.”
Kaess (Alb-Gold Mountainbike) said that their advantage during Stage 2 was that they did not push the envelope too much during the previous stage. “Many riders are over-enthusiastic and push too hard from the word go, and we noticed how some had to pay for it during this gruelling stage.”
MTN Energade, the team that walked away with the yellow leader jersey after the prologue, managed to make an impressive comeback during Stage 2. Kevin Evans commented that after he got ill on the road the day before, and lost a lot of fluids as a result, he recovered fully when the medical team of the Absa Cape Epic gave him 2 litres of fluids intravenously. “By this time, the bug that was in my system must’ve been out due to my mild hydration. For stage 2 we were back in top form.”
Alison Sydor and Pia Sundstedt expand their lead
For the second stage in a row, the Rocky Mountain ladies team crossed the finish line first — Pia Sundstedt (FIN) and Alison Sydor (CAN) – at a time of 6:05:53, which ones again secured them the leader jersey with an overall time of 12:33:30. Susan Haywood (USA) and Jennifer Smith (NZL), known as the Trek/VW Wsd team, were second across the finish line at a time of 6:16:46, with an overall time only 30 seconds ahead of Dolphin-Trek Mtb Racing who came in third at 06:24:54 (overall times 13:03:32 and 13:03:58).The Dolphin-Trek Mtb team of Fabienne Heinzmann (SUI) and Katrin Schwing (GER) was second during the previous race, so the ladies category will also ensure a lot of excitement during the next couple of days.
Smith and Haywood both agreed that the pace during Stage 2 was very high, even for the ladies. Comments Smith: “After the second waterpoint, the pace suddenly slowed down and we were wondering why. Afterwards we realised that some people knew about the climb ahead and they were reserving their energy for the challenge ahead. We asked one of the riders how long the climb was and he said a couple of kilometres. We thought he was joking…little did we know it was 10km long!”
Haywood said that they had a good ride together as they initially needed to find each other’s strengths and weaknesses during Stage 1, but that they now believe that the collaboration between them is ideal. “We ran out of water towards the end and we were convinced that we were just going to die out there and no one would ever find us. Fortunately, a spectator made his appearance and told us we were very close to the finish line. We were so relieved and thrilled when it was all over.”
Heinzmann in turn had a scare early on in the race when another participant rode into her, resulting in a knee injury. “My knee was very stiff after that and for the first couple of strokes I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to go on. Fortunately, as time passed, we closed the gap between us and the group.” But more hardship awaited Heinzmann when she later on rode into barbed wire, which not only damaged her tyre, but also her wheel and spikes. “Yet again, we lost time while we had to fix the problem and the group was gone again. It was truly scary and tough to ride 50km on our own in the wind after everyone was gone!”
Schwing in turn was still suffering from a cold, but gained her strength during the final climb and for the first time took the lead in the team. Once again they managed to close the gap between them and the other ladies teams. “But towards the end we were really tired and had to concentrate going downhill. We didn’t want to risk a fall and took is easy — so we lost the group again and crossed the finish line on our own.”
The South African team of Hanlie Booyens and Erica Green (Absa Ladies) in 4th place today disagreed on some technical issues before the race after Booyens insisted that Green rides with a camel back and two water bottles containing almost 5 litres of water. “Thank goodness we did, as we used all of it,” Green said. “We enjoyed a very solid ride, but we are still waiting for a day when these international monsters can give us a chance to win a stage. We know we are racing against the best in the world, but all we want is to be the best ladies team from South Africa.”
The lady with the iron will
Another repeat win in the Mixed category awaited Joybike Guided by Vmt and Maloja when Germans Ivonne Kraft and Nico Pfitzenmaier completed their stage race at 6:08:03, followed by South Africans Yolande de Villiers and Johan Labuschagne (Cyclelab Toyota) in second place at 6:24:41. Hot on their heels were fellow South Africans Fourie Kotze and Amy Mundy (adidas) at 6:31:10. Overall results revealed the same order as the stage win: Joybike Guided by Vmt and Maloja in first (12:34:48), Cyclelab Toyota in second (13:03:26) and adidas in third position (13:38:02)
Yolande De Villiers said that after her six punctures during Stage 1 the day before, Stage 2 left her with legs punctures at the Gamkaberg killer challenge. “But the real problem was that I couldn’t feel my left arm and shoulder, which was completely numb. I tore two ligaments during the Argus Cycle Tour, but I was still determined to ride the Absa Cape Epic. But when my arm went numb, it felt like I had no control over my bike — it was very scary, especially during the technical downhill.”
Labuschagne commented that all he has to do during the race is keep up with his teammate. “Yolande is so fast and a very tough lady. It is my job to protect her from the wind and make sure she doesn’t get in trouble. I was worried today when I noticed that Yolande had no control over her bike. I urged her to drive slowly and carefully at times and that I would be there for her.”
From foe to friend
Absa Masters, Doug Brown (RSA) and Barti Bucher (SUI), once again defended their leader jersey with yet another stage win which ended in Calitzdorp (5:45:50). Shan Wilson from South Africa and Walter Platzgummer from Italy (Adidas William Simpson) came in second at 5:58:19, followed by Pragma Masters M.C. Franken (RSA) and Peter Buggle (IRE) at 6:06:53. Overall, the teams remained in the same positions as the stage win results with respective overall times of 11:29:34, 11:42:50 and 12:19:32. Brown expressed his admiration of Platzgummer when he said that he has such a good reputation that every single stage will be a battle between them. “We can never be confident that we’ve beaten them no matter what. I also know Shan Wilson well as we’ve ridden Transalp together; I know his capabilities.”
Wilson got a puncture early on in the race, which provided the Absa Masters with an opportunity to pull away and take the lead. 3km later Brown got a puncture, but fortunately he fixed it before the Adidas William Simpson team could catch up with them. Both teams agreed that Breakback Mountain was one of the toughest climbs ever for any race. “We had to fight with every peddle stroke,” Wilson said. “But we stayed calm and kept our wits about us.” Brown and Wilson met each other at last year’s Transalp Challenge where they were riding in competing teams. “On one stage Barti broke his pedal on an uphill and kept on going as if nothing has happened. That’s when I decided he would be my perfect partner for the Absa Cape Epic. I asked him after the race and his immediate response was yes!” To top it off, Doug Brown and Barti Bucher share the same birthdate and year. “Age is not an excuse for our team,” Doug chuckled.
Cheering crowd awaits last rider in
The last to cross the finish line today before the 18h00 cut-off time was Dion Tredoux from Team Millenium — PW-R, who arrived alone without his riding partner Brenda-Lynn Robertson. “My partner was not feeling well at waterpoint 3 before the big climb and she was suffering. We still had four hours to go so I encouraged her to keep going to see how far we could get. Eventually, I told her I would meet her at the top, but after a long wait I made the journey down where I waited again. Then I realised that I had to continue with the race as I was running out of time.”
Tredoux, who’s riding partner urged him to enter with her, said he felt he wasn’t ready for the Absa Cape Epic yet as he is more experienced as a road rider. “But after she secured some sponsors who paid for our entry, we started to train together in June last year.”
He says that after he passed the final waterpoint with another 35km to go, a very lonely journey awaited him until he got to the finish line. “But once I got there, I was overwhelmed by the support, encouragement and applause. Now that I managed to finish in time, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…”
Baggage team set their own records
It’s not only a tough job to ride the Absa Cape Epic, but behind the scenes over 700 staff and crew work night and day to stage the biggest full service stage race in the world. One of the integral teams servicing the riders, ensuring that their luggage arrive safely at the new destination and is sorted by number in time before their arrival, is the baggage crew – alias “the baggies”. Throughout the week they lift a total weight of 416 tons of more than 1000 rider bags (averaging 26kg each) by loading and unloading the baggage truck. Their all time record in loading the truck and sorting the bags in numerical order is an unbelievable 20 minutes! The fourteen strong team of University Professor Tiaan Pool comprises sport management, tourism and marketing students. The level of efficiency at what this team operates at is a reflection of their high degree of education. Before departing from the previous stage, they pack the truck in rough numerical order. Upon arrival they lay out the tent floor with ropes to structure the numerical off-loading of the bags.
“Good music keeps our guys going and to warm up early in the mornings we have an exercise class,” says Tool. “We believe that we must make the life of our clients, the “˜riders’, as easy as possible. I always tell my students that we must never argue with the riders — they are tired and emotional and might say things they normally wouldn’t. And if riders said something they regretted later, they always came back to apologise.” The bag team works hand in hand with local porters from the various communities who take the bags after the riders have checked them out, and carry them to the riders’ tents for the exhausted mountain bikers.
Next stop: Riversdale
Stage 3 of the Absa Cape Epic will take riders from Calitzdorp to Riversdale, with a distance of 133km and climbing of 2 340m. The teams are taken up a 13 km steady drag on smooth dirt roads over Rooiberg Pass. It’s a long climb that steepens to 9% before a 70kph decent into the valley. After some sharp, rolling hills, riders cross game country, where antelope, giraffe, leopard, and caracal will watch the riders charge through. From there on the terrain will be tough. Maximum concentration is needed to preserve bike and body. The rock formations are as geologically fascinating as they are race threatening (if riders choose a bad line or make a bad tyre choice). Even after riders survived the punctures and the heat, there is still a long slog on dirt roads before Garcia Pass. They’ll welcome the tarred, gentle climb and fast descent that takes them into Riversdale, for a hard-earned rest.
1. Cannondale Vredestein (Roel Paulissen (Bel), Jakob Fuglsang (Den) 5.07.11
2. Songo.Info (Christoph Sauser (Swi), Burry Stander (RSa) 5.33
3. Alb-Gold Mountainbike (Hannes Genze (Ger), Jochen Kaess (Ger) 7.32
4. MTN Energade (Kevin Evans (RSa), David George (RSa) 7.35
5. Dolphin (Bart Brentjens (Ned), Alban Lakata (Aut) 15.25
1. Rocky Mountain (Pia Sundstedt (Fin), Alison Sydor (Can) 6.05.53
2. Trek/VW WSD (Susan Haywood (USA), Jennifer Smith (NZl) 10.53
3. Dolphin-Trek MTB Racing (Fabienne Heinzmann (Swi), Katrin Schwing (Ger) 19.01
4. Absa Ladies (Erica Green (RSa), Hanlie Booyens (RSa) 29.22
5. Scott Contessa (Jane Seggie (RSa), Ischen Stopforth (RSa) 41.18
1. Absa Masters (Doug Brown (RSa), Barti Bucher (Swi) 5.45.50
2. Adidas William Simpson (Shan Wilson (RSa), Walter Platzgummer (Ita) 12.29
3. Pragma Masters (M.C. Franken (RSa), Peter Buggle (Ire) 21.03
4. Gpsupload.com (Doug Andrews (USA), Rich Bartlett (USA) 28.54
5. Private Client Holdings (Andrew Johan Cillie (RSa), Leon Olivier (RSa) 38.51
1. Joybike Guided by Vmt and Maloja (Ivonne Kraft (Ger), Nico Pfitzenmaier (Ger) 6.08.03
2. Cyclelab Toyota (Yolande de Villiers (RSa), Johan Labuschagne (RSa) 16.38
3. Adidas (Fourie Kotze (RSa), Amy Mundy (RSa) 23.07
4. Novatec CK MTB Dohnany (Tomas Legnavsky (Svk), Janka Stevkova (Svk) 29.46
5. X.O Felt Swiss (Adrian Burri (Swi), Franziska Roethlin (Swi) 36.49
GC after Stage 2
1. Songo.info (Christoph Sauser (Swi), Burry Stander (RSa) 10.24.49
2. Cannondale Vredestein (Roel Paulissen (Bel), Jakob Fuglsang (Den) 2.59
3. Alb-Gold Mountainbike (Hannes Genze (Ger), Jochen Kaess (Ger) 9.16
4. Bulls (Karl Platt (Ger), Stefan Sahm (Ger) 18.4
5. Dolphin (Bart Brentjens (Ned), Alban Lakata (Aut) 26.28
6. Full-Dynamix RSM (Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe), Massimo Debertolis (Ita) 28.07
7. MTN Energade -1 (Kevin Evans (RSa), David George (RSa) 28.26
8. Etto Hoydahl -3 (Martin Bratland (Nor), Kristian Torgersen (Nor) 36.39
9. MTN Energade -2 (Mannie Heymans (Nam), Melt Swanepoel (RSa) 41.57
10. USN (Brandon Stewart (RSa), Max Knox (RSa) 56.58
1. Rocky Mountain (Pia Sundstedt (Fin), Alison Sydor (Can) 12.33.30
2. Trek/VW Wsd (Susan Haywood (USA), Jennifer Smith (NZl) 30.02
3. Dolphin-Trek Mtb Racing (Fabienne Heinzmann (Swi), Katrin Schwing (Ger) 30.28
4. Absa Ladies (Erica Green (RSa), Hanlie Booyens (RSa) 54.51
5. Scott Contessa (Jane Seggie (RSa), Ischen Stopforth (RSa) 1.09.33
1. Absa Masters (Douw Brown (RSa), Barti Bucher (Swi) 11.28.34
2. Adidas William Simpson (Shan Wilson (RSa), Walter Platzgummer (Ita) 14.16
3. Pragma Masters (M.C. Franken (RSa), Peter Buggle (Ire) 50.59
4. Gsupload.Com (Andrew Doug (USA), Rich Bartlett (USA) 1.19.09
5. Private Client Holdings (Johan Andrew Cillie (RSa), Leon Olivier) 1.43.02
1. Joybike Guided by Vmt and Maloja (Ivonne Kraft (Ger), Nico Pfitzenmaier (Ger) 12.34.48
2. Cyclelab Toyota (Yolande de Villiers (RSa), Johan Labuschagne (RSa) 33.38
3. Adidas (Fourie Kotze (RSa), Amy Munday (RSa) 53.15
4. Novatec CK MTB Dohnany (Tomas Legnavsky (Svk), Janka Stevkova (Svk) 41.28
5. X.O Felt Swiss (Adrian Burri (Swi), Franziska Roethlin (Swi) 46.47
Visit www.cape-epic.com to view the full results.