Stage two of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic, the 100th stage in the history of the event, was held in another hot, windless day in Tulbagh.
The racing was fiery too, with the Team Bulls pair of Karl Platt and Urs Huber determined to scorch a path through the Witzenberg Valley.
For most of the day, everything went according to plan, but on a technical descent just 10 kilometres from the finish Huber punctured, allowing unheralded newbies Nicola Rohrbach and Matthias Pfrommer of Team Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 to take the stage win in a time of 4hr 16min 48.3sec.
Third place for the stage went to the young Italian pair of Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro (Trek-Selle San Marco A).
The winners on the day only came together as a team about a week before the event started, and even then they are participating here in support of Team Centurion Vaude by Meerendal’s Hermann Pernsteiner and Daniel Geismayr. Pernsteiner, though, had a fall on Stage 1, which opened the door for Pfommer and Rohrbach to win a highly-coveted stage at the Absa Cape Epic.
‘Hermann had a crash yesterday,’ said Pfommer, ‘so the plan was for him to start and then tell us that they would go on or if we must go on.’
At the stage’s first serious climb, a near 20km trek up an old wagon trail over the Witzenberg mountain range, Pernsteiner realised he was in trouble, and so instructed the ‘back-up’ team to race on. ‘Hermann and Daniel told us to go, so we did and we hit it full gas,’ said Pfommer.
For much of the race there were four teams in the lead bunch, with South African pair Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock (USN Purefit) mixing it up in the front for a while too, until a broken chain for Lill halted their momentum.
‘All day it was very tough and very technical, especially the middle part,’ said Rohrbach. ‘But eventually we caught the Bulls and the lead bunch. I think we were about 10 seconds behind the Bulls, but the plan was always to then push hard because Matthias and I are both very fast on the downhill. We passed them on the last descent, but also because they had a flat.’
Crossing the line first, Pfommer and Rohrbach were ecstatic, punching the air and whooping with delight. ‘We are totally destroyed after that ride. But very happy.’
For the overall leaders, it was another successful, if slightly irritating day. ‘It was another hot stage, the weather and the racing,’ said Huber. ‘The long climb after 10km definitely woke us up, but then we were on to the trails that we knew quite well after riding in the Tankwa Trek recently. We were riding along very comfortably all day. Even though the puncture was annoying, it was a good day. But like always in racing, it could be better.’
One of the pre-race favourites, Team Topeak Ergon Racing, endured another bout of bad luck, something of a recurring theme for Alban Lakata. After a good Stage 1, Lakata and Hynek would have expected to put more pressure on Team Bulls today.
Unfortunately for them, Hynek’s shoe broke early in the racing. After trying, and failing, to fix it, they eventually had to wait for their back up team so Hynek could take Erik Kleinhans’ shoe. Finishing in one red and one black shoe, the replacement also too small, Hynek said: ‘My foot is on fire, it’s burning. When these things happen you always think the race is over, but we have to get over it because we don’t know what will happen from here.’
In the race for the red Absa African special jersey, Lill and Woolcock remain in front, approximately five minutes ahead of Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (Team NAD Pro MTB). Bell and Combrinck finished eighth overall on Stage 2, with Lill and Woolcock finishing 12th.
In the Sasol Women’s category, defending champions Ariane Kleinans and Annika Langvad, right, surged to victory and the overall lead – spending 5:06.00,2 in their saddles.
For much of the stage, the 100th in the race’s history, the Spur-Specialized pair bided their time in third place behind Sport for Good’s Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina and Sally Bigham and Adel Morath of Topeak Ergon. Significantly, Kleinhans and Langvad remained ahead of the erstwhile race leaders, Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag of Ascendis Health and by the time the South African-Swedish pair arrived back in Tulbagh, their 58 seconds lead had turned into a three minute, 17 second defecit.
‘It feels amazing to be back in the orange jersey,’ said a beaming Kleinhans. ‘This morning I was confident we could do something but when Sabine and Yana went ahead on the first climb I thought it was going to be a long day. I knew I couldn’t go at the pace that they went up so we decided to keep it really consistent and I remembered from 2011 that the last climb goes into a long descent and is quite technical – I thought that’s where we could decide it.’
Spitz and Belomoina were the protagonists in establishing the pecking order for the day, by laying down a marker that only Bigham and Morath initially followed, up the wagon trail out of Tulbagh onto the Witzenberg mountains. Spitz revealed that their tactics were formulated because of their experience on Monday’s Stage 1.
‘Our goal today was to not get fed with dust and the only way to do that is to stay in front for as long as possible,’ said the 2003 Cross-country world champion and 2008 Olympic champion. ‘We managed to stay in front of the men until they caught us 500m before the end of the first climb. When we dipped into the valley instead of being covered in dust and unable to see we could get into a nice pedalling rhythm as it was a bit of dirt road and bit of tarmac and also the single track allowed us to recover.’
Despite eventually finishing the day in third place, the Sport for Good pairing remained in fourth overall, but were pleased to claim the day’s hotspot prize and look forward to the remaining stages.
After trailing Spitz and Belomoina through the first two water points, Bigham and Morath took over the lead before the third water point. Echoing Kleinhans and Langvad’s sentiments, Bigham had only praise for the the efforts of Spitz and Belomoina.
‘It was really exciting today, particularly because the lead changed hands a few times. Ariana and Annika seemed to go full risk on the descent home and that’s where they overtook us. We didn’t have any technicals today.’
Outgoing race leaders, De Groot and Stenerhag were due to do some injury assessment, after Stenerhag had a hard tumble onto her left arm on the first descent of the day.
‘I don’t think it’s badly injured, only a bit sore,’ said Stenerhag, while inspecting her blood and dust caked arm.
Her partner De Groot acknowledged that though they lost the orange jersey today, they will not give up the challenge of getting it back from Spur-Specialized.
‘From the word ‘go’ the ladies attacked and we were on the back foot. It’s a tough field so we knew it would be exciting racing this year, but we won’t give up…'<END>
After two days of fascinating racing around Tulbagh the race moves to Wellington on Wednesday … and some very different conditions. The Tulbagh area has been dusty, rocky and loose – a test for rider and his or her bike.
But before they hit the smoother conditions and compacted soil of Wellington the riders will have to take on a rugged climb out of Tulbagh on the Waterval climb, a rocky descent off it and then the Zuurvlakte – a pan fringed by mountains that looks like it belongs in a Western movie and which could be sandy in parts. The Zuurvlakte reserve was only just opened late last year after devastating fires (but which did have the effect of regenerating the fynbos and Proteas).
A little while after that it is on to the tar and the long climb up the Bain’s Kloof Pass, a national monument, before a twirl around the highly-regarded Welvanpas trails near Wellington. Riders new to the Welvanpas network will get a rude introduction to the WTF? climb and some sharp ascents, but will also get to enjoy weaving descents such as the breathtaking Super G.
Transition stages are generally quite long and difficult and at 104km with 2150m of accumulated ascent this one should prove to be no exception.
Expect some attacks on the early slopes: this may well be a stage where teams who are further back than they had hoped will look to attack.
Picture of Nicola Rohrbach and Matthias Pfommer of Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 by of Shaun Roy/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
Picture of Annika Langvad & Ariane Kleinhans of Spur-Specialized by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS