Nicola Rohrbach and Matthias Pfrommer of Team Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 claimed their second stage win at the 2016 Absa Cape Epic in a sprint finish under the oak trees of Boschendal Wine Estate, Stellenbosch on Friday.
The ‘back up’ Centurion Vaude outfit only came together about a week before the event, but they’ve pieced together an impressive race to now sit second in the overall standings. Rohrbach and Pfrommer finished the 93-kilometre fifth stage in 4hr 07min 04,4sec.
Second on the day went to overall race leaders Karl Platt and Urs Huber, who finished right behind Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2. Huber, in fact was first over the line, but Rohrbach and Pfrommer had positioned themselves between Huber and Platt to be the first pair to finish the stage.
This lead to a minor kerfuffle at the finish, with Platt unhappy at the way Rohrbach and Pfrommer had pushed hard into the final corner – a potentially dangerous, yet race legal move so late in the day. It was all handshakes moments later, though, with Platt congratulating the race debutants on their Stage 5 victory.
With five imposing climbs between Wellington and Boschendal Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, Stage 5 of the Absa Cape Epic was billed as the Queen Stage of the 2016 event. Even those at the front are feeling the effects of what’s turning out to be one of the hardest routes in years.
‘It was tough again today,’ said Bulls’ Huber. ‘I think because we have been going fast from the beginning every day has been hard. Even though Stage 4 was shorter it wasn’t any easier yesterday. There was lots of climbing – long, loose climbs and some with deep sand. There were no rolling hills, so it was hard work again. Luckily it was a bit cooler today.’
Huber, composed as always even moments after a day of racing, says the Bulls pair are now only focussing on maintaining their lead at the top and getting their hands on the 2016 Absa Cape Epic trophy. ‘We were not looking at the stage win today. Right now our first goal is to win the Cape Epic. If we are in a position for more stage wins we will take it, but the priority is to wrap the event up.’
For Rohrbach and Pfrommer, the general classification is also a priority. Currently sitting in second overall with a seven-minute lead over third-placed Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro (Trek-Selle San Marco A), the pair started the day in a watchful mood due to Pfrommer crashing on Stage 4. Once they realised he was feeling okay, they hit their groove. ‘When Matthias felt that the injury was not too bad we got into the front today,’ said Rohrbach. ‘We went with the Bulls and worked together. We were not focussed on the stage win at all, but we are happy to take it. For the rest of the race it’s all about the general classification.’
Rohrbach, a man with a cross-country background and only asked to join the Centurion Vaude by Meerendal squad days before the event, is having a dream ride. ‘I’m enjoying myself and having a good time riding with Matthias. I always dreamed of one day riding the Cape Epic, but it was always very hard for me because I am not part of a team. Then when Centurion Vaude approached me to ride, I jumped at the chance. I joined at the last minute, but it’s working out so far.’
It was a good day for Centurion Vaude, with their other team – Daniel Geismayr and Hermann Pernsteiner – coming home third.
In ninth place on the day and seventh overall are South Africa’s Waylon Woolcock and Darren Lill (USN Purefit). The two have now extended their lead in the Absa African special jersey over Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (NAD Pro MTB) to 22 minutes. ‘This was a target for us coming into the race,’ said Lill, ‘so we are pleased with the way things are going.’
Picture of Rohrbach and Pfrommer setting the pace courtesy of Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
1 Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 17-1 Nicola Rohrbach (Switzerland) 17-2 Matthias Pfrommer (Germany) 4:07.04,4
2 Bulls 3-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 3-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland) 4:07.05,0 +0,6
3 Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 4-1 Daniel Geismayr (Austria) 4-2 Hermann Pernsteiner (Austria) 4:07.50,0 +45,6
1 Bulls 3-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 3-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland) 21:37.46,2
2 Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 17-1 Nicola Rohrbach (Switzerland) 17-2 Matthias Pfrommer (Germany) 21:47.30,1 +9.43,9
3 Trek-Selle San Marco A 13-1 Samuele Porro (Italy) 13-2 Damiano Ferraro (Italy) 21:54.46,2 +17.00,0
4 Cannondale Factory Racing 14-1 Manuel Fumic (Germany) 14-2 Henrique Avancini (Brazil) 22:08.13,4 +30.27,2
5 Dolomiti Superbike 11-1 Periklis Ilias (Greece) 11-2 Tiago Jorge Ferreira Oliveira (Portugal) 22:18.24,6 +40.38,4
6 Bulls 2 10-1 Simon Stiebjahn (Germany) 10-2 Tim Boehme (Germany) 22:20.58,9 +43.12,7
7 USN Purefit 7-1 Darren Lill (South Africa) 7-2 Waylon Woolcock (South Africa) 22:22.47,2 +45.01,0
8 Trek-Selle San Marco B 18-1 Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Spain) 18-2 Fabian Rabensteiner (Italy) 22:27.46,8 +50.00,6
9 Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 4-1 Daniel Geismayr (Austria) 4-2 Hermann Pernsteiner (Austria) 22:37.12,4 +59.26,2
10 Topeak Ergon Racing 2 16-1 Jeremiah Bishop (United States of America) 16-2 Erik Kleinhans (South Africa) 22:42.25,9 +1:04.39,7
Meanwhile in the women’s race German mountain-biking legend Sabine Spitz and her Ukranian partner Yana Belomoina were queens of Boschendal Wine Estate5 in a time of 4:51.06,5.
The Sport for Good pairing have improved day by day this week as they have been getting used to the rigours of the Absa Cape Epic. They celebrated enthusiastically when they crossed the line first.
‘We were supposed to win yesterday on the ‘cross-country’ stage but coming first on the queen stage is pretty good,’ said an elated Spitz, riding her first Absa Cape Epic.
The 44-year-old revealed that the decisive moment for Sport for Good came in the final 10km of the stage.
‘I must say that Annika is riding amazingly well. She’s so strong, especially on the flat where Ariane sometimes struggles. We were together with them all the way until we got to a sandy section where Annika had to wait. That was the moment we got a gap.’
Riders awoke to mild conditions in Wellington, with predicted rain only falling for a short while and helping Spitz and her 23-year-old partner’s cause.
‘We hoped that it wouldn’t rain the whole day but in the end was only for an hour or so. That made the surface much better for riding as the dust settled and it was compact. It allowed us to ride consistently.’
Belomoina came across the line smiling from ear to ear, a clear sign that the 2014 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Under-23 champion is finding her feet on the trails of the Western Cape.
‘I’m feeling very strong,’ she said. ‘I think I’m getting better and better and I’m very happy to win a stage at the Cape Epic.’
Meanwhile, a relaxed looking Langvad did not seem too concerned about finishing second. Moments after crossing the line, 1.59,7 behind the Sport for Good pair, she said it had been a ‘perfect day … it only got hot towards the end after being quite cool’.
The Dane and Kleinhans both punched the air as they finished, with the former admitting that they were surprised how well they handled the day’s climbing.
‘With all the climbing we didn’t think we would be superior because our competitors are very good climbers. So we were actually surprised; we paced ourselves very well and got a good result out of it in the end.’
Kleinhans was not willing to let her thoughts turn to the grand finale at Meerendal yet.
‘To win a third title in a row would be an absolute dream, but I don’t really want to talk about it apart from saying we will give it our all to achieve it.’
Langvad was thankful that they’ve built up a big enough lead that they won’t have to panic if anything goes wrong during tomorrow’s 69km stage in and around Stellenbosch or Sunday’s return to Meerendal.
‘With two days to go the lead we have gives us a very nice feeling. We appreciate every second so to add another minute today is perfect. It means that if we get a puncture or anything we can take our time fixing it.’
If for some reason Spur-Specialized do encounter trouble, Topeak Ergon’s Sally Bigham and Adel Morath are time-wise best-placed to take advantage but came home third for the second day in a row.
‘We’ll have to see how the remaining days go and take each one as it comes,’ said Bigham, the 2012 and 2013 Absa Cape Epic winner.
‘Today was a good mixture of trails and we really enjoyed it when all three teams were riding together. It shows that the separate starts are working well and makes it much more interesting for me as an athlete… previously the women’s race wasn’t fair enough. It has been a step forward for the race, made it more exciting for the riders and more interesting for spectators as we’ve seen with different winners this week.’
Picture of Spitz by Mark Sampson/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
1 Sport for Good 54-2 Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) 54-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 4:51.06,5
2 Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 4:53.06,2 +1.59,7
3 Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 4:54.01,7 +2.55,2
1 Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 25:40.02,4
2 Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 25:53.47,4 +13.45,0
3 Sport for Good 54-2 Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) 54-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 25:58.40,4 +18.38,0
4 Meerendal Wheeler 52-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 52-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 26:49.24,8 +1:09.22,4
5 Galileo Risk 55-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 55-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 28:09.06,6 +2:29.04,2
6 Energade Racing 202-1 Dalene van der Leek (South Africa) 202-2 Sharon Laws (England) 28:19.59,5 +2:39.57,1
7 Meerendal Rocky EBE 56-1 Hielke Elferink (Netherlands) 56-2 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) 28:20.41,3 +2:40.38,9
8 Asrin Cycling 71-1 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 71-2 Sandra Santanyes Murillo (Spain) 28:39.29,0 +2:59.26,6
9 Liv – MTB Pro 59-1 Muriel Bouhet (France) 59-2 Merce Pacios Pujado (Spain) 31:46.49,5 +6:06.47,1
10 Speed Structures 68-1 Marleen Lourens (South Africa) 68-2 Nicky Giliomee (South Africa) 33:34.00,5 +7:53.58,1