Coming into the 2016 Absa Cape Epic, Karl Platt and Urs Huber (Team Bulls) had already enjoyed a string of excellent results on South African soil.
As a pair they won the most recent edition of the Tankwa Trek, this after Platt had won the Attakwas Extreme earlier in the year and Huber had taken pole at the National MTB Series in Sabie (Platt finished second in that event).
So it should come as no surprise that Platt and Huber are dominating the Absa Cape Epic this year. With a third stage win, this time Wednesday’s 104-kilometre Stage 3 from Tulbagh to Wellington, Platt and Huber have moved nine minutes ahead of their nearest rivals, another German-Swiss team in the shape of Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2’s Matthias Pfrommer and Nicola Rohrbach. The 2016 Stage 3 win is also Platt’s 17th stage victory in 12 Absa Cape Epic’s.
It seems that this Cape Epic has been all about preparation for Platt and Huber, with their team management confessing that both riders have been focusing on their mental preparation as much as their physical preparation for the race. Both have also spent time training and riding the trails in Wellington, which gave them a clear advantage in the last kilometres of today’s stage.
‘In the last 30km we went very hard,’ said Platt. ‘We know the trails well here, so we knew we could push and make a move the closer we got to the finish.’
Platt said the strategy for the stage was to keep it cool and also keep an eye on their nearest rivals until it was time to strike. ‘We put the pressure on after Bain’s Kloof Pass,’ said Platt. ‘Simon Stiebjahn went into the trails ahead of us like a cannonball and we just followed him. There were two or three teams going into the trees at full pace, but we knew we could follow Simon and trust in his and our knowledge of the trails. It was another good day for us, and we are very happy to be home in first again.’
Two minutes back on the day were Stage 2 winners, Team Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2. Matthias Pfrommer and Nicola Rohrbach are enjoying a solid Cape Epic debut, but admitted that after two days of furious racing the pace at the front is starting to take its toll.
‘We’re very happy with the second place, but the pace was fast today,’ said Pfrommer. ‘I don’t want to say it is too fast for us, but Karl and Urs were really going. It’s a good day, but it was hard work out there.’
Pfrommer said Team Bulls put their knowledge of the local trails to good use. ‘The guys pushed really hard at the finish. At one stage we were just behind them, and then we looked up and they were gone. There is a long descent to the finish and I think they knew it really well, so they could fly.’
With four stages to go, Pfrommer and Rohrbach are under no illusion about the hard work to come if they want to remain in the podium positions. ‘We are having a good ride in our first Cape Epic, and being in such a good position now we would like to podium,’ said Rohrback. ‘But this is a tough race and there are lots of stages to go. Anything can happen between now and Sunday. I would like to say we are having fun, but the racing is hard!’
For the third place overall team, Topeak Ergon Racing, there was more bad luck after a broken shoe derailed their Stage 2 efforts.
In the last five kilometres of Stage 3, previous winner Kristian Hynek took a nasty tumble that required medical attention to a bloodied arm on the finish line. Topeak Ergon Racing finished third on the day, but Hynek and Alban Lakata are now 11 minutes behind Team Bulls in the hunt for first place.
At the time of writing, Hynek had been sent to hospital for X-rays, after which the team will make a decision on his ability to continue in the race.
In the Absa African Special Jersey competition, Team USN Purefit’s Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock strengthened their grip on the red rider jersey. Finishing seventh on Stage 3, they now have a 15-minute lead on their nearest African challengers, Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell of NAD Pro MTB.
‘We felt good again today,’ said Waylon Woolcock, ‘We spent some time riding with the front bunch until Darren punctured on the first climb. After a quick repair we stayed calm and just rode at our own pace to the finish. Things are going well so far.’
1 Bulls 3-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 3-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland) 4:25.54,9
2 Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 17-1 Nicola Rohrbach (Switzerland) 17-2 Matthias Pfrommer (Germany) 4:28.03,0 +2.08,1
3 Topeak Ergon Racing 2-1 Alban Lakata (Austria) 2-2 Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic) 4:28.48,1 +2.53,2
1 Bulls 3-1 Karl Platt (Germany) 3-2 Urs Huber (Switzerland) 14:22.36,1
2 Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 17-1 Nicola Rohrbach (Switzerland) 17-2 Matthias Pfrommer (Germany) 14:31.43,1 +9.07,0
3 Topeak Ergon Racing 2-1 Alban Lakata (Austria) 2-2 Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic) 14:33.52,1 +11.16,0
4 Trek-Selle San Marco A 13-1 Samuele Porro (Italy) 13-2 Damiano Ferraro (Italy) 14:39.55,9 +17.19,8
5 Cannondale Factory Racing 14-1 Manuel Fumic (Germany) 14-2 Henrique Avancini (Brazil) 14:46.55,7 +24.19,6
6 USN Purefit 7-1 Darren Lill (South Africa) 7-2 Waylon Woolcock (South Africa) 14:50.34,3 +27.58,2
7 Dolomiti Superbike 11-1 Periklis Ilias (Greece) 11-2 Tiago Jorge Ferreira Oliveira (Portugal) 14:52.07,0 +29.30,9
8 Bulls 2 10-1 Simon Stiebjahn (Germany) 10-2 Tim Boehme (Germany) 14:57.47,4 +35.11,3
9 Trek-Selle San Marco B 18-1 Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Spain) 18-2 Fabian Rabensteiner (Italy) 14:59.55,1 +37.19,0
10 NAD Pro MTB 8-1 Gawie Combrinck (South Africa) 8-2 Nico Bell (South Africa) 15:05.13,9 +42.37,8
Meanwhile in the women’s space Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad of Spur-Specialized (pictured above) moved a step closer to clinching their third straight Cape Epic title by winning the stage in a time of 5:18.47.
While the Swiss-Danish pair arrived at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Wellington campus 32,1 seconds ahead of the Topeak Ergon and added another 1.11,3 to their overall lead on Ascendis Health, they didn’t have it all their own way on Wednesday. ‘I didn’t see that coming,’ Langvad told Kleinhans as they celebrated their victory.
The three contenders in the Sasol Women’s category, as well as Sport for Good, remained within a minute of each other at all three water points on the 104km transition stage from Tulbagh. While it didn’t end in a sprint finish, they all described the racing as fierce and exactly what the women’s category has been calling out for.
‘It was a very close race and we had no idea how it was going to finish. The racing was super close and very tough because we were all together until the last 20 kilometres or so,’ said Langvad.
The Dane believes that it was their nous that saw them eventually emerge from the pack to win.
‘We didn’t win because we were stronger today, but only because we chose best when to use our advantage. After the last descent we went through vineyards and the corners were very slippery… that’s where we made our advantage count.’
Among the triumphant scenes of Kleinhans and Langvad, were the tears of Adel Morath (Topeak Ergon) and clear signs of the day’s toil when Jennie Stenerhag (Ascendis Health) required medical attention.
Sally Bigham revealed that her German partner Morath had ridden the entire stage with her knee in pain after a crash yesterday. With that said, they both enjoyed today’s racing.
‘Today was the best women’s stage that I’ve been involved in during my Cape Epic history,’ said Bigham, riding in her sixth straight Cape Epic. ‘We had a great time and really enjoyed the close racing. The separate starts worked well today and it will be very good for the sport if we have more racing like today – there was lots of attacking and counter-attacking. It helps when the Masters men don’t get involved in our race because it can have an impact.’
Morath echoed Bigham’s sentiments.
‘It was an amazing stage… we watched each other, we attacked each other, it was very tactical. It was super hard so in the end everyone was suffering and looking forward to seeing the finish line.’
Having made up ground on Ascendis Health, Bigham is excited about what their English-German partnership can do during the rest of the week.
‘I think we are working very well together. We don’t talk that much during the race because there isn’t much chance but we every day we are learning more about riding with each other. We’re looking forward to the remaining stages.’
Stenerhag was stretchered off to the race hospital after collapsing at the finish and within the hour announced that she would not continue the race.
Despite Stenerhag’s withdrawal, partner Robyn de Groot said that they actually enjoyed the race today and she intends to continue riding herself. ‘Look, there were sections that were very hot. The racing was very exciting. It was a proper ladies race today…’
1 Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 5:18.47,0
2 Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 5:19.19,1 +32,1
3 Ascendis Health 51-1 Robyn de Groot (South Africa) 51-2 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 5:19.58,3 +1.11,3
1 Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 17:05.39,4
2 Ascendis Health 51-1 Robyn de Groot (South Africa) 51-2 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 17:10.07,8 +4.28,4
3 Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 17:13.06,9 +7.27,5
4 Sport for Good 54-2 Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) 54-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 17:26.11,6 +20.32,2
5 Meerendal Wheeler 52-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 52-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 18:00.04,8 +54.25,4
6 Meerendal Rocky EBE 56-1 Hielke Elferink (Netherlands) 56-2 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) 18:56.02,5 +1:50.23,1
7 Galileo Risk 55-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 55-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 18:56.27,8 +1:50.48,4
8 Asrin Cycling 71-1 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 71-2 Sandra Santanyes Murillo (Spain) 19:13.25,9 +2:07.46,5
9 Energade Racing 202-1 Dalene van der Leek (South Africa) 202-2 Sharon Laws (England) 19:14.23,3 +2:08.43,9
10 Liv – MTB Pro 59-1 Muriel Bouhet (France) 59-2 Merce Pacios Pujado (Spain) 21:30.34,6 +4:24.55,2
Picture courtesy of Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS