16 Apr, 2015

Plenty of drama at Absa Cape Epic


Like the previous instalments of the Absa Cape Epic, the 2015 race was not short of drama.

Rain-soaked stage six, for example, ended in a sprint finish between the Investec-Songo-Specialized pairing of Swiss Christoph Sauser and Czech Jaroslav Kulhavy and reigning champion Topeak Ergon’s Kristian Hynek and Alban Lakata.

In the sprint finish, which looked more like a road race finish than a mountain bike event, Kristian misjudged his line through the last corner, which resulted in Christoph and Jaroslav winning their fifth stage in a row.

“It was a very exciting finish and we didn’t have to eat dust, thanks to the rain,” Christoph commented after his astounding 36th Absa Cape Epic stage victory.

The 2013 champions went on to keep their overall lead and claimed overall victory after the last stage on Sunday 23 March with the Topeak Ergon team hanging on to second overall.

There was also plenty of drama during the battle for the Absa African red jerseys, with that title juggling between the Scott Factory Racing pair of Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes, Red-E Blend’s Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock, USN’s youngsters Rourke Croeser and Travis Walker four times before it eventually settled on the Scott Factory Racing pair after stage six.

Philip and Matthys actually rode themselves into the red jersey during the 111 kilometre-long stage four. The pair, which Christoph affectionately calls the “Scotties”, broke away from the lead group early and eventually won the stage after about 100 lonely kilometres out in front. For Philip and Matthys, the gamble paid off, big time.

“We finally got the red jersey … that is what we came for,” Philip exclaimed after finishing that stage, “today was very special, not only because of the win but because we are now in that red jersey.”

Although the Scott Factory Racing would lose the jersey on stage five after an incredible third place ride by the Red-E Blend pair, a third place on stage six then secured them of the jersey until the end of the race. They finished in sixth place overall.

The Dimension Data Masters Category was also not exempt from the action. Superior’s Bart Brentjens (Dutch) and Abraao Azevedo (Brazilian) had a ding-dong battle with the South African pairing of Nico Pfitzenmaier and Robert Sim (Dorma/Robert Daniel) during every stage of the eight-day Absa Cape Epic.

Although Nico – who is no stranger to Modern Cyclist’s pages – and Robert picked up a few stage wins, Bart and Abraao eventually won the category by less than two minutes.

Perhaps not surprising but very pleasing for Nico and Robert was the fact that they finished in fifth place in the Absa African special jersey competition too, beating huge names like Kevin Evans, Max Knox (from Biogen-Volcan), Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell (RECM), although the last two mentioned often had to stop to assist Investec-Songo-Specialized as they were that team’s back up.

Special mention must also go to Modern Cyclist contributor Nic White (Absa Corporate Masters) who, together with his Zimbabwean partner Warren Squires finished in overall ninth position in this category.
The race for the Grand Master’s jersey was completely dominated by Meerendal BIXS KTM’s Swiss/Austrian pairing of Barti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg. This team was able to keep almost an hour between their nearest rivals, Andrew McLean and Greg Anderson (Ascendis Health) during the whole event.

Regarding the mixed category, there was also only one team who remained in the lead for the whole race. Although they had various punctures, crashes and other misfortunes, the ETIS pairing of Peter Vesel (Slovenia) and Ivonne Kraft (Germany) kept a constant 30 minutes in front of their main rivals, the South African Nizaam Essa and Briton Catherine Williamson (Asrin Cycling).

The South African pairing of rugby legend Joel Stransky and his cycling legend Anriette Schoeman (Liqui Fruit) finished in sixth overall, hopefully a good sign of amazing things to come from this “celebrity” team.

The Absa Cape Epic’s official development category, Exxaro, was convincingly won by Phillimon Sebona and Jan Motshioa (Exxaro PWC) who kept a solid one hour, 45 minute lead they gained at the end of stage five over their nearest rivals from Exxaro/EOH, Rilamulele Gadabeni and Tovhawani Mavundavhi.

But it was the amazing performance of Team RECM Specialized’s Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad which will go down in the annals of Absa Cape Epic as possibly the greatest victory of all time.

Not even a one hour 13 minute time penalty incurred after an unintentional navigational error on stage two could stop the Swiss/Danish pair’s complete dominance on the race. Their stage three performance in particular will probably go down in history as one of the most belligerent and gutsy Absa Cape Epic rides of all time as they not only made up that time penalty, but also put almost 10 minutes on their nearest competitors, Ascendis Health’s Jennie Stenerhag (Swedish) and Robyn de Groot (South African).

And, due to all the cash prizes for various “hot spot” achievements, Ariane and Anneke will actually take home more prize money than the men. They received R200 000 for the overall win, R5 000 for each stage win including the prologue (they won seven out of eight!) and they receive R15 000 for each of the three Sasol Women’s Hotspots that they crossed first. Not a bad birthday present for Anneke who turned 31 on 22 March, the last day of the 2015 Absa Cape Epic

During the race, Ascendis Health team manager Barry Austin praised his charges. “We came into this aiming for a top five, so second overall is great and the daily results have been really consistent.”

Perhaps a stark warning to all the teams in the fight for the overall women’s honours was the stage five performance of Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dhale Flesjå. The former world champion and Olympic gold medallist was actually the second woman to cross the line.

However, and fortunately for the rest of the field, Gunn-Rita rode stage five, six and seven as an “Outcast” (a jersey given to seeded riders if their partner cannot continue the race for any particular reason) after her partner Kathrin Stirnemann was forced out of the competition during stage four for medical reasons.

“I’m feeling strong and enjoying the experience,” said the legendary mountain biker after an eventful stage five, “I don’t do much stage racing, so this is quite unique.”

Special mention goes to Modern Cyclist photographic contributor Cherie Vale who, together with her partner current cross country national champion Mariske Strauss (Team Novus OMX Pro), finished the prologue in 10th position and slowly clawed their way up the table. They eventually ended the 2015 Absa Cape Epic in sixth position overall.

And if you want to take part in the 2016 Absa Cape Epic, your first chance has already gone. The 100 early bird entries sold out in nine seconds after these went online at 15:00 on Monday 23 March.

Your second chance is the lottery system, which stays open until 30 May 2015. Professional riders can apply for a wild card entry if they hold a valid UCI license and have the appropriate racing qualifications.

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |