Slender leads in the men's and mixed categories make for a dramatic final two days
By Nic Lamond in Hermanus
After day six of the 2008 Absa Cape Epic, just 159km and two days remained for the leading teams to defend their positions. Some of the category leaders however, were enjoying a comfortable lead, but the Cape Epic has a reputation for dramatic changes of fortune right up until the last push for the line. So as well as solid planning and meticulous mechanical preparation teams are hoping for good luck in the remaining days.
The leading women's team of Alison Sydor and Pia Sundstedt (Rocky Mountain) had over an hour's lead on second-placed Susan Haywood and Jennifer Smith (Trek/VW WSD). The hotly contested masters category also boasted a leading pair (Shan Wilson and Walter Platzgummer of Adidas/William Simpson) with close to an hour's grace over their nearest competitors.
It's a different picture altogether in the mixed and men's teams. The German pair of Ivonne Kraft and Nico Pfitzenmaier (Joybike-Maloja Express) were just 18 minutes ahead of South Africans Yolande de Villiers and Johan Labuschagne (Cyclelab Toyota). And with two days of technical riding remaining the win is by no means assured.
The men's race is also still wide open. After the dramatic fish to stage five by the leading team of Roel Paulissen and Jakob Fuglsang (Cannondale Vredestein) - where an unfixable puncture forced Paulissen to ride the last 18km of the day on his rim - stage six's 130km stage to Hermanus was relatively incident-free. The Bulls Team (Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm) picked up a handy 40-second time bonus at the 81km mark and the South African team of David George and Kevin Evans (MTN Energade 1) were the first over the finish line in a three-way sprint between the Bulls, Cannondale Vredestein and MTN. But it's the Cannondale Vredestein team that held a slender nine-minute lead over last year's champions Team Bulls. MTN Energade were 1'25" adrift, but by no means out of the running should the leading teams get into any kind of trouble.
And there's plenty of obstacles that pose real trouble between here and the finish line at Lourensford Estate in Stellenbosch, outside Cape Town.
The casualty list keeps climbing as the event nears its final stop. That's not surprising. Not only are the distances participants covering long and technically demanding in unbearable heat, but the terrain is littered with obstacles waiting to snare deraillleurs or destroy wheelsets. Even if the riders' bodies can handle the pain, their bikes may not. At the end of stage six, 180 (17.7%) of the racers who started in Knysna had abandoned the race with mechanical breakdowns or physical injuries that make going even another pedal stroke further impossible.
(Additional editorial assistance provided by Susan Westemeyer.)