For pre-race favorites Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Burry Stander - Songo), the Cape Epic is not going as planned. After winning the prologue time trial, the Specialized racers have had something go awry on each of the three stages that followed.
On Monday's stage 1, Sauser broke his wheel after it slammed into a rock on a high speed descent early in the day. His tire abruptly went flat and the wheel was damaged beyond field repair-ability, so they waited for their Burry Stander - Songo teammates Kohei Yamamoto and Max Knox, who traded out wheels. Eventually finishing fourth, the mechanical cost them time and the pair dropped to second place in the GC at 1:42
Tuesday's stage 2 didn't go any better. Olympic champion Kulhavy snapped his chain on a downhill. While Kulhavy stopped and ran back to retrieve his chain, Sauser got the spare chain link all ready to install. Unfortunately, in the process of making the repair, Kulhavy broke the pin on his chain tool. The pressure was immense, with the race helicopter hovering overhead as the two favorites scrambled for a solution. The two improvised and were eventually able to get the link installed, but it cost them. They finished third on the day and dropped another spot to third overall after the stage, down 8:04 off the leading Bulls team of Karl Platt and Urs Huber.
Bad luck often seems to come in threes and more misfortune happened during Wednesday's stage 3. Sauser and Kulhavy were riding a perfect tactical race, sitting in and then successfully timing their attack to get away off the front in an effort to make up some time in the hopes of regaining the yellow leaders' jerseys, which they are hoping to win in memory of their late teammate Burry Stander.
However, while off the front and with just 2km to go, Sauser and Kulhavy missed a turn. They had set up and were flying through a left hand bend so quickly, they didn't see the next arrow partway through it telling them to go right. The two didn't realize their mistake until the next intersection, where there were no arrows to be found. A race moto redirected them back onto the course, but it was too late - eventual stage winners and current race leaders Karl Platt and Urs Huber (Team Bulls) had caught and passed them on the route and went on to take the stage 3 victory by 46 seconds. That meant more time lost for Sauser and Kulhavy.
On the bright side, the two did move back up into second on the GC and four stages remain. In the Cape Epic, anything can happen. Making up enough time to take back the GC - eight minutes and 50 seconds - is not super likely, but it is possible should Platt and Huber encounter some of the same kinds of difficulties. And no matter what, there remain four stage wins up for grabs.
"I'm upset because it's the second stage that we've lost," said Kulhavy. "There are still four stages left and we're not giving up. We still have a chance, but I'm not sure if I can give tomorrow's stage so much energy. We'll have to wait and see."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full daily coverage of the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race.