Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess (Team Centurion-Vaude) survived a brutal 113km opening stage of the Cape Epic to notch up a telling win as several top contenders suffered setbacks.
The Germans finished in 4:42:50, two minutes ahead of a sprinting group of five teams led home by Switzerland's four-time Epic winner Christoph Sauser and his Czech teammate Frantisek Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized).
The course took the riders through rain in a loop, starting and finishing in Robertson, over some of the most rugged terrain in the Western Cape and up three brutal climbs. All of the top teams had problems during the day, ranging from punctures and mechanical problems to crashes and illness.
Several teams who had an eye on the men's category podium were set back - among them favourites Karl Platt, from Germany, and Swiss teammate Urs Huber (Bulls), who slipped into seventh place overall and are five minutes off the pace, with fears that Huber may be getting ill.
But biggest setback of the day probably befell Spaniard Jose Hermida and his Dutch partner Rudi van Houts (Team Multivan Merida), who had won Sunday's prologue but finished more than one hour and 15 minutes off the pace yesterday. Hermida fell victim to stomach problems overnight and struggled throughout.
In the women's even, pre-race favourites and prologue winners Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad had a disastrous day with a series of punctures and problems and fell 25 minutes off the pace.
Kaufmann and Kaess - who came into the Epic unheralded - survived a flat tyre and a fall to eventually pull away near the end of the stage. "It was really crazy - every team had a problem," said Kaufmann afterwards.
With 50km to go, six teams had regrouped and were racing for the win, but then each of their rivals picked up problems.
"We had problems and the other guys had problems - but in the end we won it and we are very happy," said Kaess. “All the teams had problems today including flat tyres and other mechanical problems. Luckily ours wasn’t that big, so we were able to repair it fast. Like always, stage 1 was really hard - especially with all the climbs and loose gravel. We had top 5 as our minimum goal and now that we’re in the overall lead, the top 3 is what we want. But we’re a long way from the finish.
Moving ominously up the field, after finishing second yesterday, are Sauser and Rabon, who were two minutes behind the leaders in spite of having two punctures themselves. Sauser has won the race four times and yesterday's result moves them into third overall.
"I believe we are one of the favourites now, if not the favourites," said Sauser. "The route is going to favour us more and more from now." He pointed to the long 134km stage 3 from Robertson to Greyton on Wednesday as one where he and Rabon - who has what his fellow professionals like to call a "big engine" - could profit. The Czech, relatively new to mountain biking from a professional road riding career, said "we showed today we can fight back even if the luck was not on our side".
Rabon said, “I have some experience in Grand Tours but I’ve never experienced anything like this. It was crazy out there! We had a puncture and had to chase back like crazy. And then we punctured again. Chased again! I went flat out today. Everything that happened today was incredible. We’re fighting for podium.”
Sauser said, "At the start of today I was afraid because I wasn’t sure how Franti was going to react. But he showed how strong he is. He might be getting stronger and stronger while others will get weaker I think.”
Second overall, and third yesterday in a sprint finish with Sauser and Rabon, are Team BMC's Lukas Fluckiger and Martin Fanger (both Swiss).
A scary incident for Hermida
Race leaders Hermida and Rudi van Houts of the Multivan Merida Biking had a day to forget in the saddle as they lost over lost an hour on the stage. Hermida suffered from anaphylactic shock during the stage was almost forced to abandon the race.
Hermida and van Houts had been in high spirits having won the prologue of the Cape Epic and looked like holding onto their advantage.
"I started to feel cold and to sweat a lot more than normal. From there my condition was worsening quickly, and after about 50km I found myself lying on the ground with a fever and cramps in both legs," Hermida said.
Teammate van Houts realised how bad Hermida's condition really was and the Dutchman convinced him to turn around and roll back to a first aid post that they had passed at which Hermida was then diagnosed as suffering from an anaphylactic shock due to an allergy to some dried fruits.
The Spaniard was ordered to rest for around 40 minutes and drink as much water as he possibly could. When his condition started to improve, Hermida got back into the saddle with the duo finihsing 1 hour and 16 minutes after the winners Kaufmann and Kaess.
"I really have to thank Rudi: He was the first to realise how bad my condition was, and he did not hesitate for a second in putting any sportive ambitions behind my health regarding the priorities. He even proposed that we might as well give up," Hermida said. "And when we were struggling to get to the finish, he kept on talking to me and motivating me."
"Without him at my side, this could have ended way worse. Rudi is the true number one in this team, and I owe him a lot," Hermida said having recovered from the worse of the shock.
The women's race also gave rise to high drama. Kleinhans (Swiss) and Langvad (Danish) vowed to carry on fighting after their difficult day. "It was an awful day. We had punctures the whole time. And every time we fixed it we had to fight our way back. Just to get another puncture. It was horrible," said Langvad.
They eventually finished third but are nearly 25 minutes behind yesterday's winner, Briton Sally Bigham and Swiss Esther Suss (Meerendal), who finished in 5:24:32. "It's always nice to win a stage, and to win a stage and take the overall lead is special," said Bigham. "I want to beat someone because I am the strongest not because the other team had troubles, but I guess it's all part of the Epic," she added.
Cape Brewing Company's Jennie Stenerhag of Sweden and Theresa Ralph of South Africa took advantage of RECM's problems to move up into second place but are 16 minutes behind the leaders.
Last night riders would have gone to bed with one eye on the heavens. Although Tuesday's 101km stage was billed as being easier than Monday, the weatherman had been predicting significant downpours overnight - which could make for another testing day.
Shan Wilson and Adrian Enthoven of Definitive Bikes won the masters category in a time of 5:25:32. They were followed by Pascal de Kort and Bart van de Water (Technofit) in 5:29.57. In third place were the Pragma Teahmo team of Leon Erasmus and Dennis du Toit in 5:37:52. They were followed by Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo of Betch.nl Superior Meerendal in 5:40:48. Brentjens and Azevedo are placed third in this category with an overall time of 6:49:40. Wilson and Enthoven lead the category by 7:08.
Wilson said, "This was so hard and broke me again and again and again. It was a really tough stage and I'm happy with our win. To pull of a win was not what I expected. We had problems along the way, so to win was great."
Enthoven said, "It was a hard stage. The middle section took so much energy. We managed to control our problems and I'm happy with our win."
Andrew Mclean and Heinz Zoerweg of Cycle Lab Toyota again finished in first place in the grand masters in a time of 5:09:21. They were followed by Bärti Bucher and Doug Brown of Meerendal Songo Specialized 4 in 5:21:14 with team Absa Grand Masters of Eben Espach and Corrie Muller in third place in 5:38:57. Mclean and Zoerweg lead the category by 12:25.
According to Mclean, their team had absolutely no problems. "We had a good, hard stage and are happy to keep the lead. We enjoy riding together and hope to keep going like this.:
Brown said, "Phew! So hard and tough. I’m still enjoying riding with Bärti. There were some big climbs. It’s a stage worthy of a Cape Epic blazer!"
Team Synergy's Yannick Lincoln and Aurelie Halbwachs of Mauritius won the mixed category in 5:47:52, followed by Tom Janas and Bettina Uhlig (Sportograf.com - BQ Cycling) in 5:50:12. In third place were Theo Blignaut and Cherise Stander of RECM Mixed in 5:53:48. Synergy’s Lincoln and Halbwachs lead the category by 1:34
Halbwachs said, "You know beforehand how hard it’s going to be but it still surprises you. It was so tough. I'm thankful for the rain because I don’t like the heat. We never expected to win a stage. We actually had no idea what our position was."
Lincoln said, "We didn’t want to overdo it at the start. We worked so well together. I was amazed when I realised we won."
Janas of Sportograf.com - BQ Cycling said, "I had a nasty crash and hurt my shoulder. This second place belongs to my partner. She was amazing."
The African special jersey was won by Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock of team Cannondale Blend (overall 5:49.17,9).
Woolcock said, "All the teams went to the dark side at one stage today for sure. Everyone had his or her fair share of bad luck. We managed our problems and kept a consistent pace. It’s important to be at the front but there are still six days to go, so we had to make sure we don’t kill ourselves in an effort to stay with the leaders."
Stage 2: Robertson to Robertson (103km, 1550m of climbing)
After the rude awakening of stage 1, stage 2 will be far gentler. The day will once again start off fast, including some amazing singletrack riding, before visiting the quaint village of McGregor with its well-preserved 19th century architecture. Water point 2 right in the main road promises a festival atmosphere where the warm hospitality of the Langeberg region is sure to lift the spirits. Speeds increase as district roads head deep into the unspoiled expanses of this rugged and striking landscape of red sandstone and underlying shale formations. The hardest climb of the day, Neil’s Folly, awaits around the 75km mark, but riders will get to enjoy some wonderful sections of the day’s characteristic flowing semi-desert Karoo trails, before descending into the lush Breede River Valley, and home to Arabella Wines.
|1||Markus Kaufmann (Ger) and Jochen Kaess (Ger) Centurion-Vaude||4:42:50|
|2||Christoph Sauser (Swi) and Frantisek Rabon (Cze) Meerendal Songo Specialized||0:01:59|
|3||Lukas Fluckiger (Swi) and Martin Fanger (Swi) BMC Mountainbike Racing|
|4||Tim Boehme (Ger) and Simon Stiebjahn (Ger) Bulls 2|
|5||Konny Looser (Swi) and Hannes Genze (Ger) Meerendal Centurion Wheeler|
|6||Darren Lill (RSA) and Waylon Woolcock (RSA) Cannondale Blend||0:02:01|
|7||Karl Platt (Ger) and Urs Huber (Swi) Bulls||0:04:10|
|8||Robert Mennen (Ger) and Kristian Hynek (Cze) Topeak-Ergon Racing||0:07:29|
|9||Stefan Sahm (Ger) and Thomas Dietsch (Fra) Bulls 3||0:11:38|
|10||Roel Paulissen (Bel) and Riccardo Chiarini (Ita) Torpado Factory||0:12:11|
|1||Esther Suss (Swi) and Sally Bigham (GBr) Meerendal||5:24:31|
|2||Jennie Stenerhag (Swe) and Theresa Ralph (RSA) Cape Brewing Company||0:16:11|
|3||Ariane Kleinhans (Swi) and Annika Langvad (Den) RECM 2||0:24:49|
|4||Milena Landtwing (Swi) and Hielke Elferink (Ned) Meerendal Wheeler||0:29:47|
|5||Sara Mertens (Bel) and Laura Turpin (Ned) Meerendal Wheeler 2||0:30:43|
|6||Ischen Stopforth (RSA) and Yolande de Villiers (RSA) SasolRacing||0:32:29|
|7||Yolandi du Toit (RSA) and Leana de Jager (RSA) SasolRacing 2||0:52:54|
|8||Hanlie Booyens (RSA) and Mariske Strauss (RSA) Pragma Orange Monkey||0:56:59|
|9||Tanya Rabie (RSA) and Nicola Walker (RSA) Woolworths In2Food||1:13:36|
|10||Ann Harrison (RSA) and Marleen Lourens (RSA) Dawn Wing-Momsen||1:14:38|
|1||Yannick Lincoln (Mau) and Aurelie Halbwachs (Mau) Synergy||5:47:51|
|2||Tom Janas (Ger) and Bettina Uhlig (Ger) Sportograf.com - BQ Cycling||0:02:21|
|3||Cherise Stander (RSA) and Theo Blignaut (RSA) RECM Mixed||0:05:57|
|4||Peter Vesel (Slo) and Anni Hellstern (Ger) ETIS||0:09:49|
|5||Gal Tsachor (Isr) and Idit Shub (Isr) Trek Israel||0:20:43|
|6||Nizaam Essa (RSA) and Christina Kollman (Aut) Asrin Cycling||0:35:30|
|7||Pablo Rodriguez (Arg) and Lolita van Aardt (RSA) Orphans Africa MTB||0:36:04|
|8||Henning Blaauw (RSA) and Louise Ferreira (RSA) Globefight||0:41:55|
|9||Sabina Compassi (Swi) and Paul Buhler (Swi) Meerendal Songo Specialized 8||0:43:05|
|10||Sophie van Biervliet (Bel) and Jan Stockman (Bel) 't Velootje||0:43:36|
|1||Shan Wilson (RSA) and Adrian Enthoven (RSA) Definitive Bikes||5:25:32|
|2||Pascal de Kort (Bel) and Bart van de Water (Bel) Technofit||0:04:25|
|3||Leon Erasmus (RSA) and Dennis du Toit (RSA) Pragma Teahmo||0:12:19|
|4||Bart Brentjens (Ned) and Abraao Azevedo (Bra) Betch.nl Superior Meerendal||0:15:15|
|5||Lucas McDowall (RSA) and Lionel Murray (RSA) Freewheel Cyclology||0:16:56|
|6||Richard Lurie (RSA) and Leendert Lorenzen (RSA) Eurocasa||0:21:06|
|7||Robert Enthoven (RSA) and Edward Nicholson (GBr) Nando's||0:24:46|
|8||John Swanepoel (RSA) and Noel Droomer (RSA) Cornerstone Cycles||0:25:39|
|9||Igna de Villiers (RSA) and Pierre Griffioen (RSA) LGE-Midas-DWR||0:27:47|
|10||Udo Boelts (Ger) and Lothar Leder (Ger) Juwi Fox||0:28:14|
|1||Andrew Mclean (RSA) and Heinz Zoerweg (Aut) Cycle Lab Toyota||5:09:21|
|2||Barti Bucher (Swi) and Doug Brown (RSA) Meerendal Songo Specialized 4||0:11:53|
|3||Eben Espach (RSA) and Corrie Muller (RSA) Absa Grand Masters||0:29:36|
|4||William Werthheim Aymes (RSA) and Greg Anderson (RSA) NUK Orthodontic||0:40:52|
|5||Waleed Baker (RSA) and Glen Haw (RSA) Pitstop||0:51:47|
|6||Lieb Loots (RSA) and Izak Visagie (RSA) Pragma Nampak||0:57:46|
|7||Thomas Dooley (USA) and Mike Hogan (USA) Kappius / Sir Richards||1:05:41|
|8||Thomas Pribyl (Cze) and Jaroslav Senk (Cze) Author Masters||1:17:20|
|9||Ivar Tollefsen (Nor) and Trond Hilde (Nor) Gutta Boyz||1:24:45|
|10||Otta Matousek (Cze) and Ales Kilnar (Cze) Itchampions||1:26:31|
|1||Markus Kaufmann (Ger) and Jochen Kaess (Ger) Centurion-Vaude||5:43:28|
|2||Lukas Fluckiger (Swi) and Martin Fanger (Swi) BMC Mountainbike Racing||0:00:41|
|3||Christoph Sauser (Swi) and Frantisek Rabon (Cze) Meerendal Songo Specialized||0:03:43|
|4||Tim Boehme (Ger) and Simon Stiebjahn (Ger) Bulls 2||0:04:07|
|5||Konny Looser (Swi) and Hannes Genze (Ger) Meerendal Centurion Wheeler||0:04:17|
|6||Karl Platt (Ger) and Urs Huber (Swi) Bulls||0:04:45|
|7||Darren Lill (RSA) and Waylon Woolcock (RSA) Cannondale Blend||0:05:49|
|8||Robert Mennen (Ger) and Kristian Hynek (Cze) Topeak-Ergon Racing||0:07:20|
|9||Nino Schurter (Swi) and Philip Buys (RSA) Scott-Odlo MTB Racing||0:12:50|
|10||Roel Paulissen (Bel) and Riccardo Chiarini (Ita) Torpado Factory||0:13:36|
|1||Esther Suss (Swi) and Sally Bigham (GBr) Meerendal||6:36:48|
|2||Jennie Stenerhag (Swe) and Theresa Ralph (RSA) Cape Brewing Company||0:19:38|
|3||Ariane Kleinhans (Swi) and Annika Langvad (Den) RECM 2||0:22:39|
|4||Milena Landtwing (Swi) and Hielke Elferink (Ned) Meerendal Wheeler||0:33:43|
|5||Ischen Stopforth (RSA) and Yolande de Villiers (RSA) SasolRacing||0:39:25|
|6||Sara Mertens (Bel) and Laura Turpin (Ned) Meerendal Wheeler 2||0:42:04|
|7||Yolandi du Toit (RSA) and Leana de Jager (RSA) SasolRacing 2||1:02:48|
|8||Hanlie Booyens (RSA) and Mariske Strauss (RSA) Pragma Orange Monkey||1:05:47|
|9||Tanya Rabie (RSA) and Nicola Walker (RSA) Woolworths In2Food||1:25:42|
|10||Ann Harrison (RSA) and Marleen Lourens (RSA) Dawn Wing-Momsen||1:26:51|
|1||Yannick Lincoln (Mau) and Aurelie Halbwachs (Mau) Synergy||7:07:43|
|2||Tom Janas (Ger) and Bettina Uhlig (Ger) Sportograf.com - BQ Cycling||0:01:34|
|3||Cherise Stander (RSA) and Theo Blignaut (RSA) RECM Mixed||0:04:00|
|4||Peter Vesel (Slo) and Anni Hellstern (Ger) ETIS||0:05:41|
|5||Gal Tsachor (Isr) and Idit Shub (Isr) Trek Israel||0:23:07|
|6||Pablo Rodriguez (Arg) and Lolita van Aardt (RSA) Orphans Africa MTB||0:38:06|
|7||Nizaam Essa (RSA) and Christina Kollman (Aut) Asrin Cycling||0:41:57|
|8||Sabina Compassi (Swi) and Paul Buhler (Swi) Meerendal Songo Specialized 8||0:49:35|
|9||Henning Blaauw (RSA) and Louise Ferreira (RSA) Globefight||0:50:12|
|10||Sophie van Biervliet (Bel) and Jan Stockman (Bel) 't Velootje||0:53:52|
|1||Shan Wilson (RSA) and Adrian Enthoven (RSA) Definitive Bikes||6:36:16|
|2||Pascal de Kort (Bel) and Bart van de Water (Bel) Technofit||0:07:08|
|3||Bart Brentjens (Ned) and Abraao Azevedo (Bra) Betch.nl Superior Meerendal||0:13:24|
|4||Leon Erasmus (RSA) and Dennis du Toit (RSA) Pragma Teahmo||0:16:12|
|5||Richard Lurie (RSA) and Leendert Lorenzen (RSA) Eurocasa||0:25:26|
|6||Rory Mapston (RSA) and Rex Benson (RSA) CHIC Foundation||0:35:12|
|7||Andy Davies (GBr) and Marius Nel (RSA) Pragma BikePlus||0:35:47|
|8||Igna de Villiers (RSA) and Pierre Griffioen (RSA) LGE-Midas-DWR||0:35:58|
|9||Robert Enthoven (RSA) and Edward Nicholson (GBr) Nando's||0:36:21|
|10||Udo Boelts (Ger) and Lothar Leder (Ger) Juwi Fox||0:37:57|
|1||Andrew Mclean (RSA) and Heinz Zoerweg (Aut) Cycle Lab Toyota||6:18:27|
|2||Barti Bucher (Swi) and Doug Brown (RSA) Meerendal Songo Specialized 4||0:12:25|
|3||Eben Espach (RSA) and Corrie Muller (RSA) Absa Grand Masters||0:34:49|
|4||William Werthheim Aymes (RSA) and Greg Anderson (RSA) NUK Orthodontic||0:52:11|
|5||Lieb Loots (RSA) and Izak Visagie (RSA) Pragma Nampak||1:04:24|
|6||Waleed Baker (RSA) and Glen Haw (RSA) Pitstop||1:06:48|
|7||Thomas Dooley (USA) and Mike Hogan (USA) Kappius / Sir Richards||1:11:46|
|8||Ivar Tollefsen (Nor) and Trond Hilde (Nor) Gutta Boyz||1:39:29|
|9||Otta Matousek (Cze) and Ales Kilnar (Cze) Itchampions||1:43:48|
|10||Thomas Pribyl (Cze) and Jaroslav Senk (Cze) Author Masters||1:45:24|