Team Songo Investec Specialized’s top men’s and women’s teams will both start Thursday’s crucial Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic in the respective category leader’s jerseys.
Former five-time winner Christoph Sauser has become something of a super mentor to the Investec Songo Specialized riders and was delighted to seen Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts snatch the yellow men’s jerseys and the Annika Langvad/Kate Courtney combination stay in orange.
But he did inject a note of caution: “It is good we have both teams in (the leaders’ jerseys) with quite a bit of time, but everything can be put upside down very quickly – you only borrow the jersey on this race.”
Stage 3’s transition from Robertson to Worcester on Wednesday might have been the longest stage of this year’s race, but with just 1800m of ascent spread over 122km it was also the flattest. Ideal conditions then for the turbo diesel riders like Kulhavy and the marathon maestros Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek (Canyon Topeak). Despite the day’s gruelling puncture-induced efforts – in which Grotts took tremendous strain chasing back the leaders – it was Investec Songo Specialized who piled on the pressure by driving the pace.
As the leaders approached the base of the Pieter’s Express climb, Investec Songo Specialized attacked in what would prove to be the move of the day. Only Canyon Topeak had enough in reserves to board the Czech Express and secure a one-way ticket to HTS Drostdy in Worcester.
“We got the win at the Dimension Data Hotspot (at 17km) and after that we just kept on going. Luckily we had Jaro (Kulhavy) on our side – he’s like a locomotive,” said Lakata.
As happened the previous day, Investec Songo Specialized’s efforts were thwarted by a series of costly punctures. But when it comes to chasing, Jaroslav Kulhavy knows only one speed – full gas. With Grotts in tow the two reduced the gap in a matter of minutes and moved through the Land Rover Technical Terrain together with Canyon Topeak.
With just 15km left to negotiate Howard Grotts got caught out by a sandy stretch that would ultimately gift Canyon Topeak their first stage win of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic – Lakata’s first since 2010.
“It’s insane. How crazy was that? It is really cool to win the stage and I was enjoying it the whole day,” said Lakata.
Lakata went on to praise Kulhavy for his incredible power and the huge effort he put in on the flats. “We are lucky we had him (Jaro) on our side today, he did 80 percent of the work. They (Investec Songo Specialzied) had some flats and Howie (Grotts) was struggling so we got the stage win.”
Despite finishing just over a minute behind Canyon Topeak, Kulhavy and Grotts were able to steal the yellow jersey away from Cannondale Factory Racing. Grotts, who will become the first American to wear yellow at the Absa Cape Epic, said afterwards: “I was suffering like a dog out there. It is probably the most I have ever suffered in any race but it was worth it.”
Investec Songo Specialized lead Cannondale Factory Racing by 2:12 with Canyon Topeak in third, 3:14 off the pace.
In the Women’s category, Investec Songo Specialized maintained their unbeaten record by claiming win number four.
Langvad and Courtney rode away from their rivals with about 40km to go and built a substantial victory of well over five minutes to extend their overall lead to 12 minutes.
Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi and Githa Michiels and a resurgent Ascendis Health’s Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot fought a race-long battle for the runner up spot. Although both teams spent time chasing their rivals, the positions on the bottom steps of the podium were decided on a sprint, with Lüthi and Michiels claiming second, also for the fourth day in a row.
Despite their dominant performance over the Prologue and first three stages, Langvad and Courtney know they can take nothing for granted.
“The thing about this terrain is that it is so rough and you can have mechanicals,” said Langvad.
“On paper it looks like a comfortable lead but you still need to perform solidly because it is so unpredictable and a lot of things can happen out there … near the finish it turned a bit sandy and we wanted to overtake one guy and he just stood still - and we both went flying,” said Langvad, indicating herself and her partner.
|1||Alban Lakata (Aut) / Kristian Hynek (Cze) Canyon Topeak||4:17:14|| |
|2||Jaroslav Kulhavy (Cze) / Howard Grotts (USA) Investec Songo Specialized||0:01:11|| |
|3||Manuel Fumic (Ger) / Henrique Avancini (Bral) Cannondale Factory Racing||0:05:47|| |
|4||Simon Stiebjahn (Ger) / Tim Bomme (Ger) Bulls 2||0:08:30|| |
|5||Nicola Rohrbach (Sui) / Daniel Geismayr (Aut) Centurion Vaude||0:08:34|| |
Overall Standings after stage 3
|1||Jaroslav Kulhavy (Cze) / Howard Grotts (USA) Investec Songo Specialized||13:20:44|| |
|2||Manuel Fumic (Ger) / Henrique Avancini (Bral) Cannondale Factory Racing||0:02:13|| |
|3||Alban Lakata (Aut) / Kristian Hynek (Cze) Canyon Topeak||0:03:15|| |
|4||Nicola Rohrbach (Sui) / Daniel Geismayr (Aut) Centurion Vaude||0:10:38|| |
|5||Francesco Guerra Carretero (Spa) / Luis Leao Pinto (Portugal) Buff Scott MTB||0:14:37|| |
|6||Franz Claes (Bel) / Markus Bauer (Bel) Kulu Manzi Project||0:14:40|| |
|7||Simon Stiebjahn (Ger) / Tim Bomme (Ger) Bulls 2||0:20:40|| |
|8||Fabian Rabensteiner (Ita) / Michele Casagrande (Ita) Trek Selle San Marco 2||0:21:20|| |
|9||Damiano Ferraro (Ita) / Samuele Porro (Ita) Trek Selle San Marco||0:26:20|| |
|10||Miguel Munoz Moreno (Spa) / Enrice Morcillo Vergara (Spa) Buff-Scott MTB 2||0:28:49|| |
|1||Annika Langvad (Den) / Kate Courtney (USA) Investec Songo Specialized ||5:04:32|| |
|2||Ariane Lüthi (Sui) / Githa Michiels (Bel) Spur||0:05:39|| |
|3||Sabine Spitz (Ger) / Robyn De Groot (RSA) Ascendis Health||0:05:43|| |
|4||Mariske Strauss (RSA) / Annie Last (GBr) Silverback - KMC||0:11:45|| |
|5||Margot Moschetti (Fra) / Raiza Goulao (Bra) PMRA/CST Racing||0:15:44|| |
Overall Standings after stage 3
|1||Annika Langvad (Den) / Kate Courtney (USA) Investec Songo Specialized ||15:20:57|| |
|2||Ariane Lüthi (Sui) / Githa Michiels (Bel) Spur||0:12:11|| |
|3||Mariske Strauss (RSA) / Annie Last (GBr) Silverback - KMC||0:24:12|| |
|4||Sabine Spitz (Ger) / Robyn De Groot (RSA) Ascendis Health||0:31:47|| |
|5||Margot Moschetti (Fra) / Raiza Goulao (Bra) PMRA/CST Racing||1:09:32|| |
|6||Carmen Buchacher (Aut) / Samantha Sanders (RSA) Dormakaba||1:10:59|| |
|7||Candice Lill (RSA) / Amy Beth Mcdougall (RSA) Dormakaba||1:18:44|| |
|8||Hielke Elferink (Ned) / Cornelia Hug (Sui) Shimano S-Phyre||2:07:23|| |
|9||Hannele Steyn (RSA) / Jeannie Dreyer (RSA) Rolands Spar Ladies||2:15:16|| |
|10||Sunniva Dring (Nor) / Kristin Aamodt (Nor) Milsluken||2:16:40|| |