Cape Epic stage one winners ride into yellow

Sauser and Stander get candid about their stage win

By Nic Lamond in George

"The first hour was hard, I always struggle at the Absa Cape Epic when it's cold early. I'm normally still in bed at 7:00 am. And your race face is not on, too." With his face down on a massage table, Team's Christoph Sauser admitted that he's no morning person. He was having his legs massaged and body primed for another day in the saddle, but he had packed his race face safely away for when he'd need it Sunday.

Sauser was getting a vigorous massage that looked like it might have been more painful than the 123km stage one, with its more than 3,000m of climbing – all of which he had endured earlier in the day. His physio was working his legs like a child moulding a plasticine ball.

The Swiss maestro had managed to fend off countless attacks and simultaneously coach his young South African riding partner, Bury Stander to victory in stage one of the Cape Epic, also taking the overall leaders' jersey in the process.

Sauser has adapted to the draining heat and beating sun of Africa well, freely admitting that the sun gives him the lift he needs when the racing intensity increases as the day wears on. "When the sun comes out and warms up my legs, and the finish line comes closer," said Sauser, "then I get really excited and I don't feel the legs any more. Overall my body gets into a really good rhythm. That's when I start to feel really good."

That's also when he and Stander finally broke clear of the competition Saturday, at around four hours into the race. "When we broke away with Cannondale Vredestein earlier in the day, [Jakob] Fuglsang went really hard on the one climb and Roel [Paulissen] completely blew. Obviously Fuglsang rode his team-mate into the ground, while we just kept on going steady.

"We just said that if someone catches us, they catch us: it's still a long way to go for the next 800km." The casual approach to matching the pace of the energetic Cannondale Vredestein team paid off for Sauser and Stander, as they pulled clear of the field and crossed the line at the spectacular Saasveld Campus in first. "We managed to get into the leaders' jerseys and win the stage, so an awesome day!" Sauser said.

Stander, too, was surprised by the way they secured the win. "You know, we didn't really attack. We just kept it steady and guys just dropped."

Sauser heaped praise on Stander's effort, "He is so talented. Especially in the head. He cramped at the end, and when he finished he just said, 'Tomorrow I'll be fine again! No more cramps. He is not afraid to ride with me… and I like it."

But what happened to the South Africans Kevin Evans and David George of Team MTN who donned the leaders' jersey after Friday's impressive prologue ride? According to Stander, the first two hours of the day belonged to MTN. No one could follow. The lead bunch regrouped and fell apart numerous times then regrouped again. Sauser reckons he felt the strength of the other teams begin to wane with the repeated attacks, "The Bulls and eventually MTN struggled after that. And that's when Fuglsang and myself went really hard."

Stander said he and Sauser did not plan the victory: "During the stage, we didn't think about the result much but towards the end I could see that we were both going really well, and riding better and better toward the finish. And things just worked out…" At around 100km a steep and eroded jeep tracked wound into the forest, and the pair was the only ones left pedalling for glory. In their wake were the blown legs and bodies – casualties of the day's battles.

Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm of Team Bulls salvaged an impressive second place only 30 seconds behind the winners while Cannondale Vredestein's Paulissen and Fuglsang limped home 10 minutes behind the leaders. MTN finished 27 minutes back after Evans fell sick following the second water point. He somehow managed to finish the race, with the assistance of George, who pulled him by his jersey for the final 30km.

See full coverage of stage one of the Absa Cape Epic.

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