All action on brutal Absa Cape Epic Stage 1



Cross-country specialists Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC) continued their blazing assault on the 2017 Absa Cape Epic with another surprise stage win, while in the Hansgrohe Women’s category there was an excellent victory for Esther Suss and Jennie Stenerhag (Meerendal CBC).


Henrique Avancini and Manuel Fumic of Cannonade Factory Racing win stage 1 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Hermanus High School in Hermanus, South Africa on the 20th March 2017

Credit - Absa Cape Epic 

After a strong performance on Stage 1, the Swiss/Swedish combination have opened up a nearly nine-minute overall lead over Ascendis Health’s Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz.


On the 101km Stage 1 route that started and finished at Hermanus High School, Fumic and Avancini raced home in a time of 4:25.35, which means they retain the overall lead and the yellow jersey. They admitted, though, that an unfortunate tumble by Jaroslav Kulhavy with around 5km to go allowed them to cross the line first. 


Second over the line was Christoph Sauser and an incredibly dusty Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized), while third on the day went to Jochen Kaess and Markus Kauffmann (Centurion Vaude).


Fumic, was beaming from ear to ear after another excellent performance. “Our plan was to get to the front and stay there. That way we could control the pace,” he said. “The plan worked very well for us today. It was hot out there, very hot, but we came out on top and are very pleased.”


In the race for the Hansgrohe Women’s category, it was literally blood sweat and tears. At the end of the stage, Stenerhag and Suss had sweated their way to a healthy overall lead over Spitz and De Groot.


The Ascendis Health duo, who started the stage with a 39-second lead after winning the Prologue on Sunday, had a tough day with a mechanical giving their rivals an early advantage, and then just as they started clawing their way back, Spitz fell down a crevice and cut her head badly.


Mariske Strauss and Annie Last (Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro) finished third and are now 13 minutes off the lead, but the big tears were from Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath (Spur) whose hopes of victory seem to have almost certainly disappeared. The pre-race favourites are a massive 23-minutes behind Stenerhag and Suss and after two disappointing days in the saddle do not look to be able to mount any sort of a challenge against the top teams.

“We are now in the lead but so much can happen through the whole race. We must look after ourselves and not worry about the other riders and how they are riding,” said Suss. 


In the tight fight for the Absa African Special Jersey, Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes (PYGA Euro Steel) enjoyed a solid day and crossed the finish line (4:38.14,7) fractionally ahead of HB Kruger and Waylon Woolcock of BCX (4:38.15,3). They now have the overall lead in the category, with BCX breathing down their necks in second. 

“We have the red jersey so that’s good for now. We are just looking to keep it steady for the next few days,” said Buys.


There was drama in the Virgin Active Mixed category with Olympic gold medalist Jenny Rissveds being taken to the medical tent straight after the finish. With partner Thomas Frischneckt (Scott Sram Nextlevel), she had fought back to beat South Africans Grant Usher and Amy Beth McDougall (joBerg2c-Valencia) by just seven seconds in a brutal duel in the heat.


Rissveds crossed the line and then had to be taken to the medical tent by the race medics. Rissveds and Frischneckt now hold a one-minute 51-second lead overall. Johan Labuschagne and Catherine Williamson (RBI Tech-Mitas) are third, 12 minutes behind the leaders.


William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona of Diepsloot MTB Academy lead the race in the battle for the Exxaro Jersey after a stage one time of (5:39.48,5). They finished the first stage with thirteen minutes of daylight between them and second-placed Luyanda Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo (BMT Academy Fairtree). 


In the Dimension Data Masters category, there was a stage win for Tomi Misser and Ibon Zugasti (Orbea Factory). They currently lead the category ahead of Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (CST Sandd American Eagle) in second and Cadel Evans and George Hincapie (BMC Absa Racing Team) in third. 


Barti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg (Meerendal CBC 3) took the stage win for the Grand Masters category. Overall, they lead Greg Anderson and Deon Kruger (Absa Bus Boys) in second and Waleed Baker and Marius Nel (Pitstop1Sport24hrs) in third. 


Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic starts at Hermanus High School and finishes at Elandskloof in Greyton. The stage is a 102km long and has 2350m of climbing.


PYGA Euro Steel grab Absa African Jersey

Rocky roads and sandy singletrack made Stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic both technical and tiring. The tough conditions made it difficult for riders to avoid crashes and mechanical mishaps, yet Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes (PYGA Euro Steel) enjoyed a solid day and crossed the finish line (4:38.14) fractionally ahead of HB Kruger and Waylon Woolcock of BCX (4:38.15) in the tight fight for the Absa African Jersey.

A thirsty Buys said he and Beukes found their race pace relatively easy, but maintaining strength throughout the day became a challenge.

“It was fine for the first half until we got to that major climb at Haarkappersroete, and that’s when we started taking some strain. Once we got to the other side the heat also started to be a major factor.


“I lost one of my bottles and had to stop once to fill up the other, and from there it was just survival along the flat section. We have the Absa African jersey so that’s good for now. We are looking to keep it steady for the next few days,” said Buys.


Ten seconds adrift of PYGA Euro Steel in the overall standings, BCX’s Woolcock says they owe their good fortune to pre-race preparation and staying out of trouble.


“I think we found good momentum because we didn’t face any problems and that’s what we wanted. In a race like this you don’t want to end it on Stage 1 with a serious technical or crash.”


“With a lot of these routes you are able ride here any time of the year, so we came and did some of the climbs, like a lot of other riders did, but I think it gave us the edge in knowing where the climbs were. It helped manage the pressure points and technical descents,” said Woodcock.


Woolcock enjoyed the course but, like Buys, maintains the first stage is one of the toughest of this year’s Epic.

“There is no easy riding apart from the tar road in the beginning, but even that is uphill, so it’s just one of those relentless stages where you don't get any rhythm. There isn’t much district road so it’s all just jeep track and rough farm roads.”


Riding with Kruger as his new partner, Woolcock felt he and his teammate learned valuable lessons about each other after the 101km Stage 1.


“I’ve got a slightly different riding style. I rather force my way into the front and do a little more hard work in the beginning, because that’ll stop that concertina effect through corners and single track. After today I think HB will have seen that trying to boss your way in there helps for the fight in the beginning.”


Woolcock added that they “… are happy, but there is still a long way to go and anything can happen. We will just tick off the days and take it day by day. It’s good to have Stage 1 under the belt because it’s usually the toughest in terms of finding your feet and your form.”


In the race for the Exxaro Special Jersey, Velokhaya/Thesele lost their five-minute stage one lead at the third water point after one of the team had difficulties with dehydration and was unable to continue, giving the lead to Diepsloot MTB Academy.


William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona of Diepsloot MTB Academy now lead that race after a Stage 1 time of (5:39.48). They finished the first stage with a 13-minute lead over second-placed Luyanda Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo (BMT Academy Fairtree).



A tough day in the saddle for Evans, Hincapie … and everybody else 

“I totally underestimated the energy requirements for today and I bonked with about an hour to go. Tonight I am going to eat as if it is Paris Roubaix tomorrow.” 

Those were the words of Tour de France veteran and former road rider George Hincapie of the USA after Monday’s brutal Stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic. 

His partner, former Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, up to his waist in an ice bath, said the conditions had been “very rough, very dry and hot” but he had enjoyed the experience. 

“We had come here prepared to suffer but we were unlucky today,” the Australian said in reference to a puncture suffered by Hincapie when they were leading the Masters category. After losing time with the puncture and Hincapie bonking (that’s cyclespeak for a major energy loss) they finished third in the category. 

Hincapie also had a fall on “my longest day on a mountain bike by far” and was sporting a bandage on his arm later in the day. 

With the temperature spiking into the mid-30s in Hermanus there was no shortage of Absa Cape Epic riders who found the going very tough on Stage 1. 

The first high-profile casualty was Rio Olympics gold medalist Jenny Rissveds of Sweden, who went straight off to the medics for treatment after winning the stage and retaining the overall lead in the Virgin Active Mixed category. She is riding with her manager Thomas Frischknecht. 

The organisers were doing what they could to help with ice-cold, wet hand towels given to each rider as they crossed the line, but there were still plenty of them struggling to get their core body temperatures down after the finish. 

One team that was not overly concerned about the heat was the Land Rover 5 team of Mboneni Ngcobo and Sthembiso Masango, who are part of the RMB Change a Life Academy squad and who enjoyed a superb day, currently lying 66th overall. 

“We managed to find some good pace out there, but I think we had a huge advantage because we come from KZN and the conditions we had today are quite similar to what we have there,” said Ngcobo, who is used to training in the hot, humid conditions around Durban. 

The two 28-year-olds are both riding the Epic for the first time, but Ngcobo has some experience of long stage races after finishing fourth overall in the joBerg2c race in 2016 and finished with a couple of top-three stage finishes on that nine-day event. 

“The Epic is a different race altogether. I think I learned a lot today,” added Ngcobo. “It’s very rough to ride this route and there was a long section full of rocks. 

We made up some good time in the final few kilometres because it was quite flat – so it’s a great place to recover because most of the way seems to be just climbing.” 


*The 2017 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race is taking place until Sunday 26 March. Watch the action live on our website