2018 Absa Cape Epic: A battle royal on the Queen Stage

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Kate Courtney and Annika Langvad win stage 4 of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from HTS Drostdy in Worcester to Huguenot High School in Wellington, South Africa on the 22nd March 2018Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICSPLEASE ENSURE THE APPROPRIATE CREDIT IS GIVEN TO THE PHOTOGRAPHER AND SPORTZPICS ALONG WITH THE ABSA CAPE EPIC{ace2018}

2018 Absa Cape Epic: A battle royal on the Queen Stage

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Investec Songo Specialized teams cement their leads in “super brutal” stage.
The “super brutal” Queen Stage on Thursday duly delivered a battle royal for supremacy in the Men’s category race and a gift to women’s leader Annika Langvad on her birthday.
But the drama began even before the starting gun when Team Spurs’ gutsy Githa Michiels, lying second in the Women’s category with Ariane Luthi, had to pull out with a fever shortly before the race was due to begin.
That left Langvad and partner Kate Courtney (Investec Songo Specialized) with a comfortable lead in the women’s race and they duly extended it.
After a solitary night in Worcester, the race transitioned to Wellington via the testing 113km/1800m Stage 4.
In the Men’s category, Cannondale Factory Racing’s Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini were on a mission to rectify their tactical mistakes on Stage 3, when they relinquished their lead and yellow jersey to Investec Songo Specialized.
Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek (Canyon Topeak) pushed the pace of the leading pack early in the stage in a ploy to hurt Howard Grotts of Investec Songo Specialized. It worked – and Grotts, the first American to wear the yellow zebra jersey, had no choice but to call on his powerful partner, Jaroslav Kulhavy, for assistance.
“I only had one speed out there today, so it was very tough for me but Jaroslav (Kulhavy) was helpful, riding at my pace,” said Grotts.
Prologue winners Daniel Geismayr and Nicola Rohrbach (Centurion Vaude) showed their objectives early by taking the Dimension Data Hotspot but their efforts were short lived after multiple attacks from Cannondale put them as well as Centurion Vaude, BULLS 1 and 2, Buff Scott MTB and Investec Songo Specialized in the hurt box.

Nicola Rohrbach and Daniel Geismayr of Team Centurian Vaude win stage 4 of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from HTS Drostdy in Worcester to Huguenot High School in Wellington, South Africa on the 22nd March 2018
Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

“We felt good. After Stage 3 we wanted to show our strength in the technical terrain,” said Fumic.
A telling move came at the 60km marker where Cannondale attacked in the Land Rover Technical Terrain Section, the Slanghoek Traverse. The two used their cross-country skills to gain a 40 second advantage over the yellow jersey group. Avancini was relishing the terrain and, with Fumic in tow, were able to increase their gap by a further 20 seconds heading into Water Point 3 at 67km.
For the third stage in a row Investec Songo Specialized suffered a puncture, with Canyon Topeak suffering a similar fate. Holding on to their yellow jerseys looked highly unlikely, but Czech Express Kulhavy had other plans.
Cannondale Factory Racing continued their assault up the loose and sandy “Thudbuster” climb consolidating a three-minute lead with Centurion Vaude, Buff Scott MTB and BULLS 1 a further 20 seconds adrift.
With Cannondale up the road, Centurion Vaude made an attack of their own at the base of Bain’s Kloof Pass, which would prove to be the move of the day. They reeled-in the Cannondale boys, who were experiencing some mechanical issues of their own, and attacked just before the summit.
“Cannondale Factory Racing pushed really hard in the technical sections and we were behind in the rocky singletrack. Jaroslav (Kulhavy) had some issues and we took the lead from the chasing group and we got away, said Rohrbach. “And when we reached the asphalt of Bain’s Kloof Pass we pushed really hard. When the climb kicked up we closed the gap on Cannondale Factory Racing and attacked.”
Fumic and Avancini would lose even more time and any hopes of regaining the yellow jersey on the day after a string of untimely mechanicals. The Investec Songo Specialized Express, driven by Jaroslav Kulhavy, fought back strongly with Buff Scott MTB’s Francesc Carretero/Luis Pinto and Karl Platt/ Urs Huber (BULLS) following on their heels. After a sizeable lead Cannondale Factory Racing were lingering in fifth place.
Despite the late charge by Investec Songo Specialized, Centurion Vaude took the spoils, sending a warning to their rivals in the process.
 “We really wanted to win today – especially after the disappointment of yesterday,” said Geismayr. “We went for it and it paid off for us. We’re still in this race.”
There were no changes in the top five on the general classification: Investec Songo Specialized leads followed by Cannondale Factory Racing, Canyon Topeak, Centurion Vaude and darkhorse team Buff Scott MTB.
PYGA Euro Steel continued their superb run of form in the Absa African Men’s special jersey race with a well-earned victory ahead of Marco Joubert and Dylan Rebello (Imbuko Momsen) and Timothy Hammond and Arno Du Toit (SPOT Africa). The win puts them 3.28,7 clear of Ellsworth-ASG on the general classification with SPOT Africa rounding off the top three.
Langvad celebrated her birthday by winning what she called a “super brutal” stage and extended Team Investec Songo Specialized’s lead in the Women’s category to a near unassailable 32 minutes.
The Investec Songo Specialized pair broke away early on the 113km stage from Worcester to Wellington as their rivals let them ride off the front. By the time they reached the finish Langvad and Courtney could celebrate a win of over eight minutes over Mariske Strauss and Annie Last (Silverback-KMC), with Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) just more than a minute further back.
It is hard to see Langvad and Courtney not being crowned the 2018 champions when the race finishes at Val de Vie Estate on Sunday, but the leaders refuse to concede that their victory is finalised.
“Day by day it looks better and better, but we are not going to jinx anything because we know that even a tiny little issue can cause a lot of problems,” said Langvad after crossing the line.
“It was a really tough birthday present to myself. That was the hardest day out there so far this year. It was brutal – super brutal.”
“We heard about Githa at the start and obviously that is such a bummer. You never want to see your competition taken out by something so horrible and so unfair,” said Courtney.
The real battle in the Women’s category is now to decide the positions of the bottom steps of the podium, with Strauss and Last now holding a nine-minute advantage over De Groot and Spitz.
“Tomorrow is going to be hard,” said Strauss after they finished second. “But at least we can do our own thing and don’t have to worry about people around us. Like we saw last year, and this morning with Githa, anything can happen so you have to keep chiselling away at the big block and see what happens.”
Meanwhile, Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (CST Sandd A. Eagle AAZ) made full use of the misfortune that struck leaders Massimo Debertolis and Ondrej Fojtik (Wilier Force 7C 2) on the stage to claim the blue jersey as leaders in the Dimension Data Masters category.
Starting the day, Brentjens and Azevedo – who have won this category three times as a team and once more each with other partners – were a massive 18 minutes off the pace in third position.
By the end hey had overturned that deficit and go into Friday’s 39km time-trial with a solid eight minute lead over Debertolis and Fojtik, with the Australian pair of Brad Clarke and Rohin Adams (Mornington Cycles / TRush ) just 24 seconds further back.
While Brentjens and Azevedo enjoyed a near-perfect ride into Wellington, Debertolis and Fojtik had to struggle with punctures throughout the stage. Debertolis eventually finished with his tyre cable-tied to the rim after they were finally unable to re-inflate it.
“There are three more stages and we will fight for the blue jersey again,” said Fojtik.
The overnight leaders were not the only ones who struggled with punctures. Nic Lamond from team Podium-Today’s Plan also suffered and he and partner Paris Basson had to work extra hard to catch their rivals.
Former professional road stars Hincapie and Vande Velde are lying fourth in the Dimension Data Masters category with Lamond and Basson four minutes behind them in fifth.
In the Grand Masters category, Rob Sim and Udo Boelts (Robert Daniel) reasserted their authority after losing a huge chunk of time with mechanical issues on Stage 3 on Wednesday.
“That was a hell of a lot better than yesterday,” said Sim with a smile on his face after crossing the line almost 10 minutes ahead of second placed Barti Bucher and Hans Juerg Gerber (Meerendal CBC 2), who won Wednesday’s stage.
Sim and Boelts are now 19 minutes ahead of Bucher and Gerber with Andrew Mclean and Joel Stransky (Cycle Lab KTM) third, 37 minutes further behind.
In the race for the Exxaro special jersey Lucky Mlangeni was also celebrating his birthday and did so by dominating the stage with partner Tshepo Tlou (Exxaro/PWC 1).
It was the fifth stage win in a row for Mlangeni and Tlous, who extended their overall lead to 45 minutes over Luyanda Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo (BMT Fairtree Academy), who were second on the stage.
Nicky Giliomee and Brennan Anderson (Journey by Junto) took their second stage win in two days to move into the overall lead of the Virgin Active Mixed category. They are now almost 28 minutes ahead of the Team Merida Argentina pair of Agustina Maria Apaza and Cesar Lettoli, who finished third for the second day, having dominated early on, winning the first three stages.
*Friday sees the competitors ride the second time-trial of this year’s Absa Cape Epic. The lumpy profile of Friday’s 39km race against the clock route – which loops out and back from the Wellington race village – suggests that big chunks of time can be won and lost if somebody is struggling.
Source: Absa Cape Epic 
Photos: Nick Muzik & Sam Clark

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