Notes from the best Epic yet…

The 2014 ABSA Cape Epic has been one for the history books. From the race for five between Karl Platt and Christoph Sauser, and the equal prize money for the women in the build-up, to the ever changing lead in the early phases of the race all made the 2014 Epic the best yet.

Absa Cape Epic 2014 Stage 7 Elgin to Somerset West

It kicked off with the prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate on Sunday the 23rd of March. The pros and age group category favourites raced for the stage win and the right to start in the various leaders’ jerseys, while the normal riders rode to conserve their energy for the notorious stage one. In the elite men’s race the Multivan Merida Biking duo of Jose Hermida and Rudi van Houts claimed the prologue win, while in the ladies race; RECM’s Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad overcame Langvad’s dramatic crash down the stairs of the Meerendal manor house to claim the victory.

Stage one was set to be a dramatic day of suffering for all. In 2013 Dr Evil tested the worth of every rider in the field to take on the ABSA Cape Epic with a day of sand in the mountains of Citrusdal. In 2014 the good doctor topped the misery induced by thick sand by leading the field through a sea of thorns and sharp climbs (the climbs weren’t part of the sea – it’s a mixed metaphor). The thorns played havoc with the race favourites, with the RECM ladies puncturing three times and losing nearly 25 minutes on their Meerendal sponsored rivals, Esther Suss and Sally Bigham. In the men’s race RECM’s Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell worked exceptionally hard to limit the losses of Meerendal-Songo-Specialized’s Christoph Sauser and Frantisek Rabon, eventually riding them into a position to claim second on the day.

 Absa Cape Epic 2014 Stage 2 Robertson

Line honours and the yellow jerseys went to Centurion-Vaude on the day, with the first incident of the ‘curse of the yellow jersey’ striking Multivan Merida’s race hopes down. Jose Hermida suffered a suspected allergic reaction which ended his hopes of victory and nearly ended his race entirely.

Stage two was meant to be an easier day, but Mother Nature and a mean cut-off low pressure system battering the Cape had other ideas. Torrential rain throughout the night turned the red dust of the Breede River Valley into near impassable mud baths. Centurion-Vaude were struck down by the ‘curse’ when they broke a frame and RECM’s ladies showed their class by taking nearly nine minutes out of their Meerendal rivals. Stage two also saw the emergence of Topeak-Ergon Racing at the head of the field. Topeak’s Robert Mennen and Kristian Hynek claimed the stage win while the second placed Team Bulls duo, of Karl Platt and Urs Huber, inherited the yellow jerseys from unfortunate Centurion, but not without doing themselves some damage in the process. Early on stage two Platt crashed hard on his knee and sustained an injury which would eventually end his race.

 Absa Cape Epic 2014 Stage 7 Elgin to Somerset West

After the rain of stage two the sun came out for stage three and the race left the Breede River Valley traversing the Sonderend Mountains on its way to the Oaks Estate in Greyton. With the stage billed as a roadie stage Meerendal-Songo-Specialized were buoyed by Rabon’s dominance on a day where the Team Bulls, in yellow couldn’t keep up with the pace. Platt’s knee was in pain and the ‘curse’ had stuck again. Meerendal-Songo-Specialized claimed the stage victory, with Topeak-Ergon Racing inheriting the cursed yellow jerseys and the RECM ladies clawing back a meagre two minutes from Suss and Bigham of Meerendal on a day that didn’t allow Kleinhans and Langvad to show their strength.

Stage four offered the slower riders in the field a chance to enjoy the race for a change, on a singletrack filled day of riding around the trails of Greyton and Genadendal. There was drama when ten times Cape Epic finisher and four times winner Karl Platt withdrew on the road, unable to pedal another stoke due to debilitating knee pain. While in the African Riders Jersey competition Kevin Evans incurred an hour time penalty for his FedGroup Itec team, effectively removing himself and teammate Max Knox from the race to be the highest place all African team. The penalty for taking an illegal shortcut occurred when Evans cut across a switchback to gain places over a number of riders, some of whom were Outcast riders (pro riders whose teammates have withdrawn from the race and therefore are disallowed from having an impact on the race).

With the help of a considerable amount of GoPro footage the Commissaires’ Panel made the following statement with regard to the incident in support of their decision to measure out an hour time penalty to FedGroup Itec (Team 13):

“Review of Go-Pro camera footage from the rider immediately behind the rider in question, as well as footage from team 13’s own Go-Pro (attached to the bicycle of the accused rider) confirms that the incident occurred, and that an unfair advantage was gained.”

RECM’s ladies meanwhile overturned their deficit retaking the women’s leader’s jerseys that they’d lost on stage one. South Africans looking for positive news were delighted by Phillip Buys who rode the ride of his life to claim the stage victory with his Swiss powerhouse partner Nino Schurter for Scott-Odlo MTB Racing. Topeak-Ergon broke the curse of the yellow jersey to become the first team to retain the general classification lead for consecutive days on the fifth day of the 2014 race.

Stage five took riders over the biggest climb of the race, the infamous Rusty Gate. For the leaders there was drama when Kristian Hynek of Topeak double flatted, and with their race seemingly in tatters up stepped Centurion-Vaude. Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess kindly donated Hynek two wheels which allowed Topeak to chase down the charging Meerendal-Songo-Specialized who sensed their opportunity to eradicate Topeak’s general classification lead. The stage victory went to Torpado Factory Racing’s Roel Paulissen and Riccardo Chiarini, riding 608B shod Topado bikes over the Scott-Odlo team on their 27.5 Scott Sparks.

 Absa Cape Epic 2014 Stage 7 Elgin to Somerset West

Stage six around Elgin was the favourite stage of the riders on Day Trippers’ Epic Trial rides. And it will probably prove to be the favourite stage of the majority of the 2014 Epic field once the dust settles and they regain complete range of movement in their legs too. In the elite race Phillip Buys and Nino Schurter showed off their XCO skills racing to victory, while the RECM ladies continued their dominance over the women’s race.

The grand finale into Lourensford had some riders wishing for a neutralised Tour de France style last day of racing. Topeak again punctured having to rely again on the Centurion-Vaude for a wheel change, showing that sportsmanship is still alive and well at the Epic, despite the best (or should that be worst) efforts of some. The race for the stage victory was fought out by the 650B gang with Torpado racing, Scott Factory Racing and Scott-Odlo for the honour to cross the finish line, with the eyes of the MTB world on them, first. The Epic had a last sting in its tail though; Torpado missed a route marker having fallen off the relentless pace set by Schurter, leaving the Scott boys to content the victory amongst themselves.

Buys and Schurter then took their feet off the throttle, took some time to soak in the Lourensford atmosphere and allowed Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns, who’d supported them ably all week to roll across the line first. For Beukes it was a particularly sweet moment making up for the loss he suffered on the very spot a year earlier when Jose Hermida and Rudi van Houts of Multivan Merida outsprinted Beukes and then partner Phillip Buys.

In the general classification the RECM ladies proved that they’re quite probably the strongest female stage racers in the word right now, coming home in 23rd place overall and 37 minutes ahead of their nearest rivals for the Sasol ladies jerseys. Topeak-Ergon Racing might have had Centurion-Vaude’s generosity to thank for their general classification victory but they raced hard and consistently all week, showing all assembled that the talk of Platt vs Sauser and the race for five was rather disrespectful to the rest of the pro field.

As for Sauser and Platt? They’ll be back in 2015. In fact during the post-race interview with Rabon, Sauser’s gaze was fixed somewhere beyond the confines of the press room, beyond the towering Hottentots-Holland Mountains even. What the most decorated man in mountain bike marathon racing was thinking, his grey eyes didn’t give away. But you can be sure the 2015 ABSA Cape Epic formed a large part of it.

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