This left disconsolate Topeak Ergon Racing teammate Alban Lakata of Austria having to contemplate his eighth Absa Cape Epic without a win. The reigning Marathon World Champion has previously finished sixth, fifth, fourth, third and second and desperately wants to add the Cape Epic title to his long list of achievements.
That title seems destined for the Bulls German/Swiss pair of Karl Platt and Urs Huber after a stage in which they protected their overall lead.
The win on the day went to Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro, who punched the air as they approached the finish line. Just before the line, the pair who are riding for Trek-Selle San Marco, got off their bikes and carried them over the line in triumph, celebrating their first stage win of their debut Cape Epic.
The Italian stallions, the dark horses of this year’s race, are now third overall behind The Bulls and Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2. The Bulls, however, have taken firm control of the race – and now have a 9 minute 44 second lead over their nearest rivals, Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2.
The stage began and ended at the Wellington race village and was held mainly on the renowned trails network at Welvanpas.
With three stages left the Bulls will no doubt ride defensively to be in the yellow zebra jersey at the finish at the Meerendal on Sunday.
Porro said today’s stage, which had lots of climbs, suited the team because they are light. “We started easy and decided not to push too hard. When we got to the third water point – 25km before the end – we decided to push harder. We managed to get a gap and we just went. We came to the Epic just to get experience – and now we are on the podium. It’s unbelievable.”
Bulls 2 team, of the German pairing of Simon Stiebjahn and Tim Boehme who are racing in support of Platt and his Swiss teammate Urs Huber – were second in the 75km stage – 1 minute and 11 seconds behind Porro and Ferraro.
Dutch riders Rudi van Houts and Hans Becking (CST Superior) rolled across the line in third place in a time of 3:08.01.
Meanwhile, Platt said that everything had gone according to plan but it was yet another tough stage of the race. “The Epic is never easy, especially today with lots of climbs – we were going up and down all day, but there was lots of singletrack too.”
Waylon Woolcock and Darren Lill (USN Purefit) extended their lead in the Absa African special jersey competition, and were the first South African team home in a time of 3:15.14 – almost two minutes ahead of their rivals Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (NAD Pro MTB).
In the women’s race, only five seconds separated Spur-Specialized and Sport for Good at the finish of the stage, with the race leaders being on the right side of that difference – thanks to a superior finish.
“Today was slightly less painful,” exclaimed Switzerland’s Ariane Kleinhans before revealing that partner Annika Langvad of Denmark was the main protagonist in the day’s final act.
“Annika is such a great partner. Today’s stage was really about teamwork and she was really awesome and made the difference when we dropped Topeak Ergon. Then, it was really great racing with Sport for Good. Coming into the finish, which was a little bit different to yesterday, she was motor-pacing me.”
The two teams rode within touching distance of each other for the majority of the 75km stage out and back from CPUT Wellington, during which positioning was important in and out of the famous Welvanpas trails.
“Just after Water Point 2 they got away from us,” said Kleinhans. “We weren’t worried, but we didn’t know whether we would be able to close the gap…”
Sport for Good’s former Olympic gold medallist Sabine Spitz of Germany said she had enjoyed the stage: “It was cross-country style so it was a nice fast one. We tried to make some nice moves, especially when we left the water point before Ariane and Annika. There was a flat section after that and they closed the gap and caught us.”
Spitz and Yana Belomoina of the Ukraine continued racing close to Kleinhans and Langvad thereafter, but the Swiss-Danish pair proved unbeatable.
Asked about her first experience of the Absa Cape Epic, Spitz said there had been moments on the first stage when she couldn’t see too well because of all the dust, “but I’ve loved the last three stages”.
Would she like to come back and win the race, Spitz laughed: “Maybe … why not?”.
Meanwhile, after two days of suffering in the searing heat, Spitz’s Ukrainian partner felt much more in her comfort zone in the mild conditions riders were greeted with on Thursday.
“Today was a very good day for me – all stage I still had energy and my legs felt good so it was fun racing with everybody. It was good weather for me, not so hot, so it was much better.”
Despite matching Spur-Specialized blow-for-blow, Spitz and Belomoina remain in third place overall, behind Topeak Ergon’s Sally Bigham and Adel Morath. The English-German pair came home third on the day, but over five minutes behind the leading pair and are now 12.49 behind Kleinhans and Langvad overall.
Meanwhile, Grand Masters category leaders Robert Sim of South Africa and German Udo Boelts (Robert Daniel) continued their extraordinary performance by finishing the stage in 23rd position overall. The two, who both turn 50-years-old this year, finished with the Masters category leaders Bart Brentjens of the Netherlands and Brazilian Abraao Azevedo (CST Superior Brentjens).
The latter continued their dominance of the category – in which both riders are over 40 – after winning their third stage in a row. Brentjens and Azevedo, the defending category champions, won Stage 4 by 8 minutes from Adrian Enthoven and Nic White (White Inc). The South African pair are second in the category, more than 20 minutes back overall.
South African pair Tobie van Heerden and Carel Vosloo (Absa Shake & Bake) have moved up to third in the category after a strong ride today.
Sim and Boelts, a firmer Tour de France rider, are now nearly 28 minutes up on the second placed Swiss/Austrian pairing of Barti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg. South Africans Andrew Mclean and Doug Brown remain in third place.
In the Mixed category French team Jean-Francois Bossler and Fanny Bourdon (Open-Kappius Components) continue to surge ahead and are now 45 minutes ahead of second-placed Hans Fluck and Anita Bucher (Giant Obwalden).
Phillimon Sebona and Lucky Mlangeni (Exxaro/PwC) remain well ahead in the race for the Exxaro special jersey and are now one hour and 20 minutes ahead of second-placed Rilamulele Gadabeni and Tovhowani Mavundadavhi (Exxaro/Tronox).