Cannondale Factory Racing’s Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini and Investec Songo Specialized’s Annika Langvad and Kate Courtney made it two wins in a row on Stage 2 in Robertson, but there was nothing similar in the way the respective men’s and women’s races unfolded.
Fumic and Avancini needed to edge ahead in a four-way sprint to claim their victory at the end of the demanding 106km stage, while the Songo women’s pair attacked 30 kilometres from the finish and built a lead of over four minutes in their race.
The pressure that comes with wearing the yellow jersey was obvious in the faces of Fumic and Avancini ahead of a stage that was expected to favour the diesel engines of the marathon racers. However, a new-found sense of maturity is paying off for the exuberant duo, who spent most of the day conserving energy and riding smart.
That paid off when they were able to claim victory in the final mad dash for the line, just ahead of Nicola Rohrbach and Daniel Geismayr (Centurion Vaude), Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek (Canyon Topeak) and Francesc Carretero and Luis Pinto (Buff Scott MTB).
The day was not without earlier drama however with first Rohrbach and Geismayr experiencing a mechanical early in the stage. Their back-up team of Markus Kaufmann and Jodok Salzmann were on hand to assist with a rear-wheel change – a move that would ultimately keep them in third position on the general classification.
But the big losers on the stage were yesterday’s runners up, Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts. The Investec Songo Specialized pair made their intentions known when they attacked on the appreciably steep and loose “One-Two-Three” combination climb, a move only Canyon Topeak and Centurion Vaude were able to follow.
They extended their lead early in the 9.5km Bosvark Land Rover Technical Terrain but a costly puncture forced them to surrender their advantage and more to the chasing pack.
After putting in a serious effort to get back to the leading pack, Kulhavy and Grotts looked poised for their first stage victory only for a second puncture to force them to surrender all hopes of snatching the yellow jersey away from Cannondale Factory Racing.
“Today we were let down by mechanicals,” said Grotts. “We were set for a good stage and did everything right. It was just so frustrating to be in the front and then lose time. I was riding over my limit when we chased back – now I just need to recover well.”
“Today was all about keeping safe for us,” said Fumic. “The stage suited the marathon guys more and they went for it to show us. We focussed on damage control but got caught out a few times. In the sprint our experience helped us for sure and to get the stage win and another day in yellow makes us happy. There’s still a lot of racing to come.”
Kulhavy and Grotts put in a superb effort to only give up one minute 42 seconds to the stage winners and Cannondale are now 2:42 ahead overall, with Centurion Vaude 3:14 further back in third.
The PYGA Euro Steel team of Matthys Beukes and Julian Jessop bagged their first win in the Absa African Men’s special jersey race, with Timothy Hammond and Arno Du Toit (SPOT Africa) and HB Kruger and Stuart Marais (Ellsworth-ASG) rounding off the podium. NAD MTB’s Nico Bell and Matthew Beers – who finished 6th – were forced to surrender their red jersey to the Ellsworth-ASG pair.
“Today’s start was tough but we managed to work through it,” said Kruger. “We are very happy to get our hands on that red jersey – that was the one goal we had. There are still more days to come and we will defend the jersey.”
A brutal attack 30 kilometres from the finish allowed Langvad and Courtney to stamp their authority on the Women’s category and they collected their third win in three days and have now extended their lead to a daunting six and a half minutes over Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi and Githa Michiels.
While the leaders are turning this into a one-team procession, the dice for second remains intriguing with the Spur pair edging out Mariske Strauss and Annie Last (Silverback-KMC) by the narrowest of margins after a sprint for second on the stage that left Michiels lying prone on the finish line.
Spur are now over six minutes ahead of their young rivals in the fight for second, but with Wednesday’s 122km stage followed by another 111km brute on Thursday, Michiels’ recovery is going to be key to their fight for the second step on the podium.
Team Ascendis Health finished fourth once again on Tuesday as Robyn de Groot had to nurse Sabine Spitz to the finish as the German continues to struggle with illness. The pair lost another 12 minutes to the leaders and are now 26 minutes off the pace with stage wins the only realistic target remaining if Spitz can recover fully.
When asked if the stage win was a comfortable victory, American Courtney laughed and said that “ … comfortable is a very strong word with a partner like Annika!”
“There was a pretty steep climb about 30 kilometres to go and Annika got on the front and set the pace and I just hung on for dear life. We managed to get a gap and then hold it to the finish.
The USA Champion added that she is “… learning that every second matters in this race. We saw yesterday with our flat that a minute gap can vanish in a few seconds, so it is really about staying on the gas, staying focused and giving our best every second of the race.”
In the race to be the inaugural Absa African Women’s special jersey champions, Candice Lill and Amy Beth McDougall (dormakaba) had a tough day and finished seventh women overall, but still increased their lead to just under an hour as Hannele Steyn and Jeannie Dreyer (Nolands Spar) moved into second, overtaking Nadia Visser and Katie Lennard (Western Girls).
Team Merida Argentina extended their lead in the Virgin Active Mixed category to 9:36,9 when they won their third consecutive stage on stage two in Robertson on Tuesday.
Agustina Maria Apaza and Cesar Lettoli finished 4:53,7 ahead of South Africa’s Nicky Giliomee and Brennan Anderson (Journey by Junto) with Yolandi du Toit and Gus Klohn (Garmin Powerbar Mixed) overcoming their indifferent start to the Absa Cape Epic with a third place. Marleen Lourens and Bradley Hemphill are in third place overall, just over 33 minutes in arrears.
Competing in their first Absa Cape Epic, the Argentinians said they were pleasantly surprised with their form thus far.
“We had hoped to be in the top five places each day and perhaps a little higher at the end of the race,” said Apaza. “We have done much better than we had thought, but we are very proud of how we have been doing.”
Lucky Mlangeni and Tshepo Tlou (Exxaro/PWC 1) racked up their third win in the Exxaro special jersey competition on Stage 2. They now enjoy a healthy 23-minute lead to the second-placed Luyanda Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo (BMT Fairtree Academy), with Khumbudzo Masala and Kagiso Tlous (Exxaro/EOH) third overall, 42 minutes behind. The three teams finished first, second and third into Robertson.
Italian Massimo Debertolis and Czech Ondrej Fojtik (Wilier Force 7C 2) extended their lead in the Dimension Data Master’s category with a second stage win in two days and will take a 11-minute lead into the long Stage 3 on Wednesday.
Still lying second overall after Stage 2 are Brad Clarke and Rohin Adams (Mornington Cycles/TRush) but they lost almost five more minutes to the leaders and are now 11 minutes behind with Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (CST Sandd A. Eagle AAZ) third.
The Grand Masters followed a familiar pattern with Robert Sim and Udo Boelts (Robert Daniel) wrapping up a hat-trick of wins to extend their lead to over 16 minutes. Barti Bucher and Hans Juerg Gerber (Meerendal CBC 2) were also second for the third day in a row with Joel Stransky and Andrew Mclean (Cycle Lab KTM) now third.