Weather takes devastating toll on competitors
The weather took a devastating toll on Absa Cape Epic competitors for the second day in a row Tuesday, with stage winner Robert Mennen of Germany describing it as “survival of the fittest”.
Mennen and his Czech partner Kristian Hynek (Team Topeak-Ergon) took stage two in 4h12m17s, but four-times Absa Cape Epic winner Karl Platt of Germany and his Swiss teammate Urs Huber (Team Bulls) overcame a crash and the weather to snatch the yellow zebra-striped leaders’ jersey by finishing second.
Platt’s great rival Christoph Sauser, also bidding for a fifth win and riding this year with Czech partner Frantisek Rabon, fell back by nearly 12 minutes on the day after a broken part in his brakes started binding on the rear wheel.
But the biggest losers on the stage were overnight yellow jersey holders Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess (Centurion Vaude), both of Germany, when the latter’s frame broke. They had to make running repairs using a spare tube and cable ties, eventually finishing 1h50m behind the winners in 112th position - and out of contention for the podium when the race finishes at Lourensford wine estate on Sunday.
Riders awoke Tuesday morning to a heavy downpour and rode for about half of the 103km stage - a loop which started and ended in Robertson - in rain. The thick and gritty mud ground into chains and brake pads, giving rise to several mechanical problems.
Riders finished the stage coated in mud and with red-rimmed eyes: “There was so much mud you had to take your glasses off after 10km,” said Hynek.
Platt and Huber finished a little more than two minutes behind Mennen and Hynek, enough to give the Bulls a lead of one minute and nine seconds in the general classification over the Topeak-Ergon pairing.
Platt said he had a “stupid crash” soon after the start. “It was very slippery out there,” said Platt. “I missed the line (on some single track) and the front wheel went.” He hit the ground hard and was stunned for a while: “My motivation went a little bit and I was hurting everywhere … but we are fighters and started to catch up.”
Mennen said conditions had been exceptionally tough and the stage boiled down to “the survival of the fittest’. “Luckily we had good legs and no mechanicals … it was our luck today,” he added.
Third home and five minutes behind the stage winners were Germans Tim Boehme and Simon Stiebjahn of Teams Bulls 2. They are also lying third in the general classification.
Sauser’s brake pads wore down in the mud and a broken part periodically jammed his back wheel until it worked loose near the end. He and Rabon are now lying sixth overall.
Also still in contention for the overall win are the fourth-placed combination of Swiss Kenny Looser and German Hannes Genze (Meerendal Centurion Wheeler), and fifth-placed Swiss pairing Lukas Fluckiger and Martin Fanger (BMC).
Women’s favourites Ariane Kleinhans of Switzerland and Annike Langvad of Denmark (RECM 2) recovered brilliantly from a disastrous stage one to take back nearly nine minutes of the 24 they lost to Meerendal’s Esther Suss (Swiss) and Sally Bigham (English).
Kleinhans and Langvad won Tuesday’s stage in 4h53m07,5s. Their recovery suggests that they take more time back in the stages to come, setting up a thrilling Women’s category battle. “It was important to not get into any trouble but still be awake to take an opportunity if there was one. Towards the end we gave our all,” said Kleinhans.
Third place in the Women’s category went to Swede Jennie Stenerhag and South African Theresa Ralph (Cape Brewing Company), who are now 19 minutes back on the leaders.
Wednesday’s 134km Stage 3 takes the riders from Robertson to Greyton. On Tuesday night the weatherman was predicting some light drizzle for Wednesday - not ideal, but still a welcome change after two brutal days.