April 23/06 9:21 am - Cape Epic: Stage 1
Posted by Editoress on 04/23/06
Cape Epic - Africa
The third Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas has kicked off. At 7:15 a.m. this morning (Saturday, April 22nd) 1046 mountain bikers from 37 different countries embarked on their gruelling and adventurous 8-day journey through the Western Cape. In just 8 days the 523 two-person teams will have to ride 921 kilometres and climb 16,605 metres - that is the equivalent of riding twice up Mount Everest - before they reach the finish line in Spier next Saturday to deserve the honourable title of 'Cape Epic Finisher'.
Riders have travelled around the world to participate in the unique Magical + Untamed African MTB Race, coming all the way from Canada, Brazil, Norway, China, and Australia. 282 teams are riding in the Men category, 19 in the Women, 61 in the Mixed and 161 in the Masters category for which the combined age of both team members must be 80 years or older. The youngest starter in the field is 18 years old; the most senior rider is 64. The female line up accounts for ten per cent of the total entrants.
Pouring rain at the start in Knysna was an omen for what the riders were confronted with on the first stage from the Knysna Quays Waterfront to Saasveld Forestry Training College. Heavy rainfalls and mud made the 128.5 kilometre long stage with several technical sections and strenuous climbs even more challenging. Riding through the Garden Route's indigenous forests resembled mud-wrestling; all riders who crossed the finish line today were covered with a thick mud crust and had sore eyes, since poor visibility forced many of them to take their glasses off. Brake failure was another obstacle for most of the riders which was arduous on technical downhills. Mother Nature, however, was gentle. Five minutes before the winners crossed the finish line the skies cleared and welcomed the top teams as well as all the other athletes with sunshine.
Dual World Cup Champion Christoph Sauser (SUI) and his team partner Silvio Bundi (SUI) of Team Specialized, the hot favourites to win this year's race, are the first riders to wear the yellow adidas leader jerseys of The Cape Epic 2006. When they crossed the finish line in Saasveld after 4 hours, 41 minutes and 31 seconds today, they had a 9.5 minute lead over second placed team Stevens Racing with Christian Heule (SUI) and Johannes Sickmueller (GER) who were the race leaders at one point. "That was a tough day", Christoph Sauser said. "Over four hours in the rain and we are in South Africa; but it was quite warm so it was actually ok. We were in the lead but we had a puncture after 25 kilometres. It took us three minutes to fix it and then an hour to catch up to the leaders. At that time Team Stevens was in front. We attacked at the last technical downhill right before the second watering point and at the next climb we took off. It was our goal to get a comfortable lead on the first day. Now we must ride smart, safe and save energy. We have seven more stages to go through in South Africa's outback".
Inaugural Cape Epic Champion Karl Platt (GER) and his Rocky Mountain team partner Carsten Bresser (GER) came in third today. "It was really hard", stated Karl Platt who previously won all major MTB stage races in the same year. "I haven't ridden Marathon distances for quite a while and after three hours I hit a brick wall, I had no power left. The mud was extreme. I couldn't see, my eyes were stuffed and that is quite scary when you go downhill at 60 km/h on difficult terrain. In the end our brakes failed, but everyone had that problem. Fortunately there were no technical downhills on the last few kilometres."
Two Cape Epic virgins snatched the leader jersey in the Women category. Transrockies Champion Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER) of Team adidas-Fiat-Rotwild won the demanding first stage with a lead of more than 17 minutes over Sandra Lettner (AUT) and Lisi Hager (AUT), editor of the Austrian MTB Revue magazine. America's Go Fast Girls Barbara Kreisle (USA) and Christina Begy (USA) placed third. The leading women raced two hours longer than the winners in the Men category. They didn't expect to do so well on the first stage since Kerstin is suffering from a cold and their goal of the day was to ride at their own pace and to reach the finish. "Kerstin was amazing", said Sabine. "She is so strong. I am actually worried that when she feels 100 per cent I will not be able to keep up with her." Both girls raved about the cheering spectators along the route. "I was impressed how many people came out to watch the race despite the bad weather", commented Kerstin. "Looking back it was actually a great ride. I just hope I will do better tomorrow."
The Cape Epic's second stage will lead the riders over 116 kilometres and 2020 vertical metres from Saasveld to Mosselbay. The long but fairly fast ride will award the mountain bikers with some spectacular ocean views and a finish line right at the beach. The highlight of the day is a section through Botlierskop - a private Big Five Game Reserve.
1 Team Specialized: Christoph Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI) - 4:41:31
2 Stevens Racing: Johannes Sickmeuler (GER) and Christian Heule (SUI) - 4:50:37.
3 Rocky Mountain-Business Objects: Karl Platt (GER) and Carsten Bresser (GER) - 4:51:43.
1 adidas Fiat-Rotwild: Sabine Grona and Kerstin Brachtendorf - 6:39:40.
2 Mountainbike Revue: Elisabeth Hager and Sandra Lettner - 6:57:08.
3 Go Fast Girls: Barbara Kreisle and Christina Begy - 7:43:33.