Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cape Epic’s fourth day a ‘killer’ - by Nick van der Leek

Wednesday was another windless day, but for the first time the sun never really got out of bed.  The grayness of the day seemed to make some riders more miserable.  Extremely tough course conditions, including water portages through chest-deep streams and tough technical sections [such as traversing riverbeds filled with round white stones] did the rest. 

Burry Stander tweeted after the stage about ‘loads of [sense] of humor failures.’
Bulls rider and pre-race favourite Karl Platt called the stage ‘the most stupid stage I[‘ve] ever done.’ While it’s not clear exactly what he was referring to, it could have been an allusion to at least two extended sections where the mountainbikers hit tar road.  One tar section, through the scenic Slanghoek mountains, was at least 7km. Or perhaps by ‘stupid’ he simply meant very tough.

The 125km route from Tulbagh to Worcester twisted around vineyards whilst vaulting up the sides of the surrounding mountains. Some riders punched the air after graduating through thick sandy sections, prompting spectators to yell: “Will you marry me!”

For the first time in this year’s Epic, the Songo Boys did not dominate. Christoph Sauser, who just the previous day had said he’d felt ‘super’, called stage 3 ‘the toughest ever.’   The purple colors of Milka-Trek disappeared up the road early on, establishing a large gap on the main contenders.  

Although the Dutch duo [Bart Brenjens and Jeroen Boelen] were not a threat to the overall classification, the heads of state seized control of the race after the third and last water point. During the chase, the Bulls could not keep up with Songo or Multivan Merida. The catch was a mere formality on the final climb of the stage 10km from Worcester.

From that point Multivan Merida kept up a ferocious pace, with Hannes Gens and Jochen Kaess dead keen on extending their lead over the Bulls. In the end the stage came down to a sprint between Songo and the Germans.  Gens and Kaess edged across the line 2 seconds ahead of Stander and Sauser.  Milka hung in there, finishing 14 seconds behind Songo, and getting themselves onto the podium for their efforts on the stage. Crucially, the Bulls conceded another minute, which means Songo now have a decent cushion of over eight and a half minutes. Songo’s lead over Multivan remains over 6 minutes.

Stage 4’s shortness will be a relief to Cape Epic riders and crew alike.  The 32km timetrial through Brandwacht, traverses the Karoo Botanical Gardens on the west side of Worcester. It is best viewed from the grounds of the local golf club as the riders pass this point twice: on the way out and back. However cool, wet conditions are expected.

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