Stage four was characterised by three major climbs and extremely varied terrain. The first 15 kilometers were on flat gravel and also some tar road. The route then turned onto forestry roads, gaining some elevation while skirting the side of the mountain. Riders quickly reached water point one, but the next stretch was slow going. A five-kilometer steady climb on gravel road with an average of seven percent gradient waited at Kluitjieskraal. On the other side, the trail roughened until it became an eight-kilometer bike-swallowing descent. The gradient was not steep but the track was washed out, rocky (and sandy) with many ruts and holes. After water point two, a flat gravel road led to the foot of the 16-kilometer tar climb of Bain’s Kloof Pass. On the other side, only the first bit of the descent was on tar before riders plunged into the Bain’s MTB Trails at Welvanpas: smooth flowing ups and downs, perfectly carved into the mountain side. However, there was one more big climb, most of it on forestry roads, before four kilometers of handcrafted downhill single-track through fynbos vegetation. There was one more tiny bump and the last couple of kilometers were plain sailing into the race village in Wellington.
Stage 4 started with cool temperatures in the morning. It was a fast stage with lots of single-track. There was an early breakaway by Rene Haselbacher and Wolfgang Krenn of ASRIN RH77 and they stayed in the lead until the Telkom Hot Spot. After the Hot Spot, Sauser and Kulhavy took the lead and powered on, increasing the gap over the course of the stage.
Teams Multivan Merida, Bulls and Bulls 2 missed a route marker. After following what they thought was the correct route, their path intersected stage 5’s route, which was already marked, and they then continued to follow stage 5’s route markers, and thought that this was today’s course.
The route markers are identical for all stages and hence the riders did not realise that they were on the wrong course until much later, after which they were approached and turned around by a media motorbike. They then retraced their steps and rejoined the course where they had left it.
They crossed the finish line with a time gap of 21.53,2 minutes to the leaders.
The commissaires panel and the organisers took the decision to award the first of the three teams in question the winning time plus 10 minutes, the second team received a gap of 10 minutes and 1 second and the third team received a gap of 10 minutes and 2 seconds. This decision was based on the time gap between the leaders and the chasing group of Multivan Merida, Bulls and Bulls 2 at the point where the teams took the wrong turn, and adding the estimated time it would have taken the chasing group to realise their mistake and turn back, had they not encountered tomorrow’s route signage.
Usually, if a team takes an incorrect turn and rides off-course, the team would no longer see any more route markings. They should then realise, within a few hundred meters, that they have left the marked route. The estimated time added to the time gap was calculated on the amount of time it can reasonably be assumed that a team would take to turn around and return to the marked route.
The time will only be adjusted on GC, but not on stage results – hence the podium for stage 4 remains unchanged.
A team is required to take reasonable responsibility for navigating the course. The lead motorbikes are to ensure the course marking is correctly in place and to ensure that the course is free of obstacles. They are instructed to remain out of sight of the leading riders at all times to ensure all riders are required to navigate and no teams receive an unfair advantage by merely following a motorbike.
The commissaires were required to exercise discretionary intervention with today’s case, distinguishing the difference between yesterday’s incident involving team Burry Stander – Songo and today’s, with teams Multivan Merida, Bulls and Bulls 2. Yesterday’s incident was addressed by rules which provides for teams leaving the marked route, today’s required a decision by the commissaires, as riders were still following the official route markers, though for the following day’s stage . In both cases, the route marking team returned to the site of the incidents in question and were satisfied that the course was sufficiently marked.
Benno Willeit, team manager of Burry Stander – SONGO, says: “Our guys showed again that they’re the strongest out there. Today everything went smooth and at the last water point we had a gap of five minutes I think. But today they (Bulls) were unlucky like our guys yesterday by going off-track. They, like we did yesterday, took the wrong turn. A few meters after that they saw a sign that is no different from all the other Cape Epic markings – it looked the same and they just followed it. By the time they realised they were wrong, they had to ride all the way back and in the process lost 20 minutes. This is not how we would like to win the race though. This morning we didn’t think about the lead and now we have a lead of 1 minute. It’s enough to bring home the Yellow.”
Friedeman Schmude, team manager of the Bulls, adds: “The decision was made by die UCI. It’s a done deal it seems. All the teams have a difference of opinion obviously. And it’s a difficult situation for the teams and the decision makers.”
Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy of Burry Stander – SONGO showed their true form by winning Stage 4 of this year’s Absa Cape Epic in a time of 4:32.49,3 (overall 19:40.04,9). This is Sauser’s 28th stage win in the history of the event. They were followed by Marco Fontana and Manuel Fumic of Cannondale Factory Racing in 4:50.56,9 (overall 20:28.02,1). In third place with their first podium finish this year were South Africans Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes (SCOTT Factory Racing) in 4:52.17,4 (overall 20:36.23,9). The Bulls Karl Platt and Urs Huber, as well as Thomas Dietsch and Tim Boehme, finished in seventh (4:54.43,3) and eighth (4:54.44,3) place respectively in today’s stage.
Sauser and Kulhavy (Burry Stander – SONGO) now lead the race by 1 minute, 12,1 seconds (overall 19:40.04,9). The Bulls Karl Platt and Urs Huber are in second place overall (19:41.17,0) and the Bulls 2 team Thomas Dietsch and Tim Boehme in third overall (19:53.35,2).
Says Kulhavy of Burry Stander – SONGO: “We were really strong today and pushed hard to the finish. The gap between ourselves and the other teams just became bigger and bigger. It was really good for us mentally and will motivate us for the next three stages. We’ll be really careful and hopefully we can win. I’m enjoying the race and it’s great for me as well as my career. It’s really an epic race and amazing. It’s a relief to be in the lead and great for motivation – the Yellow Zebra Leader Jersey is very important. We still have a long way to go – we’ll see how it goes.”
Says Fontana of Cannondale Factory Racing: “It was hard out there today and I could feel the pain in my legs. Midway I started feeling better, but the last climb was long with loose rocks – it was very tough. We just got into our own rhythm and nearly caught up with the second Songo team when they had a flat. It’s very nice to be second and on the podium again. We finished in third place in the Prologue.” His teammate Fumic adds: “Today was tough and we benefitted from the mistakes of the other teams. We were suffering a lot but when we got to the last 5 km’s we heard that we were in second place and that helped us to push to the finish. This is an awesome race and we’re enjoying it. It’s 100% what everyone told us and an believable experience. We’re a great team.”
Stefan Sahm was shocked when he heard of his fourth place today. “It’s crazy. Something’s gone wrong and the guys must’ve taken a wrong turn.”
Rudi van Houts (with his teammate José Hermida) of Multivan Merida finished in 6th place today (4:54.42,5; 20:06.01,2). “We took the wrong turn and followed the markers for tomorrow’s route. We thought we were right and kept on going until someone told us we’re on the wrong road. We didn’t know where to go and still don’t know what we did wrong. It was a 3 or 4 km detour,” he says.
Says Huber of the Bulls team: “We missed the road and we don’t know why. There were markers, but after a while we turned around. We lost time today.” Adds Platt: “I’m upset because we lost time today. You always follow the next mark and we followed the markers for around 7km, but apparently it was the markers for tomorrow’s route. I was pretty sure it was the right way and this really shouldn’t happen.”
Yolande Speedy and Catherine Williamson (Energas) won their third stage in a row in 5:49.59,2. They now lead this category by 1 hour, 40 minutes and 31 seconds (overall 24:50.06,2). In second place, with their second podium finish, were Sara Mertens and Laura Turpijn of C-Bear in 6:16.02,7 (overall 27:29.28,4). Hanlie Booyens and Ischen Stopforth of Pragma Volcan Ladies finished in third place in 6:23.45,4 (overall 26:30.37,9).
Says Speedy (Energas): “It was definitely a hard day with some proper climbing. We felt pretty strong and it was quite a fast stage with some stunning single-track. We’re very happy with our results. Our legs are sore and our bodies tired, but we’re still managing to get in a good effort.” Adds her teammate Williamson: “We had a good start and it was a really nice stage with some nice trails and forests. I had a bit of a crash but nothing major. We rode at our own pace and it was the best day so far.”
Telkom Business Master’s Category
The Telkom Business Masters category was won by Nico Pftizenmaier and Abraao Azevedo of the Bridge team in 5:01.04,8 (overall 21:35.37,8). They were followed by Bart Brentjens and Robert Sim (Superior-Brentjens 2) in 5:01.13,5 (overall 22:17.47,5). In third place were South Africans Neil Bradford and Tim Osrin of HCL/Harvest Foundation 1 in 5:23.17,2 (overall 22:40.07,6). Pfitzenmaier and Azevedo lead this category by 42 minutes and 9 seconds.
Pfitzenmaier of team Bridge says: “It was a great route today and I really enjoyed the single-track. We just kept our rhythm and the power was there all the time. We’re a good team and it’s always a big goal to do well at the Absa Cape Epic. I have unfinished business from last year, but it’s still a long way to go. We just cross our fingers that everything goes well.”
Bärti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg of Songo.info again finished in first place in the Grand Masters in a time of 5:24.32,6 (overall 23:05.45,3). This was their fifth stage win. They were followed by Paul Furbank and Chris Brand of Genesis Capital in 5:52.51,7 (24:43.47,2) with ERNESTO’S CYCLING’s Deon Wilkins and Raul Navarro in third place in 5:55.07,9 (overall 25:51.43,9). This was their first podium finish.
Bucher and Zoerweg lead this category by 1 hour, 38 minutes and 1 second.
Says Bärti Bucher of Songo.info: ”Today Doug and Linus were behind us after the first water point, but they had a puncture which was bad luck for them. Anything can happen at the Epic. It only finishes at Lourensford – we can then talk about the race.”
The RE:CM team of Erik and Ariane Kleinhans won their fifth stage in a row in the Mixed category in 5:34.28,2 (overall 23:02.25,9), followed by Cherise Stander and Duane Stander of Africanmtbkid 1 in 5:37.07,3 (overall 25:41.53,3). In third place were Theresa Ralph and Damian Perrin of Biogen Britehouse (5:40.22,2; overall 25:49.48,2). Erik and Ariane Kleinhans lead this category by 1 hour, 20 minutes and 42 seconds.
Says Cherise Stander: “I definitely didn’t think we’d finish in second place – it’s very unexpected. Today six years ago Burry and I started dating, so it would be the perfect day for us to finish on the podium. I’m just very happy at this stage.”
Stage 5: Wellington to Wellington (75 km, 1 800 m of climbing)
The fifth day is like a bonus day – short, sweet and, most importantly, great fun! Riders will already have had a taste of the Bain’s MTB Trails at Welvanpas on the previous day. It is a fantastic purpose-built network of single-track, perched between the Wellington vineyards and the slopes of Bain’s Kloof. The relatively short distance of 75 kilometers offers more single-track than any previous Absa Cape Epic stage, featuring some amazing cross-country terrain and lots of twisting ups and downs – all in all an extra enjoyable day to re-energise body and mind. To avoid any congestion on the trails, the start groups will be staggered over 1,5 hours.
Photo credit: Nick Muzik (top three), Gary Perkin (bottom three). Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS