Stage 2 of the ABSA Cape Epic delivered a thrilling sprint finish among the top teams with victory going to Germany’s three-time champions, Stefan Sahm and Karl Platt (Team Bulls 1) in Robertson on Tuesday.
The Multivan Merida team of Hannes Genze (GER) and Andreas Kugler (SUI) were second with overnight leaders and defending champions, Burry Stander (RSA) and Christoph Sauser (SUI) of 36One-Songo-Specialized taking third place. The all-South African pair of David George and Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life) put their bad luck Stage 1 behind them and were fourth, on the wheels of Stander and Sauser.
Overcast skies made for a cooler day than Monday’s Stage 1, which saw much of the field endure temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius. The 119km course was also more forgiving, which kept the front teams together for most of the race. A group of 22 teams were at the head of the race when it reached the second water point at 69km covered.
The pace began to intensify after that as Evans and George, who lost 24 minutes to Sauser and Stander on Stage 1 due to tyre problems, turned up the heat. Their acceleration up some of the climbs cut the group down to 10 and the increased pace in the final few 15km saw that splinter somewhat on the run in to Robertson.
In the final kilometre, six teams sped towards the finish. The positions are decided by the second team rider over the finish line and Sahm surged clear of the pack in the last few hundred metres, leaving it up to Platt to finish ahead of the second rider of their rival teams. The experienced Platt achieved that, giving the race’s most successful team their first stage win since 2009 in a time of 04 hours 21 minutes, 13 seconds.
“Physically, the stage was a bit easier than yesterday, but mentally it was draining,” said Stander. “With 40 riders in the pack for the first half of the race, it wasn’t ever possible to relax. One small mistake and that can be the end of our race. We had to stay near the front and out of trouble, but it’s not that easy when everyone else wants to do the same.
“With a few steep climbs in the second half we were able to string it out a bit. The sprint was chaotic, but we always try and go for the win in those situations – it seems safer than sitting back and possibly getting caught up in some drama.”
Going into Stage 3, Stander and Sauser hold a commanding 09min 27sec lead over the Swiss Stockli Pro team of Urs Huber and Konny Looser with Topeak Ergon’s Alban Lakata (AUT) and Robert Mennen (GER) in third at 09min 50sec. The leading African team is MTN Qhubeka’s Adrien Niyonshuti (RWA) and Jacques Janse van Rensburg in eighth overall.
Evans and George moved up to ninth position overall, but are still 24 minutes down on Sauser and Stander. They’re aiming for the African leader’s jersey and will be hoping for an outside chance of reaching the overall podium when the race finishes on Sunday.
Other South Africans that recorded stage wins on Tuesday were Erik and Ariane Kleinhans (Contego 28E) who claimed victory in the Mixed category and extended their overall lead, while Robert Sim and his German teammate Nico Pfitzenmaier (Robert Daniel Momsen) captured the honours in the Master’s division and gained time over their nearest rivals in the General Classification.
Swiss Esther Suss and Briton Sally Bigham (Wheels4Life) secured their third successive stage win and moved into a dominant overall lead in the women’s category.
For months, many have feared Wednesday’s Stage 3. At 147km it is the longest stage in Cape Epic history. The riders will start in Robertson and finish in Caledon and will climb 2900 vertical metres in the process. The cut-off time is 11 hours.