TEAM USN WIN GRUELLING CAPE EPIC STAGE

    South African Karien van Jaarsveld and her Team USN partner, England’s Sally Bigham inherited the overall lead in the ABSA Cape Epic mountain bike stage race on Tuesday night. And then proved on Wednesday that they deserved that honour by winning one of the toughest stages in the race’s history.

    Leaders after the first three days, Italian Eva Lechner and Swiss Nathalie Schneitter (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol) were slapped with a one-hour time penalty on Tuesday night for infringing the race’s ‘no outside assistance’ rule after they were seen being handed bottles by their team support outside the designated feed zones.

    That dropped Lechner and Schneitter to fourth place overall, 47 minutes down on Team USN, who moved from second to first place for the start of Day 4’s haul from Tulbagh to Worcester. On paper the 125km leg with 1900m of vertical ascent seemed quite normal. But it turned out to be quite the opposite

    The leading men completed the stage in just over five hours, an early sign that this would be a long day in the saddle for the entire field, especially the mid-pack and back markers that have been scraping home each day just inside the time limit.

    So brutal was Wednesday’s stage, that the organisers extended the cut off time from nine hours to 11 hours. And still, some riders missed the cut-off as the sun was setting. The will get to continue, but won’t be classified as official finishers.

    For Team USN, it was their best day so far. They finished second to Lechner and Schneitter on the first three days, but showed they’re worthy of the race leaders’ jerseys when they won the stage in a time of 6hr 43min 35sec. Just over five minutes later, the ABSA aBreast team of Hanlie Booyens and Ischen Stopforth (both South Africans) rolled across the finish line, with the all-Australian adidas team of Naomi Hansen and Jodie Willett rounding out the podium places. Lechner and Schneitter were fifth on the stage, more than 30 minutes behind Team USN.

    “It was really tough today. The stage was made longer and harder by sand and rocks and more sand and more rocks and lots of climbing,” said Van Jaarsveld. “We really had to concentrate hard in order to maintain our lead and the steady pace we have been setting for ourselves.”

    Van Jaarsveld said they were pleased to put so much time into Lechner and Schneitter.

    “We rode with them until the first water point and then they just faded after that. The good thing is today we proved we are strong enough to lead this race. We just need to keep it steady and avoid any trouble. No lead is big enough in the Cape Epic,” said the South African marathon champion.

    She and Bigham, the three-time British marathon champion, now have a lead of 22min 07sec over Booyens and Stopforth with four days of racing remaining.

    In the men’s race, South African Burry Stander and his Swiss teammate, Christoph Sauser of 36One-Songo-Specialized, were outsprinted for the stage win, but maintained their overall lead.

    The German Multivan Merida pair of Hannes Genze and Jochen Kaess, pipped them to the finish line in what Sauser afterwards described as “the toughest Cape Epic stage ever”. Third on the stage was the Dutch Milka Trek team of Bart Brentjens and Jeroen Boelen. Stander and Sauser have a 6min 19sec lead over Genze and Kaess in the General Classification.

    In the Master’s category, Germans Carsten Bresser and Udo Boelts (Team juwi) won the stage by almost 15 minutes to move into 15th place overall, while the Swiss pair of Barti Bucher and Esther Suss (Wheeler BIXS) won their fourth consecutive stage to extend their overall lead.

    Wednesday’s Stage 4 is a 32km time trial starting and finishing at Worcester Gymnasium.

    For full results, race information and images, visit www.cape-epic.com