South African Burry Stander and his Swiss teammate, Christoph Sauser (36One-Songo-Specialized) tightened their grip on the 2012 ABSA Cape Epic on Thursday when they won the 105km Stage 4 and extended their overall lead.
The dust-coated teammates cruised across the finish line with broad grins in a time of four hours 42 minutes 49 seconds, securing their fourth stage win of this edition of the race and extending their overall lead to a massive 25 minutes over their nearest rivals.
And their new nearest rivals are the all-South African Nedbank 360Life pair of David George and Kevin Evans, who made the most of the strong winds towards the latter part of the stage to put time into all of their rivals, barring Sauser and Stander.
After the third and final water point, with 23km remaining, six teams led the race, including 36One-Songo-Specialized, Nedbank 360Life, FedGroup-ITEC Connect’s Brandon Stewart and Jacques Rossouw, Multivan Merida’s Hannes Genze and Andreas Kugler, Versluys Craft’s Kevin van Hoovels and Sebastien Carabin and Team Bulls 2’s Tim Böehme and Thomas Dietsche. With Stockli Pro’s Urs Huber and Konny Looser and Topeak Ergon’s Alban Lakata and Robert Mennin – second and third respectively at the start of the stage – losing ground behind them, the six teams set a fierce pace into the final section, mostly along exposed district gravel roads.
But a howling northwesterly wind began to take its toll from the front and side and Evans and George used the opportunity to increase the pace, in the process, ridding themselves of all but Stander and Sauser and steadily leapfrogging their way up the General Classification.
A section of singletrack close to the finish saw Sauser and Stander dart ahead of Evans and George, who’d been doing the bulk of the work in the final 15km. They built up enough of a cushion in the last couple of kilometres to sit up savour the crowd’s appreciation of their impressive performance.
Forty-three seconds later a satisfied-looking Evans and George dashed over the finish line, with Genze and Kugler (Multivan Merida) claiming the final podium place a further two minutes down. The time gaps were large and the General Classification shake up was significant. Evans and George moved from seventh to second and Genze and Kugler elevated themselves from sixth to third, 27 seconds behind Evans and George. Stander and Sauser increased their lead slightly and have a massive 25 minutes 01 second cushion over Evans and George with three stages remaining.
“I’m feeling really good. It’s definitely the most comfortable I’ve felt at a Cape Epic,” said Stander afterwards. “I had to dig deep for a few kilometres today when I took a bad line through a river and lost the front group, but otherwise it’s been a very controlled race for me.
“I believe it’s the improved focus on my preparation, particularly my supplementary training – I’ve been doing regular weights training in the gym – and the fine tuning of my nutrition and supplementation.”
“It’s good to move up to second, but it’s not first,” smiled Evans. “The wind was a headwind for about the final 20km and we knew it could be a factor so rode as hard as possible to gain time on the others who had dropped off our bunch. Three days left. We’ll keep plugging away, but there is some satisfaction in moving up to second place today.”
Evans and George lost 24 minutes on Stage 1 when George tore his rear tyre. The pair have been on a time recovery mission ever since, but have been unable to crack the dominant defending champions, Sauser and Stander.
In the Master’s category, South African Robert Sim and German teammate Nico Pfitzenmaier (Robert Daniel Momsen) continued to stamp their authority with another convincing stage win, pushing themselves further into the overall lead, while in the women’s competition, Briton Sally Bigham and Swiss Esther Suss (Wheels4Life) won their fifth consecutive stage and increased their lead.
It was another successful stage for South African couple Erik and Ariane Kleinhans, who claimed the win in the Mixed division, more than 20 minutes faster than the next team home. They now lead the Mixed category overall by more than an hour-and-a-half.
Friday’s Stage 5 is a 119km journey from Caledon to Oak Valley. It contains a high percentage of singletrack and climbs a total of 2 350 metres. The eight-day race finishes on Sunday.
Leading results after Stage 4:
1 Burry Stander (RSA) / Christoph Sauser (SUI) 36One-Songo-Specialized 20hrs 20min 03sec
2 Kevin Evans (RSA) / David George (RSA) Nedbank 360Life @ 25:01
3 Hannes Genze (GER) / Andreas Kugler (SUI) Multivan Merida @ 25:28
4 Thomas Dietsche (FRA) / Tim Boehme (GER) Bulls 2 @ 28:06
5 Alban Lakata (AUT) / Robert Mennen (GER) Topeak Ergon 28:14
1 Esther Suss (SUI) / Sally Bigham (GBR) Wheels4Life 24:01.03
2 Theresa Ralph (RSA) / Nina Gassler (NOR) Biogen Britehouse @ 41:06
3 Karien van Jaarsveld (RSA) / Jane Nuessli (SUI) MTN Qhubeka @ 1:41.09
1 Robert Sim (RSA) / Nico Pfitzenmaier (GER) Robert Daniel Momsen 22:20.19
2 Adrian Enthoven (RSA) / Delaney Impey (RSA) JAG Craft @ 45:58
3 Bart Brentjens (NED) / Jan Weevers (NED) @ 54:14
1 Erik Kleinhans (RSA) / Ariane Kleinhans (RSA) Contego 28E 23:30.29
2 Udo Boelts (GER) / Milena Landtwing (SUI) Centurion Vaude @ 1:40.41
3 Pieter Venter (RSA) / Leana de Jager (RSA) Attix5 @ 2:08.01