Stage 3 - 107km Hermanus - Oak Valley
Four-time race winner and current Absa Cape Epic Women’s category leader, Annika Langvad’s mantra for the gruelling eight-day event has always been: “Never to
take anything for granted until you cross the finish line”. On Wednesday her conservative approach was once again vindicated as the second-placed team of Ariane Lüthi and Maja Wloszczowska (Kross-Spur Racing) were pretty much blown out of contention by punctures.
Langvad and Anna Van der Breggen (Investec-songo-Specialized) had already established a lead of a minute at the first water point just 22km into Wednesday’s out-and-back Stage 3 from Oak Valley Estate. So when Lüthi’s drama began, they were unaware their nearest challengers were in difficulty even before the climb up the iconic Groenlandberg.
In the end the leading pair cruised home in 5:23:43 to record their fourth win from four stages. With half of this year’s Absa Cape Epic completed, the Danish / Dutch combination has established a massive 23-minute lead.
In the dice for the minor placings, Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath (Summit Fin), who were with Lüthi when she had her first puncture, have moved up to second overall after finishing the 107km ride six minutes behind the leaders. They were followed home 14 minutes later by Silverback-Fairtree’s Jennie Stenerhag and Mariske Strauss. Lüthi and Wloszczowska ended fourth on the stage, but did just enough to hold third overall on GC.
“On the downhill after the Dimension Data Hotspot I flatted,” said Lüthi after finally crossing the line. “I didn’t even think I had hit anything. Many other times I thought I was in more danger of puncturing so it was quite a weird puncture actually.
“We fixed it pretty quickly but then thought it safer to change the wheel. At the tech zone we changed the wheel, but we are sharing with our (male teammates) who have the same wheels. So we took a wheel that they had already changed and it already had a plug in it.
“We had to stop again because it lost air, so we actually then had to fix the guys’ problem and that cost us time again. Then we had to change the wheel a second time at the next tech zone.
“But this is the Absa Cape Epic and you always have to keep going … you never know what is going to happen.”
There is no way Langvad will admit it, but such has been the dominance of the Investec-songo-Specialized train that it is hard to see anybody coming close – unless bad luck derails their charge of course.
“It was good today,” said the four-time Absa Cape Epic women’s champion. “I was not feeling good yesterday, but I felt much more recovered today and we had a nice and steady day. It was so brutal the terrain today. There were so many rocks I can hardly feel my arms because it was so rough out there, but I am very happy to take the victory.
“There was a hotspot early in the race and we decided to test our legs and those of our competitors up the first climb. Once we had a gap we just decided to keep it steady and make the others work hard if they wanted to catch.”
“We did not hear about Ariane’s hassles. We did not even know what was going on.”
Lill and Morath arrived with huge grins as their move up to second overall was announced when they crossed the line.
“Amazing result today,” said Lill. “We certainly did not expect that. Today was a stage where you really had to think about how long it was and how much climbing there was. If you blow yourself on Groenlandberg there are still so many climbs to go.
“We were with Ariane when she punctured but you cannot get too excited and try and sprint away. We just rode at our own pace. It was important not to go too fast on the descents so we were really careful not to make any mistakes and puncture.”
On Thursday riders face a much shorter time in the saddle, but the 43km time trial that starts and finishes at Oak Valley favours the stronger riders. Langvad and Van der Breggen are are likely to increase their lead – barring any incidents of course.
The leading Absa African Women’s team pulled out of the event when Amy McDougall was forced to withdraw with a stomach bug on Wednesday, leaving her dormakaba Ladies teammate Sam Sanders to ride on alone in the Leopard jersey. Their withdrawal leaves the Galileo Risk pairing of Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill to take over as the top all-African women’s team with a lead of almost three hours.
Stage 3 Women's Results
Stage Results 1. Investec-songo-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) 05:23.43,3 2. Summit Fin 54-1 Candice Lill (South Africa) 54-2 Adelheid Morath (Germany) 05:29.35,3 +5.52,0 3. Silverback - Fairtree 52-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 52-2 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 05:43.37,0 +19.53,7
Overall Results 1. Investec-songo-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) 15:42.52,8 2. Summit Fin 54-1 Candice Lill (South Africa) 54-2 Adelheid Morath (Germany) 16:06.36,6 +23.43,8 3. Kross-Spur Racing 53-1 Ariane Lüthi (Switzerland) 53-2 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) 16:12.40,6 +29.47,8 4. Silverback - Fairtree 52-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 52-2 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 16:30.28,1 +47.35,3 5. Meerendal WIAWIS Rotwild 51-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 51-2 Nadine Rieder (Germany) 16:43.24,7 +1:00.31,9 6. Galileo Risk 56-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 56-2 Sarah Hill (South Africa) 17:38.11,4 +1:55.18,6 7. FreakShow SCOTT 57-1 Sonya Looney (United States of America) 57-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 18:06.23,4 +2:23.30,6 8. Land Rover Jaguars 46-1 Hannele Steyn (South Africa) 46-2 Katja Steenkamp (South Africa) 20:27.03,6 +4:44.10,8
Stage 4 - 43km Oak Valley- Oak Valley
The Investec-songo-Specialized train continues to rush toward Absa Cape Epic victory and such is their control of the Women’s category that even when things go wrong they seem to be only temporarily derailed with no damage to their title prospects.
On Thursday Annika Langvad and Anna van der Breggen had their biggest drama so far at the 2019 Absa Cape Epic when Langvad had a fall due to a “lack of concentration”, but luck certainly seems to be with the pair of world champions as she remounted quickly and the pair easily rode to their fifth win in five stages.
The 43km Time Trial on the trails around Oak Valley Estate simply provided another stage for the four-time winner and her debutant partner to show off their dominance, and it was no surprise they added one-minute 44-seconds to their lead over the second-placed Summit Fin team of Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath.
Ariane Lüthi and Maja Wloszczowska (Kross-Spur Racing) ended third, two minutes further back.The results did not change the top positions with Langvad and Van der Breggen extending their lead to over 25 minutes, while Summit Fin are now eight minutes clear of third-placed Kross-Spur Racing.
“It is a long race and we have been racing for many days in a row and I think I lost concentration a bit,” said a dusty but otherwise unscathed Langvad after the finish. “Luckily it was in a safe spot.“I fell on a sandy part and just slid off the edge. My bike was stuck in a small bush and I was pulling to get it back on the trail but it was not moving.
“This race is not easy at all. In this race you have to maintain concentration and focus all the time, and you are so tired all the time. That is the real challenge. It is so different going for a two hour ride and doing a course like today when you are well rested, and then going and doing it on the fifth day of the Absa Cape Epic.”
And then in her first admission that the team is beginning to contemplate the overall victory, Langvad added: “I am glad to have made it through today … we are slowly starting to count down the days.”
Van der Breggen said she was never worried, even when she heard her partner slid off the side of the trail: “I knew it was not too deep there and knew she would come out again. When I looked she was fine.”With five days of racing completed and just three more to go, it seems the only way Investec-songo-Specialized can be beaten is through a major mechanical.
However, the race for second is still very much alive although Lill and Morath seem to be growing in strength.
“It was quite a cool Time Trial today,” said a remarkably fresh Lill just after climbing off her bike. “It was a bit refreshing compared to yesterday’s long open slog. There was some really nice singletrack today. It was awesome, we went through the amphitheatre twice and there were a lot of people at Paul Cluver cheering for us.
“Our plan was not to smash it too hard today. You cannot win or make up significant time on a 43km Time Trial so we just wanted to protect our second place and ride smooth.“We had no dramas. We are riding very conservatively. Our approach is to hold back a little and to not lose a lot of time with a mechanical.“Tomorrow (Friday) is going to be a massive day. I think it is going to be the biggest day of the Absa Cape Epic.”
Friday’s stage is the Queen Stage and competitors face a tough 100km with 2 850m of climbing as they make their way from Oak Valley to the new race village at Stellenbosch University.
On Thursday Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill of team Galileo Risk added to their lead in the Absa African Women’s race and are currently lying sixth overall.
Stage 4 Women's Race Results
1. Investec-songo-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) 02:02.01,4
2. Summit Fin 54-1 Candice Lill (South Africa) 54-2 Adelheid Morath (Germany) 02:03.45,7 +1.44,3
3. Kross-Spur Racing 53-1 Ariane Lüthi (Switzerland) 53-2 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) 02:05.46,7 +3.45,3
1. Investec-songo-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) 17:44.54,2
2. Summit Fin 54-1 Candice Lill (South Africa) 54-2 Adelheid Morath (Germany) 18:10.22,4 +25.28,2
3. Kross-Spur Racing 53-1 Ariane Lüthi (Switzerland) 53-2 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) 18:18.27,3 +33.33,1
4. Silverback - Fairtree 52-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 52-2 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 18:36.54,3 +52.00,1
5. Meerendal WIAWIS Rotwild 51-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 51-2 Nadine Rieder (Germany) 18:52.34,8 +1:07.40,6
6. Galileo Risk 56-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 56-2 Sarah Hill (South Africa) 19:49.55,0 +2:05.00,8
7. FreakShow SCOTT 57-1 Sonya Looney (United States of America) 57-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 20:25.53,9 +2:40.59,7
8. Land Rover Jaguars 46-1 Hannele Steyn (South Africa) 46-2 Katja Steenkamp (South Africa) 22:56.34,1 +5:11.39,9
9. T and T 351-1 Jeanette Treherne (South Africa) 351-2 Vivienne Turvey (South Africa) 25:30.46,4 +7:45.52,2
10. Hils&Rails 210-1 Hildegarde Cronje (South Africa) 210-2 Auralia Edwards (South Africa) 25:53.18,0 +8:08.23,8
Images by: Sam Clark, Nick Muzik, Shaun Roy and Absa Cape Epic.