Dear Mountain Bike Enthusiast,
In a surprise stage finish for the penultimate challenge in this year’s Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas, the Full-Dynamix Rsm team, Fredrik Kessiakoff (SWE) and Massimo Debertolis (ITA), took top honours for the first time during this year’s event when they crossed the finish line first at a time of 3:45:10. Hot on their wheels was the USN/adidas team, Brandon Stewart (RSA) and Max Knox (RSA), who arrived seven seconds later (3:45:17). Team Alb-Gold Mountainbike, Hannes Genze (GER) and Joschen Kaess (GER), claimed the third place with a time of 3:53:53.
The usual suspects of leading teams only managed to claim the fourth to sixth stage honours in a tight sprint finish. Fourth was the Bulls team, Karl Platt (GER) and Stefan Sahm (GER), at 3:54:02, followed by Cannondale Vredestein, Roel Paulissen (BEL) and Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) at 3:54:08. South Africa’s best performers in this year’s Absa Cape Epic, the MTN Energade (1) team of Kevin Evans (RSA) and David George (RSA), only secured the sixth position at a time of 3:54:10, which was two seconds after the overall leading team of Cannondale Vredestein.
The penultimate route sees riders conquer Grabouw
||For Stage 7 of this year’s Absa Cape Epic riders enjoyed a shorter route from Hermanus to Grabouw, but it was definitely not easy! Covering 91km and 1 984m of climbing, participants immediately faced the steep tar ascent up Rotary Drive, which granted riders scenic views back over the seaside town of Hermanus and Walker Bay. The route descended through Hamilton Russel and headed for Babilonstoring Nature Reserve, navigating the sandy and rocky jeep tracks. After crossing the R44, the next challenge waited – a loose climb which gained 500m in altitude up to Lebanon Nature Reserve. Then it was single-track time through the Lebanon forest! A quick dip under the N2 took riders to some more fast-flowing single-track. Then the Absa Cape Epic teams had to find their way up and down steep vineyards for their overnight location at Elgin (Grabouw).|
An emotional high
An emotional delight awaited Platt at the finish line after his three brothers (Viktor, Jakob and Albert) flew in from Germany the night before to surprise him. The brothers left Frankfurt at 17h00 on Thursday and arrived in Cape Town today at 05h00. They first went up Table Mountain, before renting a car to make the journey to Oak Valley to surprise Karl. One of Platt’s brothers works for a German airline, so he was able to get great deals on last minute tickets. All four brothers will be flying back home together Monday night.
To attack or not to attack...that is the question
Former Marathon World Champion Massimo Debertolis (Full-Dynamix Rsm) says that he discussed with his riding partner (Fredrik Kessiakoff) the night before that they should attack during Stage 7, and that they should do so immediately when the race started. “We knew we had to do it this way as once we’ve passed the first feed zones and technical terrains there wouldn’t be any way we could leave the other teams behind. We were both in excellent condition so it worked. Winning this stage was a great reward; not only for us but also for our mechanic and physio therapist who accompany us throughout the race. We dedicate this win to our sponsors, crew and support teams.”
Kessiakoff comments that the most difficult challenge in a stage race is when you get so tired towards to the end. “It is just so hard to deal with constant changes in speed, which results from the changes in the terrain. It can range from technical to sandy; a nightmare when you are tired. But today’s stage was totally different which suited us extremely well. We could ride at a constant speed and could also therefore maintain our lead. The USN/adidas team broke away with us, which also made it easier as we could share the hard work.”
Once Debertolis and Kessiakoff (Full-Dynamix Rsm) attacked, Brandon Stewart (USN/adidas) followed and signalled to his riding partner Max Knox to come along. “We hesitated a bit as it was so early on in the race, but if you break away with another team, it is always easier than on your own,” says Knox. “So we decided to go for it. However, when we got to the 2nd water point with the more technical single track sections, Fredrik rode very fast - simply because he is such an excellent rider and very few can keep up with him. Fredrik and Massimo really put the pressure on at the last kilometre or so. But we are still really happy with our result, because we trained very hard for the Absa Cape Epic – so it is wonderful to climb the podium in such a world-class field.”
5-time Absa Cape Epic hero
Stewart has participated in all five Absa Cape Epics, completing them all. He says: “This race has been really hard for me. We had our fair share of really bad luck and a few mechanical issues. Max felt really strong, and I was suffering this year. Last night, I booked myself into a hotel with my wife and daughter, and the mental break was just what I needed. I felt great during Stage 7 and that is why we managed to accomplish what we did. I usually battle when I get tired after 4.5 hours, but today was a shorter route, so we made use of the opportunity. In my five years of participation, I have to say that the race has gotten harder every year. But this year’s pace and route have just been ridiculously tough.”
Hannes Genze of Alb-Gold Mountainbike agrees that the stage was really fun. “It was almost like a reward for the suffering we had to endure the days before. I was completely exhausted yesterday and it felt like someone pulled the plug and I was switched off. I had no more energy left. But today’s stage was exactly what I like. I’m actually sad that we weren’t in the leading group today when they broke away so early – I had no idea then that I would feel so good today.”
He says that they used the first tar section to warm up and in the second climb (which was a sandy terrain) the four top teams managed to leave Dolphin-Trek behind. “In the flat part afterwards we really hit the gas to make sure that Dolphin-Trek would not catch up with us.”
Cannondale Vredestein still in the overall lead
Cannondale Vredestein’s Roel Paulissen says that he also enjoyed today’s stage. “In fact, I discussed with Stefan Sahm of the Bulls to come back with me on Sunday to ride it again. Today the level of single-trail was very close to that of the Mountain Bike World Cup, however we only went at 80% so we were cruising it. But people still couldn’t keep up.” He added that Stage 7 was not so hard on the bikes, but rather more technical. “This is how you can break away by using your skills. On a technical stage you can separate an ordinary mountain biker from an exceptional one. On the gravel roads it is the same for everyone – you just have to push hard to break away.”
MTN Energade’s David George was struggling with the terrain today as it was “true mountain bike stuff” and he is far more experienced on the road. He joked that he got his first single-track badge after the race.
Stefan Sahm (Bulls) was one of the riders who had to cope with a flat tyre during Stage 7. “Apart from the puncture which resulted from a sharp rock in the road, it was a very enjoyable stage. We were able to fix the flat tyre very quickly, and when we got back to the tech zone I changed the wheel to be on the safe side. From there we enjoyed the great stage as it was an unbelievably fun route.”
As riders head into the final stage of this year’s Absa Cape Epic, Cannondale Vredestein enjoy an overall lead time of 33:19:18, a comfortable advantage of almost ten minutes over Bulls in second place (33:28:27). Third is MTN Energade (1) who in turn has an eight minute time difference with the Bulls (33:36:05).
Is the Absa Cape Epic so easy that you can ride it with one leg?
The Absa Masters, Doug Brown (RSA) and Barti Bucher (SUI), was back in top form to claim their stage win at a time of 4:21:54. The Adidas Williams Simpson team, Shan Wilson (RSA) and Walter Platzgummer (ITA) was second (4:29:52), followed by Pragma Masters, M.C. Franken (RSA) and Peter Buggle (IRE) at 4:33:41. Overall, the Absa Masters enjoy a 17 minute lead over Adidas William Simpson (37:16:17 and 37:33:48). The Pragma Masters have an overall third ranking with a time of 38:34:54.
The Adidas William Simpson team experienced some difficulties when Walter Platzgummer broke his pedal 20 km before the finish line. As he was exhausted and struggled even before this happened, his teammate Shan Wilson suggested they swap bikes. This forced Wilson to ride for the 20km with only one foot clipped in. “It was absolutely incredible to see how this act motivated Walter and how he changed because of the move. He even rode faster! It had a dramatic effect on our relationship as we just mentally connected and formed such a strong bond. All of the frustration and anxiety of the last couple of days seemed to be wiped out. He told me that I am a crazy machine, and we were laughing, chatting and joking all the way!” says Wilson. “Walter is incredibly funny with a wicked sense of humour. And despite the language barrier, he makes me laugh so much I sometimes almost fall of my bike.” Once they arrived at the finish line, Wilson had holes in his shoe as the stump of broken pedal that remained was very sharp and he had to be careful not to cut his leg with it. “It was bloody difficult to balance as one leg was just hanging down. In the climbs I just jumped off my bike and ran. But in the end we made it! Just proves again that within a team you can accomplish anything together, which is the philosophy behind team stage races like the Absa Cape Epic.”
Absa Masters’ Doug Brown says that they were riding with the Adidas William Simpson team for a majority of the race. “Then we saw that Walter was struggling during the uphills, so after the second water point we decided to attack. Shan stayed with us and kept pulling Walter back to the group. So we attacked over and over again. This really wore him out. Later on, we suddenly realised that they were no longer with us, and we assumed that something must have happened.” Commenting on his riding partner Barti Bucher, Brown says: “I’m just so impressed with Barti. He is very strong. This race is so hard on your body, legs, and shoulders – you feel every bone in your body and all of your muscles ache. That is something the European riders are not used to. For a race like the Transalp you need strong legs and big lungs. This race is completely different. It challenges you mentally, because of constant changes in the terrain. You have to stay calm and solid. It is often very difficult to find a rhythm – a lot of riders can’t deal with that psychologically. If I had to compete in any other team stage race again, Barti will be my first choice.” The 2008 event is the fourth Absa Cape Epic that Brown has participated in, and the third time that he will complete it. In one of the years, his racing partner dropped out and Brown didn’t continue on his own. “This year’s Epic was definitely the hardest one ever! Also the most emotional one, where you had to deal with mechanical breakdowns or technical issues, which resulted in a loss of time.”
I will survive
The unstoppable Pia Sundstedt (FIN) and Alison Sydor (CAN), the Rocky Moutain Ladies team, secured yet another stage win in Grabouw when they crossed the finish line at 4:37:50. Trek/VW Wsd, Susan Haywood (USA) and Jennifer Smith (NZL), was also consistent with previous achievements when they crossed the finish line second at 5:00:23, followed by Scott Contessa, Jane Seggie (RSA) and Ischen Stopforth (RSA), in third place at 5:18:28.
Overall, Rocky Mountain enjoy a lead of more than thirty minutes (39:42:06) over Trek/VW Wsd (41:13:17), followed by Scott Contessa (43:32:43).
Pia Sundstedt (Rocky Mountain) says that despite their impressive lead time, they are very, very tired. “For me, it is all about surviving now. It is getting very hard to stay motivated when you are so exhausted. I can’t handle my bike anymore. If I wasn’t so tired the single-tracks today would have been fun.” Her riding partner Alison Sydor agrees that the stage was fun and not too rough. “We had one sandy climb that posed a bit of a challenge, but the descent afterwards was fantastic. We worked hard the last couple of days to maintain our lead, but now we just want to finish safely by taking it easy tomorrow without any risks. We have been riding at our maximum pace and everyone is now struggling with a lack of energy. So today’s stage was really a bit of a treat. Although I am feeling stronger than Pia, we usually arrive at the finish line equally tired as I sometimes push or pull her. If both in the team arrive at the finish line in the same state, you know you’ve worked perfectly together as a team.”
All the world is a stage
Their team name says it all, and Joybike-Maloja Express must have experienced a burst of happiness when they took the stage win in the Mixed category at a time of 4:34:16. Minutes later, Cyclelab Toyota, Johan Labuschagne (RSA) and Yolande de Villiers (RSA), crossed the finish line at 4:47:41 to claim the second place, followed by Novatec – Ck Mtb Dohnany, Tomas Legnavsky (SVK) and Janka Stevkova (SVK), at 5:01:54.
Joybike remains in the lead overall (40:14:25) – and comfortably so with a 30 plus minute time advantage over Cyclelab Toyota (40:46:09). Third overall is Absa Mixed (42:00:46).
Ivonne Kraft (Joybike-Maloja Express) says that today’s stage was the most beautiful one of her Absa Cape Epic experiences. “But if the route designer didn’t kill us yesterday, I would have been able to enjoy it even more if I had had more energy. All of the ladies were exhausted after that sandy stretch towards the end of Stage 6. Today we were riding with the Rwanda teams in the single tracks and we really enjoyed it! We were riding in front at the difficult sections, and the Rwanda teams kept up so well.” Her riding partner Nico Pfitzenmaier agrees that the stage today was fantastic. “It is actually a shame that we had to ride for seven days before getting to it. I suggest that for next year the routes are shortened by 30km and will include more single tracks like today – it would increase the fun factor for the challenge. On a day like today we have an enormous advantage, because in the technical sections we are at our best.” Commenting on his Mixed category partner, he says: “She is such a good technical rider, so we can ride those parts with a good flow. She enjoys it as much as I do. When we have to ride something strenuous like the sandy stretch yesterday, I hold back and push her to conserve her energy. But we have such a good routine and I know her strengths and weaknesses; it happens automatically, we don’t even have to talk about it.”
The Absa Cape Epic shopping list
Everyone who experiences any aspect of the Absa Cape Epic is always amazed at how smoothly the event runs and how professionally the move from stage to stage is managed. To present such a world-class stage race involves over 140 event registered vehicles, including 2 superlink taunt-liners, 3 superlink hardbodies, 4 superlink flat-beds, 2 foodgrade tankers for single source water transport (34 000 litres), 6 transport vehicles, 7 refrigerated vehicles, 5 sprinters, 20 kombi’s, 10 ATV’s, and 24 motorbikes, amongst others. On a daily basis, approximately 225 tons of goods are transported, including 1 700 chairs, 170 tables, 2 400 tents, 1 400 matresses, 22 000 m² of marquees, 700 m of fencing, start/finish set-up, 33 individual luxury showers, 125 portable flush toilets, 500 0000 litres of liquids (including 100 000 litres of purified drinking water). The title sponsor’s payoff line, “the true test of partnership”, seems to ring true for everyone who works behind the scenes, as teams rely on each other to deliver the best stage race event in the world!
In terms of food, 13 500 muffins were consumed, as well as 27 000 pastries, 3 500 loafs of bread, 79 800 fresh fruit, 2 100 kg pasta, 3 800 kg rice, potatoes and other starches, 1 400 kg of cereals, 21 200 portions of butter, 18 000 juice packs and 11 000 litres of milk.
Reinventing the (mountain bike) wheel
Tom Ritchey (USA) of Project Rwanda is not only one of the founding fathers of mountain biking, but he is also a master bicycle frame builder, designer, welder and founder of Ritchey Design. Like many of mountain biking’s founding fathers, he is also an accomplished road and mountain bike racer in his own right. Tom was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 1988. “My bike is my office,” is one of his famous quotes. He is participating in this year’s event with eighteen-time World Cup ddojojojojo Winner and Olympic medalist Thomas Frischknecht, the most prolific winner of cross-country events of all time. They have partnered to promote Project Rwanda, Ritchey’s brainchild and initiative structured to benefit the coffee growers in Rwanda by providing them with specially modified bikes for the transportation of their goods.
In December 2005, Ritchey and his friend Gary Boulaner were invited to tour Rwanda by bicycle. They were asked if they were interested in developing a grass-roots racing team, opening a bicycle assembly factory, designing a transportation/cargo-hauling bicycle, and establishing a mountain bike safari touring company. Three months later, Tom sent his friend Jared Miller to Rwanda to explore these possibilities. Project Rwanda was born. Project Rwanda has as its main goal the furthering of economic development in Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as tool and symbol of hope. They envision to re-brand Rwanda as an ideal place to do business and travel, after its brutal civil war and genocide.
Part of their involvement is also guiding the Rwanda Development Teams participating in the Absa Cape Epic this year. Three teams are participating including Adrien Niyonshuti with Nathan Bukusenge (Project Rwanda 2), Jon Boyer with Abraham Ruhumuriza (Project Rwanda) and Peterson Conway with Rafiki Jean de Dieu Uwimana (Project Rwanda 3). Training and supporting the riders from Rwanda has paid off as Boyer and Ruhumuriza are ahead of Ritchey and Frischknecht in the GC (46th and 51st, respectively).
No pain no gain
It is no secret that the Absa Cape Epic challenges you both psychologically and physically. The strain the body has to endure over nine consecutive days is beyond the imagination of novices. This year, the Medi-Clinic staff who is looking after the riders who need medical assistance, mainly had to deal with the top five list of dehydration, fatigue, abrasion of knees and shoulders, as well as cramps. Of 563 patients treated during the first seven stages, only 8 were hospitalized and 64 were advised to withdraw from the race to be on the safe side. With medical facilites being available on route as well as at the start and finish locations, riders are confident that immediate care will be available in case of an emergency.
Final stop: Lourensford
For the final stage of the 2008 Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas, riders might enjoy a stage half the length of the longest one, but the climbs are amongst the steepest. Through the vineyards and orchards of Oak Valley there are several short, jagged hills. Then comes the long, steep climbs through Nuweberg forcing many of the riders into their ‘granny gear’. As slow as they ride up, the opposite will be true of the next downhill sections. Hair-raising descents will force riders to stay alert to avoid a tragic exit to the race at such a late stage. This will take them to the flat section nearing the bottom of Gamtou Pass where, like last year, they have a compulsory portage section through this National Heritage Site. They will follow in the Voortrekkers’ footsteps down to the railway line, through more vineyards and then home to Lourensford. Here they will reunite with their families and resume their normal lives...at least until next year.
Visit www.cape-epic.com for more details and to see where the riders are online during the race.
Watch the Absa Cape Epic highlights daily on Supersort2 at 22h30.
Absa Cape Epic Media Director