The Tough Get Going As Going Gets Tough
Stage 4 of the 2015 Absa Cape Epic, a 111km loop of the Worcester countryside, finished much like the previous stage – with riders covered in sand, cursing the heat and rocky conditions of the route. And, of course, with Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad of Team RECM Specialized crossing the line first, well ahead of the chasing pack in the women’s race.
Second over the line, more than 20 minutes after Team RECM Specialized, was a much happier looking Team Ascendis Health, with both Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot finishing with grins instead of grimaces. Third in the Sasol Women’s category on Stage 4 were Esther Suss and Alice Pirard of Team Meerendal Wheeler, who just pipped the leading South African ladies, Jeannie Dreyer and Theresa Ralph of Team RBS, to the final podium place.
There were no tears this time from the leaders, just big smiles and high fives as the two continued their phenomenal dominance of this race. Still, it’s no pleasure cruise at the Absa Cape Epic and Langvad will be nursing a few bruises after a fall near the end of the stage.
“It was really sandy again, and so rocky at the start,” said a browner than usual Kleinhans. “It was also real Karoo riding out there today, so you had to watch for thorns and sharp stones.” The pair are riding slightly heavier and thicker tyres than normal, and it’s a strategy that appears to be paying off.
“They are only slightly heavier than our usual tyres,” said Kleinhans, “but it really gives you the confidence to push on, especially when you are slightly tired towards the end of the day and you aren’t able to dodge obstacles quickly. With these you can go over stones feeling confident that you won’t puncture.”
From this stage of the race riders start to tire and mistakes can derail a charge for victory and ruin months of training. “That’s the nature of stage races,” said Kleinhans. “Everyone starts to get tired from now but you just have to push on.”
Pushing on is exactly what Stenerhag and De Groot did on Stage 4. No smiles on Stage 3 turned to all smiles on Stage 4 as the pair regrouped well. “Today is a much nicer feeling,” beamed Stenerhag. “We’ve been second a few times at this year’s Cape Epic, but today was the best ‘second’ we’ve had. It was important to bounce back after yesterday and we did that.”
In their fifth stage race together Stenerhag and De Groot are working well together, De Groot adding that they rarely talk on the route but that when they do it’s to convince each other that they are doing “really well”.
“We don’t say much,” said a smiling De Groot, “but when we do it’s usually to give ourselves and ego boost!”
An interested spectator at the finish line was South African Olympian and rising cross country star Candice Neethling. She was watching on in awe as the leading ladies sprinted for the line and offered some insight into what makes Team RECM Specialized so good. “These guys are inspiring,” said Neethling. “I rode Tour de Boland with Ariane and seeing first-hand how she prepares for a race taught me a lot.”
Neethling says that it’s Kleinhans and Langvad’s preparation and professionalism that sets them apart. “Annika is the world champion, and she is the best. Both Annika and Ariane are also so smart,” said Neethling, “they leave nothing to chance and go into every race as well-prepared as they can be.”
Both will know, then, that Stage 5 is another long day in the saddle as riders head from HTS Drostdy in Worcester to CPUT’s campus Wellington. The trek is 117km and features 2 500m of climbing, including dips into the Wolseley Valley and a climb up Bain's Kloof Pass. Some of the best trails in the country lie in wait at Welvenpas, but before getting there riders will have to tackle the 3km Full Monty climb.