Safety First For Sasol Women’s Category Leaders
After a week of sand, rocks and long, brutal stretches of rough riding, riders at the Absa Cape Epic enjoyed something of a “fun” day out on Stage 6. Of course, fun is relative at the Cape Epic and the second last day of the race, while only 71km long, still featured 2000m of climbing and technical riding on the world-class trails of Welvenpas.
The day started wet and chilly on the fields of CPUT’s Wellington campus, but ended much like the rest of the week – with Team RECM Specialized stepping once more into the orange jersey in the late-morning heat.
Stage 6 was a cross country day, featuring over 30km of singletrack on the route. Langvad asked Kleinhans at the start if they should take it easy, the Swiss rider replying “Ja”.
“We considered pushing it, but we don’t need to take risks,” admitted Langvad. “Right now it’s all about getting to the finish, so we don’t actually need to dig too deep.”
Both Langvad and Kleinhans said they are starting to feel the effects of their assault on the 2015 race course. “I’m very relieved it’s almost over,” said Langvad.
Kleinhans added that her hands and arms had taken a beating over the last two days. “Today was a lot more fun, though. The rain kept the dust away and the singletrack was great.”
Team Ascendis Health’s Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot rolled over the line in second place yet again, 17 minutes after RECM Specialized. “It’s hard work,” declared a tired looking Stenerhag.
From a local perspective, the story of the day was the first podium of the week for an all-South African women’s team. Mariske Strauss and Cherie Vale, riding in the colours of Novus OMX Pro, are at home on singletrack and used their excellent technical abilities to great effect on Stage 6.
Earlier in the week other leading women riders confirmed that they heard the pair whooping with delight on singletrack sections, so Stage 6 was always going to suit the team.
Strauss won South African cross-country National Championship Elite women’s title in 2014 and her talent showed on what was a great day for this new Epic partnership. “We’re cross country riders,” said Strauss. “So we started this race with the ambition of finishing, that’s it!”
Vale, staring around the finish area in a state of disbelief, was shaking and overcome with emotion after walking off the podium.
“My body was not agreeing with me this morning,” she said. “We started fast and I wasn’t feeling great, but the singletrack revived me and I said a few prayers which were definitely answered. Mariske is a champion, an absolute champion.”
Earlier in the week, Strauss said that being able to eat anything she wanted was her favourite part of the race. After today, both riders might feel differently about their race highlight.
Tomorrow, the finish of what many are calling the toughest Absa Cape Epic in a long time, is just 87km away. Riders will leave Wellington and set out for Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville. Along the way they will come face-to-face with a climb that will enter Cape Epic folklore - the Paardeberg.
The stage starts with 25km of fast riding on farm and district roads, but all the time the Paardeberg's brooding presence will loom in the distance.
After Water Point 1 the route goes straight into the climb - and continues on it for nearly 6km, during which about 600m of elevation will be gained - one last giant hurdle before a well-earned rest on Monday morning.