Cape Town - Spaniard Jose Hermida and his Dutch partner Rudi van Houts (Team Multivan Merida) grabbed a thrilling 14 second win in the Cape Epic prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate on Sunday, while some of the cycling favourites faltered.
The 23km time trial results suggest the race is going to be one of the closest in years. The longer stages lie ahead and the marathon specialists will hope to gain revenge, but the performances of several teams raised some eyebrows.
Hermida and Van Houts squeezed home in 59 minutes and eight seconds (59:8).
"It was the hardest stage of the Cape Epic thus far this year. We wanted a stage and will ride strong with our yellow jerseys," the colourful Spaniard said.
The duo appear to be in excellent form and seem certain to be challengers later.
"We were racing to the limit the whole time," Van Houts said.
"My heart rate was 180 the whole time, that's very high."
Second place went to Swiss pair Lukas Fluckiger and Martin Fanger (BMC) and third to German Robert Mennen and his Czech team-mate Kristian Hynek (Topeak-Ergon), who were more than a minute back.
"Martin started strong and I just had to hang on. In the second half I got my legs and rhythm," Fluckiger said.
"Seven days left and we will be fighting for the jersey."
Race favourites German Karl Platt and Swiss Urs Huber (Bulls) finished sixth, more than two minutes off the pace while the Swiss Christoph Sauser and his Czech partner Frantisek Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized) were ninth, more than three minutes behind the winners.
South African podium hopefuls Kevin Evans and Max Knox (FedGroup Itec) finished seventh.
Both Sauser and Platt are aiming for a fifth Epic win and will know that they have their work cut out this year.
The women's race was comfortably won by RECM - Swiss Ariane Kleinhans and Dane Annika Langvad - in spite of the latter crashing badly as the course took them down some steps outside the Meerendal Manor House, near the start.
They finished in 1:10.07, more than two minutes ahead of nearest challengers Esther Suss and Sally Bigham (Meerendal).
Third finishers were Jennie Stenerhag of Sweden and her South African partner Theresa Ralph, but they were more than five minutes off the pace.
Langvad said she had been worried after the crash.
"But luckily nothing (serious) happened," she said.
"It was the adrenaline kick I needed..."
Results after the prologue of the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race held at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville outside Cape Town on Sunday:
1 Jose Hermida and Rudi van Houts (Multivan Merida) 0:59.08
2 Lukas Fluckiger and Martin Fanger (BMC) 0:59.20
3 Robert Mennen and Kristian Hynek (Topeak-Ergon) 1:00.28,7
1 Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad (RECM2) 1:10.07
2 Esther Suss and Sally Bigham (Meerendal) 1:12.16
3 Jennie Stenerhag and Theresa Ralph 1:15.43