Defending Epic champs bounce back

Absa Cape Epic logo (File)
Absa Cape Epic logo (File)

Cape Town -  After an intriguing day’s racing in the Sasol Women’s category, defending champions Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad surged to victory and the overall lead on Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic – spending 5:06.00,2 in their saddles.

For much of the stage, the 100th in the race’s history, the Spur-Specialized pair bided their time in third place behind the Sport for Good’s Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina and Sally Bigham and Adel Morath of Topeak Ergon. Significantly, Kleinhans and Langvad remained ahead of the erstwhile race leaders, Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag of Ascendis Health and by the time the South African-Swedish pair arrived back in Tulbagh, their 58 seconds lead had turned into a three minute, 17 second defecit.

“It feels amazing to be back in the orange jersey,” said a beaming Kleinhans. “This morning I was confident we could do something but when Sabine and Yana went ahead on the first climb I thought it was going to be a long day. I knew I couldn’t go at the pace that they went up so we decided to keep it really consistent and I remembered from 2011 that the last climb goes into a long descent and is quite technical – I thought that’s where we could decide it.”

Spitz and Belomoina were the protagonists in establishing the pecking order for the day, by laying down a marker that only Bigham and Morath initially followed, up the wagon trail out of Tulbagh onto the Witzenberg mountains. Spitz revealed that their tactics were formulated because of their experience on Monday’s Stage 1.

“Our goal today was to not get fed with dust and the only way to do that is to stay in front for as long as possible,” said the 2003 Cross-country World Champion and 2008 Olympic Champion. “We managed to stay in front of the men until they caught us 500m before the end of the first climb. When we dipped into the valley instead of being covered in dust and unable to see we could get into a nice pedalling rhythm as it was a bit of dirt road and bit of tarmac and also the single track allowed us to recover.”

Despite eventually finishing the day in third place, the Sport for Good pairing remained in fourth overall, but were pleased to claim the day’s hotspot prize and look forward to the remaining stages.

After trailing Spitz and Belomoina through the first two water points, Bigham and Morath took over the lead before the third water point. Echoing Kleinhans and Langvad’s sentiments, Bigham had only praise for the the efforts of Spitz and Belomoina.

“It was really exciting today, particularly because the lead changed hands a few times. Ariana and Annika seemed to go full risk on the descent home and that’s where they overtook us. We didn’t have any technicals today.”

Outgoing race leaders, De Groot and Stenerhag were due to do some injury assessment, after Stenerhag had a hard tumble onto her left arm on the first descent of the day.

“I don’t think it’s badly injured, only a bit sore,” said Stenerhag, while inspecting her blood and dust caked arm.

Her partner De Groot acknowledged that though they lost the orange jersey today, they will not give up the challenge of getting it back from Spur-Specialized.

“From the word ‘go’ the ladies attacked and we were on the back foot. It’s a tough field so we knew it would be exciting racing this year, but we won’t give up…”

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