Cape Epic a shining success

8 April 2008

 

The final stage of this year’s Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas saw the Cannondale Vredestein team of Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang and Belgium’s Roel Paulissen walk away as overall winners of the 2008 event.

With a nine-minute advantage built up of over the last couple of stages, they solidified their position as winners once again when they crossed the finish line within the leading bunch of riders who sprinted the last couple of metres of “the Magical and Untamed African Mountain Bike Race.”

Thousands of enthusiastic spectators lined the impressive finish at Lourensford in Somerset-West to welcome the top guns across the line.

Final stage winners

However, first across the finish line of the final stage was the Bulls team of Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm in a time of 2:42:21. The stage win secured them the second place overall in 36:10:49.

Following the Bulls, in second place, was another German pairing, Hannes Genze and Jochen Kaess of Alb-Gold Mountainbike, in a time of 2:42:25, which clinched them a fourth overall finish in 36:28:35.

The Cannondale Vredestein team finished one second later to take top honours in 26:01:45.

SA’s best

The final stage of this year’s Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas saw the Cannondale Vredestein team of Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang and Belgium’s Roel Paulissen walk away as overall winners of the 2008 event at the weekend.

For the final stage of the 2008 Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas, riders enjoyed a stage half the length of the longest one, but the climbs were amongst the steepest.

Through the vineyards and orchards of Oak Valley there were several short, jagged hills. The long, steep climbs over Nuweberg followed, which forced many of the riders into their ‘granny gear’.

As slowly as they had to ride uphill, the opposite was true of the next downhill sections. Hair-raising descents forced riders to stay alert in order to avoid a tragic exit to the race at such a late stage.

This took them to the flat section nearing the bottom of Gamtou Pass where, like last year, they had a compulsory portage section through the National Heritage Site. The Absa Cape Epic participants followed in the Voortrekkers’ footsteps down to the railway line, through more vineyards, which took them to the finish line at Lourensford.

Winners’ strategy

Roel Paulissen, one half of Cannondale Vredestein, the overall winning team, says they were prepared to ride the final stage at a very relaxed pace, as they felt they didn’t need to fight too much thanks to their time advantage. It didn’t work out that way, however.

“In the beginning, Brandon Stewart of USN/adidas broke away to set the pace for the first 20 kilometres. Once he shot off to attack, our race instincts kicked in and we immediately stayed with him,” Paulissen said. He then decided to take over in terms of leading the teams, which he did for most of the race.

The leading teams – Bulls, Alb-Gold Mountainbike, Cannondale Vredestein, MTN Energade and USN/adidas – enjoyed the final stage, although USN/adidas encountered some problems when Brandon Stewart had a chain suck one kilometre from the finish line, and had to fix it.

“After that, I was out of the sprint and I am really sad about it. We felt so good today that I believe we could have stepped on the podium in the last stage,” he commented.

Thrilled

The MTN Energade team was thrilled with their third place ranking overall. Kevin Evans said: “David (George) had very good legs today so he could have performed well in the sprint.

“I ended up in the back of the leading bunch and once I tried to get to the front, it was too late and I was not in a good enough position to compete in the final sprint. However, we are really proud of our overall third place and our African category overall win.”

He added that after winning the race’s prologue, he and George thought they might be able to take top honours in this year’s event. “But after stage two and three, we thought absolutely not. Then our confidence grew after stage four and we thought that maybe if we fight, and with Lady Luck’s help, we can climb the overall podium, which we did!”

David George added: “What impressed me most about the Absa Cape Epic is the camaraderie between the pro riders. The mutual respect and the relaxed atmosphere amongst the top riders is something I have never experienced before in road racing. That’s why it stood out for me.”

Defending champions

In second place overall, the German Bulls team returned to defend the title they won in 2007. Asked on whether they thought prior to the race that they could win again this year, Karl Platt said: “Absolutely, yes. I have never felt this good before during any Absa Cape Epic as I did this year.

“Stefan had a few weak days in the beginning and I had to pull him on occasion, but we grew from strength to strength together. It was really hard work to at least claim the second place.”

The champions, Jakob Fuglsang and Roel Paulissen of the Cannondale Vredestein team, embraced each other as they completed their race. Victory, they said, had been about tending to unfinished business.

Ladies’ winners

First to cross the finish line in the ladies’ category were Finland’s Pia Sundstedt and Alison Sydor of Canada, the Rocky Mountain team, who won their sixth stage of the event in 3:23:45.

They took overall victory in 43:05:51, which was enough to place them in the top 25 overall!.

In second place during the final stage, as well as second overall, was the Trek/VW Wsd team of Susan Haywood (USA) and Jennifer Smith (NZL). They finished the stage in 3:28:16 and the race in 44:41:33 overall. The first South African team, Jane Seggie and Ischen Stopforth of the Scott Contessa team, captured third place in 48:00:03.

Celebration

For Sydor and Sundstedt, crossing the finishing line in Lourensford was a time for celebration as they hugged each other while rolling over the last timing mat of thes race.

Unexpectedly, their handlebars caught, resulting in a crash in front of the astonished crowds. Sundstedt hurt her shoulder when they fell on top of each other, but she quickly back on her feet to celebrate the win.

Sydor and Sundstedt both reckoned that the 2008 Absa Cape Epic was a hard race in a beautiful environment. “I can truly say that the Absa Cape Epic is the toughest sporting event I’ve ever done in my life. Everything about this race is extraordinary – the scenery, the organisation, the people. It is long ride, but it is a great ride and I can’t imagine a more fantastic way to explore this beautiful country,” explained Sydor.

Masters

In the Masters’ category it was no surprise that the Absa Masters, South Africa’s Doug Brown and Switzerland’s Barti Bucher, walked away as the overall winners in 40:22:38.

The were second on the final stage in 3:06:21, trailing the Adidas William Simpson team of Shan Wilson and Walter Platzgummer, who finished in 3:05:19. They ranked second overall, with third going to M. C. Franken and Peter Buggle of Pragma Masters.

Brown said the Absa Cape Epic puts one through all the emotions a human being can experience in a very short period of time. “It’s an exceptional challenge and in a few years time I won’t be able to believe that I’ve finished it three times,” he said.

His riding partner, Bucher, added: “I imagined the Absa Cape Epic to be a scenic ride through some game reserves where I can see giraffes and elephants. To be honest, during the first two stages I couldn’t see a thing around me. All I saw was the route that went up and down and up and down.

“Big lungs and good legs are not enough for this race. You have to be an all-rounder who can cope with loose gravel, sand, steep climbs, single-track, wind, and endless flat stretches to win the Absa Cape Epic. Simply finishing it is a real accomplishment.”

Mixed

Top honours in the mixed category went to the Joybike-Maloja Express combination of Ivonne Kraft and Nico Pfitzenmaier, who won their sixth stage in a time of 3:17:07. In addition, the German duo also won the Prologue. Their overall time was 43:31:32.

Second place went the way of Cyclelab Toyota’s Johan Labuschagne and Yolande de Villiers in 44:15:58, while Absa Mixed’s Kobus and Fienie Barnard ended third in 45:50:21.

Pfitzenmaier commented about his experiences during the event: “During the Absa Cape Epic you go through all stages in life. You experience emotional highs and lows, joy and happiness, as well as frustration and anger. It is a true life experience.”

His riding partner Kraft added: “It is fun.pain, exhaustion, but happiness at the end.”

Romance

There was also a memorable romantic moment at the finish when John Bullens (41) proposed to his riding partner and girlfriend of the last 21 years, Patrice Vercammen (39), on the finish line as they completed their nine-day challenge. On reaching the line, Bullens, a firefighter from the Netherlands, went down on one knee and his bride-to-be accepted his proposal. They were married an hour later in Somerset-West!

Mike De Beer and Casper van Wyk of Team River Group were the last riders to cross the finish line before the cut-off time in an emotional finale to the event. Overwhelmed by emotion, they rolled in to the tune of “Heroes Live Forever”.

Finishers

Out of the 1 198 riders who embarked on the gruelling journey on two wheels, 968 cycled the entire 966 kilometres Knysna to Lourensford.

During the prologue and the eight stages, they climbed a total of 18 529 metres on their bikes, which is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice! In total, 435 teams managed to arrive at the final destination whereas 98 riders had to complete the event on their own.

Since the event began in 2004, 29 riders have completed the Absa Cape Epic five times. In order to reward the loyalty shown by competitors who return each year to ride the Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas, the organisers have introduced a loyalty programme.

‘Amabubesi’

Riders that have finished the event three times will be awarded membership of adidas Amabubesi – The Absa Cape Epic Finisher Club. “Amabubesi” means “pack of lions’ in Zulu – an excellent description for mountain bikers that return year after year to ride the event.

“To finish the Absa Cape Epic just once is a great accomplishment. That is why we would like to award mountain bikers that keep coming back and complete this tough race year after year. This way, we pay tribute to their achievements,” said Axel Burkhardt, head of Olympic Sports, Cycling and Outdoor at adidas Global Sports Marketing.

Before the 2008 event, 139 Amabubesi riders had participated and completed the Absa Cape Epic at least three times. Eighty-five of those participated again in this year’s event!

RESULTS

 

MEN

 

  1. Cannondale Vredestein – Paulissen (Bel), Fuglsang (Den)
  2. Bulls – Platt (Ger), Sahm (Ger)
  3. MTN Energade (1) – Evans (RSA), George (RSA)
  4. Alb-Gold Mountainbike – Genze (Ger), Kaess (Ger)
  5. Full-Dynamix Rsm – Kessiakoff (Swe), Debertolis (Ita)
  6. Dolphin-Trek – Brentjens (Ned), Lakata (Aut)
  7. USN/adidas – Stewart (RSA), Knox (RSA)
  8. Etto Hoydahl (3) – Bratland (Nor), Torgersen (Nor)
  9. Etto Hoydahl (2) – Hoydahl (Nor), Kjoren (Nor)
  10. MTN Energade (2) – Heymans (Nam), Swanepoel (RSA)

 

LADIES

 

  1. Rocky Mountain – Sundstedt (Fin), Sydor (Can)
  2. Trek/VW Wsd – Haywood (USA), Smith (NZL)
  3. Scott Contessa – Seggie (RSA), Stopforth (RSA)

 

MASTERS

 

  1. Absa Masters – Brown (RSA), Bucher (Sui)
  2. Adidas William Simpson – Wilson (RSA), Platzgummer (Ita)
  3. Pragma Masters – Franken (RSA), Buggle (Ire)

 

MIXED

  1. Joybike-Maloja Express – Kraft (Ger), Pfitzenmaier (Ger)
  2. Cyclelab Toyota – Labuschagne (RSA), De Villiers (RSA)
  3. Absa Mixed – Barnard (RSA), Barnard (RSA)

Source: Absa Cape Epic