Not even an extension to the route distance could prevent Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad from storming to another stage victory at the Absa Cape Epic.
On another hot, dry and dusty day at the event, Team RECM Specialized crossed the line in a time of 6:05.33,7. The only minor hiccup on the day was a big crash early in the men’s race, but Langvad and Kleinhans were on the opposite side of the road, and so avoided the pile-up.
Second was Team Ascendis Health, Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot finishing the day in 6:29.20,8. 2007 women’s winner Yolande de Villiers nabbed the last Stage 5 podium place, finishing third on the day with SasolRacing partner Janka Keseg Stevkova.
Stage 5 from Worcester to Wellington was originally scheduled as a 117km slog through the Cape Winelands District, but race organisers were forced to add 5km to the route due to road works on the original course. Extra distance, however, is no problem for the Absa Cape Epic’s power pair.
“We had a really nice ride from start to finish,” said Annika Langvad. “It was actually very bumpy for two-thirds of the route, but then we got on to the tar climb up Bain’s Kloof Pass, which was like heaven. The 20km or so on the tar was a relief and from there we just kicked home.”
On the surface, the only sign that Langvad has been in a gruelling race for six days are a few scratches and cuts from a fall two days ago, but she does admit that the famed climbing of the Cape Epic is starting to take its toll. “In general, I’m feeling okay,” she said. “I can still go and pace on the flat sections or the tar, but my legs are tired. Every day adds up.”
Realistically, only a major catastrophe can stop Team RECM Specialized from winning the Sasol Women’s category. “Things like the crash in the men’s race can take us out, so we just need to stay out of the way,” said Langvad. “That’s mountain biking, though. You think everything is fine and the next thing you’re on the floor.”
Although nearly an hour behind the leaders, Ascendis Health team manager Barry Austin is pleased with Stenerhag and De Groot’s performance. “We came into this aiming for a top five, so lying second overall is great for us,” said Austin. “If you look at the daily results we’ve been really consistent.”
In her first Absa Cape Epic, De Groot is feeling the effects. “At this stage I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. It also feels like we’ve been on the bike for a long time,” she said. “But we’re going well.”
The second women rider over the line on Stage 5 was actually Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå. The former world champion and Olympic gold medallist, though, is riding as an Outcast after partner Kathrin Stirnemann was forced to pull out after breathing complications on Stage 4.
“I didn’t work too hard out there,” said Dahle Flesjå, “so I had a good day. I’m feeling strong and enjoying the experience. I don’t do much stage racing, so this quite unique for me.” Dahle Flesjå says she’s getting better and better as the days go on, and that she’d like to return with more competitive ambitions.
Stage 6 should prove to be a competitive day for the entire field. At just 71km the day sounds short, but more than 2 000m of climbing and the technical trails of Welvenpas will test riders struggling with heavy legs. Dubbed a “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” experience, riders will tackle around 30km of singletrack, but also have to subdue climbs with names like “Forever”. It may feel like forever to some, but the race is almost done.
2015 Stage 5 Sasol Women
1. RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 6:05.33,7
2. Ascendis Health 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (South Africa) 6:29.20,8 +23.47,1
3. SasolRacing 56-1 Yolande de Villiers (South Africa) 56-2 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 6:30.19,6 +24.45,9
1. RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 29:04.41,7
2. Ascendis Health 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (South Africa) 29:58.23,3 +53.41,6
3. Meerendal Wheeler 51-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 51-2 Alice Pirard (Belgium) 30:13.33,5 +1:08.51,8
4. SasolRacing 56-1 Yolande de Villiers (South Africa) 56-2 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 30:39.11,8 +1:34.30,1
5. RBS 137-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 137-2 Jeannie Bomford (South Africa) 30:50.24,3 +1:45.42,6
6. Novus OMX Pro 79-1 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 79-2 Cherie Vale (South Africa) 32:41.34,5 +3:36.52,8
7. SasolRacing 2 59-1 Leana de Jager (South Africa) 59-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 33:22.55,6 +4:18.13,9
8. Dawn Wing/Momsen 78-1 Ann Harrison (South Africa) 78-2 Marleen Lourens (South Africa) 35:16.43,9 +6:12.02,2