The top men’s teams battled for advantage in the Absa Cape Epic’s penultimate stage, with the Trek-Brentjens team winning the stage, but the Bulls team maintaining a tight grip on the overall lead.
The Songo.info team of Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander, meanwhile, got more bad news as officials reconsidered the 15-minute penalty they had slapped on the team for taking outside assistance on stage 4. Officials decided to increase the penalty to one hour, putting the team — which dominated the first four days of the race and finished second on stage 6 — back to sixth overall.
Overall Women’s Team Top 3:
1. Absa Ladies: Sharon Laws (England) and Hanlie Booyens (South Africao) in 33:39.26
2. WSP – Jeep Girls: Robyn Adendorff (South Africa) and Sarah Van Heedren (South Africa) in 38:25.25
3. TREAD Magazine Ladies: Nolene Saunders (South Africa) and Sarah Wielopolska (South Africa) in 34:02:43.
Top Mixed Team overall:
1. Adidas Big Tree: Nico Pfitzenmaier (South Africa) and Alison Sydor (Canada) in 28:53.51.
Top American (Any category, overall):
Tinker Juarez, teamed with South Africa’s Johnny Kritzinger, is in 14th overall and 14th among the men, in 28:09.03.
American mountain bike pioneer Tom Ritchey and teammate Rafiki Uwimana are in 87th place overall (59th among the men’s teams) in 34:41.09.
Trek-Brentjens finally attained their dream of a stage win, but they need to make up at least 4:48 in the final stage to pass the Bulls, who were fourth on stage 6, a bit more than one minute behind Trek-Brentjens.
“It feels so good to win a stage in the Absa Cape Epic and the feeling is even greater when you’ve been working so hard to get there,” Brentjens said. “I’m very excited that we made it. All the teams were so close together today and it was very tricky to break away.”
Emil Lindgrenn (South Africa) and Andreas Kugler (Switzzerland) of the Felt Factory 2 team finished in third place on the day, securing their third podium finish of the race and moving into third overall.
Stefan Sahm of the Bulls team broke his chain about 5km from the finish. “(Teammate) Karl (Platt) already opened a chain link for me so that I could fix it very quickly, but afterwards it was hard for us to get into the rhythm again,” Sahm said.
Platt said, “When the chain broke, I just thought ‘not again, not another mechanical obstacle’. At this race nothing is given to you; you have to fight for everything. We’ve never broken a chain at the Absa Cape Epic ever.”
Stander said the pace was “incredible.”
“The Bulls and Trek-Brentjens were competing heavily, so I decided to stay in the group and not attack. In the end they were more rested and we were missing a climb to break away. When you’re racing so hard for seven consecutive days, there will always be a day when your body needs a rest and won’t perform as well. I guess today was my bad day – that’s why I stayed in the bunch and tried to conserve energy. I really suffered for about 30 km and considering the duration of the race, I would say that’s not so bad.”
Women’s teams don’t want to go home
Absa Ladies Hanlie Booyens and Sharon Laws continued their seven-day winning streak by finishing first in their division in 4:42:30. They remain in the overall lead in their category and were again followed by Robyn Adendorff and Sarah van Heerden (WSP – Jeep Girls).
Laws will be racing every weekend for the next couple of weeks, participating in mountain bike races in the UK, Belgium and Germany, and also a World Cup road race soon after that.
Laws will be flying home to the United Kingdom on Tuesday. “I’m really not looking forward to it — it’s cold and nasty back home.”
Nico Pfitzenmaier and Alison Sydor (Adidas Big Tree) retained their lead by winning their category for the seventh day in a row. They finished Stage 6 in a time of 04:04:06, again followed by Marcel Bartholet and Esther Süss (Wheeler – IXS Pro).
“Today was the nicest course of the race so far,” Sydor said. “I remembered a lot of the sessions from last year and saw some familiar landmarks, so I knew where I was and what trails we’d be following — also that some great single-tracks were coming up. The racing was actually as hard as always because everyone’s exhausted —whether you’re in front or at the back. As pro riders we’ve really given 100 percent of our energy every single day and now we’re starting to feel it.”
The UCI decision
The UCI issued the following statement about the time adjustment for the song.info team:
Following clarification and consideration on receiving additional information relating to an incident involving the Songo.info team approximately 4 kilometres before Water Point 1 in Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic, the Panel of UCI Commissaires has determined that the incident constitutes a case of outside assistance. Accordingly, the original penalty of fifteen minutes was amended to one hour” (imposed on the results for Stage 4). This decision has affected Songo.info’s overall ranking in the 2009 Absa Cape Epic. Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander are now placed 6th overall with a total time of 26:16.56. The complexity of this case will be considered for future race rules. The Absa Cape Epic is the only mountain bike stage race that carries an HC status and awards UCI points, and is the only team stage race in the official calendar of the UCI. There are no similar precedents in the history of UCI mountain bike races. The UCI race officials only meet at 14:00 and 17:00 daily to discuss any issue that come up during the stage. Whatever information is available at those times will be considered and a decision made accordingly.
The final day
Traditionally the last stage is always the shortest, but never easy and will take riders over 60km and 1,760 meters of climbing. Riders will see short, sharp climbs and then some longer and even steeper ones though Nuweberg. Riders will head home to the Lourensford Wine Estate to collect their finishers’ medals and a well-earned rest.