Bulls win Cape Epic for second time

Brad Morgan

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30 March 2009

Despite its fearsome reputation, this year's Absa Cape Epic, which ended in Lourensford on Saturday, saw only 118 riders of the 1 196 cyclists that had entered the eight-day event fail to finish. It was the highest percentage of finishers in the history of the race, even though many participants felt it was the toughest edition of the Cape Epic yet.

Known as "the Magical and Untamed African MTB race", this year's event, brought together many of the world's leading mountain biking competitors, for seven gruelling stages, covering 685 kilometres.

The early pace in the race was set by the powerful combination of Switzerland's Christoph Sauser, the cross-country mountain bike world champion and South Africa's Burry Stander, the world under-23 cross-country champion.

Altered the outcome

Riding as Songo.info, the pair dominated proceedings, building up a six-minute lead, until the kind of mishap that can happen at any time in a tough event like the Cape Epic occurred and incontrovertibly altered the outcome of the race.

Heading down a downhill track near Greyton, during stage four, Stander had an accident and destroyed the front wheel of his bicycle. Max Knox, one of South Africa's top MTB competitors, in a magnanimous gesture gave his bike to Stander so that Songo.info could carry on.

They eventually finished 20 minutes behind the stage winners in ninth place, but worse was yet to come for the former race leaders. The race referees, after a number of teams had objected to the help received by Stander, penalised Songo.info a further 15 minutes. Later, this was extended to an hour when Sauser admitted that Stander's broken bike had been carried by a third party.

Bulls in the lead

From being comfortably in charge of the race, the Swiss/South African combination tumbled down the standings and out of serious contention, leaving the way clear for Team Bulls, consisting of the German duo of Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm, to take the stage victory and move into the overall lead.

It would prove hard to dislodge them from first place. After all, Platt and Sahm had finished runners-up in 2008 and had won the race in 2007.

The stage win by Team Bulls came at a price, however, and it required a tremendous amount of courage from Karl Platt to ensure they took the line honours. He had dislocated a shoulder in the race's prologue and dislocated it once more on the fourth stage.

Songo.info stage wins

Sauser and Stander fought back on the next stage, pushing hard to stand atop the podium for the stage. In fact, the Songo.info riders captured five of the seven stages, as well as the prologue, but they couldn't overcome the time they lost on stage five.

Victory on the last day went to Spain's Lukas and Mathias Flückiger, with the South African combination of Brandon Stewart and Max Knox, Team DCM Chrome, finishing second.

They were followed across the line by the Multivgan Merida team of Germany's Hannes Genze and Jochen Kaess. Fourth place was shared by Platt and Sahm of Team Bulls, who finished arm-in-arm with Songo.info's Sauser and Stander.

Overall win

Although Team Bulls took the overall win, it was only on stage four that they finished ahead of Songo.info. They claimed the overall title with a time of 28 hours, 10 minutes, 13.8 seconds.

It was a third victory in the event for Platt who, besides his win with Sahm in 2007, also took the honours in 2004 with Namibia's Mannie Heymans.

Second place went to the Trek-Brentjens team of Bart Brentjens, from the Netherlands, and Chris Jongewaard, from Australia, in 28 hours, 15 minutes, 07.9 seconds.

Sweden's Emil Lindgren and Switzerland's Andreas Klugler, racing as Felt Factory 2, finished in third place.

The top South African team was the MTN Energade combination of Kevin Evans and David George, who picked up the Best African Team award. Songo.info, the dominant team in the race, had to settle for sixth position.

Women's win

The Absa Ladies team of England's Sharon Laws and South Africa's Hanlie Booyens dominated the ladies' race. They won every stage, which gave them a convincing overall victory.

Laws and Booyens finished in 37 hours, 18 minutes and 20 seconds, over five hours ahead of second placed Robyn Adendorff and Sarah van Heerden of WSP – Jeep Girls, an all-South African team. Another South African pair, Nolene Saunders and Sarah Wielopolska, racing as Tread Magazine, took third place.

Mixed

Mountain Bike Hall of Fame member Alison Syder captured the mixed title with South Africa's Nico Pfitzenmaier in 32 hours, 13 minutes, 09.5 seconds. Racing as the Adidas Tree team, they ended nearly 40 minutes ahead of Epic rookies, Esther Süss and Marcel Bartholet of Switzerland, competing as Team Wheeler iXS Pro.

IMC/Momentum GT/Activeworx - an all South African duo, made up of Yolanda Speedy and Paul Cordes - completed the podium positions.

Masters

There was a fantastic dice for honours in the Masters category. Victory went to Doug Brown of South Africa and Bärti Bucher of Switzerland, the Absa Masters, who finished just over three minutes ahead of Cycle Lab Toyota's Shan Wilson and Andrew Mclean.

Over three-and-a-half hours further back, Doug Andrews and Rich Bartlett of the USA secured third place.

The Absa Cape Epic is the most widely televised mountain bike race in the world. The 2008 race was broadcast in more than 175 countries in 17 languages.

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The Absa Cape Epic is a tough challenge that often forces cyclists off of their bikes (Photo: Absa Cape Epic)


Team Bulls and Songo.info cross the finishing line arm-in-arm (Photo: Absa Cape Epic)

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