Urs Huber and Karl Platt turned the screws a little tighter on Saturday’s Queen Stage when they increased their grip on the Momentum Health Tankwa Trek, presented by Biogen, winning the stage and extending their overall lead. Not to be outdone, Esther Süss and Jennie Stenerhag did the same in the women’s category.
Platt and Huber, sporting bright yellow jerseys in place of their new all-black Team Bulls racing kit, used the infamous Merino Monster, a 20km climb that ascends 1000 metres, to make their race-winning move. They timed their attack perfectly, initially increasing the pace on the lower slopes and then surging hard at the base of the main climb to ride off the front and make their way over the summit first, securing the R10000 King of the Mountain prize.
Both skilled riders, Platt and Huber plunged rapidly, but without any real pressure down the tricky 10km descent before opening up their lead even more on the mostly gravel roads at the end of the 87km leg to cross the finish with a comfortable lead in a time of 03 hours 46 minutes 36 seconds.
Second place on the stage went to the Telkom BCX pair of Waylon Woolcock and HB Kruger, 4:15 behind the Bulls. Woolcock and Kruger finished off a well-calculated stage by outsprinting compatriots Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck (Team NAD Pro).
Bell and Combrinck went over the summit of the Merino Monster 50 seconds behind the Telkom BCX pair, but closed them down on the long descent and then helped pace to the finish line. Woolcock said afterwards that they descended conservatively to avoid potential problems and to allow Team NAD Pro to catch them so they could share the work along the flat roads towards the finish.
At the start of the stage it was confirmed that Christoph Sauser’s Investec-Songo-Specialized teammate, Sam Gaze, had withdrawn from the race, leaving the five-time Cape Epic champion to ride on alone and finish unofficially, using the race for training.
During the stage the Swiss pair of Nicola Rohrbach and Lukas Flückiger (Goldwurst Power –BMC) dropped away from second place overall, with Flückiger dealing with a puncture just before 35km covered then later withdrawing with a stomach bug.
Topeak-Ergon also endured more than their fair share of drama when Alban Lakata broke a jockey wheel while in the lead group. A quick replacement off the bike of fellow squad member, Jeremiah Bishop, saw the 2015 Marathon World Champion chase hard to rejoin the leaders, paced by another stablemate, Erik Kleinhans and his own teammate, Kristian Hynek.
They did rejoin the leaders, but the chase to close down a more than three-minute gap proved costly and Lakata and Hynek limited their losses as best they could to finish fourth, 6:19 behind the stage winners.
“The early kilometres were a bit hectic. You want to be in front – you don’t want to queue when you get to Du Toit Drop. But the speed wasn’t as high as Stage 1. We had some rain early on, which was good for the trail surface,” said Platt.
“Our Bulls teammates, Simon Stiebjahn and Tim Bohme were great today. They rode on the front a lot and sheltered us from the wind. Then we were able to attack at the Merino Monster,” added Platt.
“Today was different to yesterday. We could control everything from the beginning. It was really a nice stage today and we felt really good. We climbed a nice speed, but not on the limit, so we hope we can have a safe stage tomorrow and win the Tankwa Trek,” said Huber.
The women’s race was also decided on the Merino Monster. The top three teams – Süss and Stenerhag (Meerendal/CBC), OMX Pro’s Mariske Strauss and Yolande de Villiers and dormakaba’s Candice Lill and Vera Adrian, spent the first 45km close together, but as they approached the water point near the base of the behemoth ascent, Lill and Adrian dropped off.
At the water point, at 56km, Stenerhag, the Swedish Marathon Champion, and Süss, former Marathon World Champion, broke clear. Süss is an exceptional climber and Stenerhag did well to hold onto her teammate as they steadily increased their lead, snapping up the R10000 Queen of the Mountain prize and then going on to win the stage in a time of 4:31:37.
Strauss and De Villiers were second, almost eight minutes later with Lill and Adrian just over three minutes further back in third.
“The start was quite tactical. Not so fast. I had a little tumble on the way down the Du Toit drop, but nothing serious. The top ladies teams were together for longer today, which was quite nice,” said Stenerhag.
“I must say that Esther helps me a lot on the climbs. She always looks around for me and is constantly asking me if it’s the right pace. The rain this morning packed the sand, which was good to calm the dust and made things cooler too,” added Stenerhag.
“I am very happy with this stage. I really enjoyed the big climb. Jennie and I work well together. This is a good test of our partnership for the Cape Epic. We communicate a lot and race together, not separately. This is very important,” said Süss.
Sunday’s final stage is over a total distance of 89km with 1250m of ascent. More than 30km of that is pure singletrack, mostly through dramatic rock formations, which will make positioning essential for riders aiming for podium success.
Huber and Platt hold a relatively comfortable eight-minute advantage over Woolcock and Kruger going into the final day. However, the 63-second gap between second and third overall could see Bell and Combrinck foraging for opportunities to move up a place on the final leg.
Süss and Stenerhag have a very healthy 13-and-a-half-minute lead going into the final day. Only disaster is likely to crush their shot at a victory.
For live race updates, follow @TankwaTrek on twitter. The stage will start at 06h30 on Sunday.
Momentum Health Tankwa Trek, presented by Biogen 2017
Stage 2, 87km – leading results:
1. Karl Platt (GER) / Urs Huber (SUI) Team BULLS 03:46:36
2. Waylon Woolcock (RSA) / Hendrik Kruger (RSA) Team Telkom BCX – 03:50:51
3. Nico Bell (RSA) / Gawie Combrinck (RSA) NAD Pro Mtb 03:50:54
4 Kristian Hynek (CZE)/Alban Lakata (AUT) Topeak-Ergon Racing-1 03:52:55
5. Martin Gluth (GER) / Martin Frey (GER) OMX Bulls 03:53:27
1. Esther Süss (SUI) / Jennie Stenerhag (SWE) Team Meerendal / CBC 04:31:37
2. Yolande de Villiers (RSA) / Mariske Strauss (RSA) OMX Pro 04:39:33
3. Candice Lill (RSA) / Vera Adrian (NAM) dormakaba 04:42:53
4. Cornelia Hug (SUI) / Hielke Elferink (NED) Meerendal / CBC-1 04:49:59
5. Yolandi du Toit (RSA) / Theresa Ralph (RSA) Garmin Galileo Risk 04:57:50
1. Robyn de Groot (RSA) / Gert Heyns (RSA) Team Ascendis Health 04:15:32
2. Grant Usher (RSA) / Amy Beth McDougall (RSA) Valencia 04:26:17
3. Charles Mcfall (RSA) / Carmen Buchacher (RSA) Velocity Sports Lab 04:36:35
4. Katie Lennard (RSA) / Oliver Lennard (RSA) The Gear Change 04:52:42
5. James Hagen (RSA)/Kyle Nell (RSA) Woolworths DUTOIT 04:54:50
1. Hannes Hanekom (RSA) / Ben Melt Swanepoel (RSA) Tru-Cape/Garmin 04:22:24
2 Thorsten Keller (GER)/Udo Bölts (GER) Craft-Rocky Mountain 04:22:26
3. Igna de Villiers (RSA) / Paul Theron (RSA) SlenderWonder-Midas 04:28:32
4. Neil Swarts (RSA) / Rikus Visser (RSA) Western Racing 04:38:12
5. David Cooke (RSA) / David de Lima (RSA) Cycle Lab 04:41:32
1. Greg Anderson (RSA) / Deon Kruger (RSA) Bus Boys Masters 04:30:42
2. Landon la Grange (RSA) / Peter Winn (RSA) CLASS OF 82 04:46:44
3. Marius Nel (RSA) / Waleed Baker (RSA) PitstopSport24hrs 04:55:38
4. Dawood Osman (RSA) / Ahmed Zaid Mahomed (RSA) Pitstop-2 05:26:11
5 Felix Prinz (GER)/ Frank Schmähling (GER) Epic Fighters 05:32:02
1. Jeannie Dreyer (RSA) 04:44:47
2. Dalene van der Leek (RSA) 05:03:04
3 Collette Bastard (RSA) 05:24:16
4. Reinette Geldenhuis (RSA) 05:27:42
5. Rentia Denissen (RSA) 05:56:13
1. Frans Claes (BEL) 03:51:03
2. Dylan Rebello (RSA) 04:01:36
3. Charl-Pierre Esterhuyse (RSA) 04:12:41
4. Andrew Mclean (RSA) 04:16:13
5 Jason Peach (RSA) 04:22:03
General Classification after Stage 2
1. Karl Platt (GER) / Urs Huber (SUI) Team BULLS 07:33:46
2. Waylon Woolcock (RSA) / Hendrik Kruger (RSA) Team Telkom BCX 07:42:09
3. Nico Bell (RSA) / Gawie Combrinck (RSA) NAD Pro Mtb 07:43:12
4. Martin Gluth (GER) / Martin Frey (GER) OMX Bulls 07:45:56
5. Kristian Hynek (CZE)/Alban Lakata (AUT) Topeak-Ergon Racing-1 07:48:29
1. Esther Süss (SUI) / Jennie Stenerhag (SWE) Team Meerendal / CBC 08:56:23
2. Yolande de Villiers (RSA) / Mariske Strauss (RSA) OMX Pro 09:09:56
3. Candice Lill (RSA) / Vera Adrian (NAM) dormakaba 09:22:27
4. Cornelia Hug (SUI) / Hielke Elferink (NED) Meerendal / CBC-1 09:37:39
5. Yolandi du Toit (RSA) / Theresa Ralph (RSA) Garmin Galileo Risk 09:47:07
1. Robyn de Groot (RSA) / Gert Heyns (RSA) Team Ascendis Health 08:29:38
2. Grant Usher (RSA) / Amy Beth McDougall (RSA) Valencia 08:53:22
3. Charles Mcfall (RSA) / Carmen Buchacher (RSA) Velocity Sports Lab 09:23:34
4. Katie Lennard (RSA) / Oliver Lennard (RSA) The Gear Change 09:39:25
5. Henning Blaauw (RSA)/Louise Ferreira (RSA) Globeflight 10:13:44
1. Hannes Hanekom (RSA) / Ben Melt Swanepoel (RSA) Tru-Cape/Garmin 08:46:37
2 Thorsten Keller (GER)/Udo Bölts (GER) Craft-Rocky Mountain 08:50:58
3. Igna de Villiers (RSA) / Paul Theron (RSA) SlenderWonder-Midas 08:59:37
4. Neil Swarts (RSA) / Rikus Visser (RSA) Western Racing 09:06:49
5. David Cooke (RSA) / David de Lima (RSA) Cycle Lab 09:21:12
1. Greg Anderson (RSA) / Deon Kruger (RSA) Bus Boys Masters 09:06:10
2. Landon la Grange (RSA) / Peter Winn (RSA) CLASS OF 82 09:35:34
3. Marius Nel (RSA) / Waleed Baker (RSA) PitstopSport24hrs 09:51:31
4. Dawood Osman (RSA) / Ahmed Zaid Mahomed (RSA) Pitstop-2 10:57:53
5 Felix Prinz (GER)/ Frank Schmähling (GER) Epic Fighters 11:07:46
1. Jeannie Dreyer (RSA) 09:24:21
2. Dalene van der Leek (RSA) 10:20:02
3. Reinette Geldenhuis (RSA) 11:00:27
4. Collette Bastard (RSA) 11:53:44
5. Rentia Denissen (RSA) 12:13:16
1. Frans Claes (BEL) 07:45:32
2. Dylan Rebello (RSA) 08:06:25
3. Charl-Pierre Esterhuyse (RSA) 08:24:07
4. Andrew Mclean (RSA) 08:38:05
5 Jason Peach (RSA) 08:46:19