Tough Absa Cape Epic comes to a close

Yesterday’s seventh stage of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic provided a fitting finale to one of the most dramatic editions in the iconic stage race’s 14-year history.

After the 85km Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath pushed through to the finish line at Val de Vie, outside Franschhoek, in seventh place, to secure their fourth place overall in the Hansgrohe Women’s category.

The 2017 installment was won by Jennie Stenerhag and Esther Süss of team Meerendal CBC. Their total time was 31 hours, 39 minutes and 43 seconds, 35 minutes and 19 seconds ahead of Sunday’s runners up, Mariske Strauss and Annie Last (Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro), with the final stage winners, Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) a further 12 minutes back.

“While I’m not happy with the result at all, there were three teams that were definitely stronger than us”, Ariane Lüthi conceded after the finish.

“They really deserve to be on that podium. They fought very hard and it was a great performance from all of them. Looking back, we hoped to have raced to another podium on a stage,” she said.

Ariane described the final stage, with some 1350m of climbing over its 85km from Oak Valley to Val de Vie outside Paarl as, “rough, flat, bumpy and sandy. It was pretty tough, not our favourite terrain, for sure.”

“There were a few small climbs and a lot of open roads early on”, she says. “The bunch split over the first climb towards Viljoen’s Pass, but all came back together before Franschhoek Pass.”

The top women’s contenders went up and over Franschhoek Pass together, the wind making a chance of a breakaway up the iconic climb unlikely.

“On the downhill “ in the Land Rover technical section“ Annie and Mariske got away”, Ariane says. “We were lying second and tried to chase hard to catch them. Robyn and Sabine were on our wheels and actually managed to bridge across and got a gap and that is how it stayed to the end.”

“It was really rough terrain after that and Adelheid was battling with her shoulder, so we nursed it home.”

“Overall it’s not the result we were looking for and we will analyse how it played out and build for the rest of the season”, Ariane said.

Team Spur’s support team, Spur Foundation, riding for the Full Tummy Fund charity, had a consistent eight days of racing in their back-up role. Belgian Alice Pirard and Frenchwoman Sabrina Enaux rounded out the race with a credible tenth place in the Women’s category.

“I did learn a lot this week. And the vibe in the camp was really great,  it was so nice to have another team in camp,” the Swiss Marathon champion Ariane, said of her back-up team, Spur Foundation. “Alice and Sabrina are just really lovely girls and I could practice my French a little bit and I’ve realised just how horrible it actually is! Also, our staff, JP Jacobs, Tim Bassingthwaighte and Gary Sylvester, worked so so hard for us and did such a great job every day.”

To all of you who offered Team Spur support and motivation along the way, thank you! We felt it every day. Knowing that we have you on our team cheering us through the adversity has a huge impact on our will to fight on. We look forward to sharing many more adventures with you this year.

Look out for our comprehensive race review soon.
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Into the home stretch

High drama in the women’s field on Saturday’s Queen Stage – the toughest of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic’s seven stages – will see Team Spur go into the Grand Finale in fourth place overall, some 17 minutes adrift of the podium. As today has once again shown, in a race of the proportions of the Epic, anything is possible and nothing is certain.

“The women’s race got turned on its head today,” explains Ariane Lüthi. “Sabine (Spitz, from Ascendis Health) suffered a broken handlebar – I was quite impressed how they could fix it and still manage to finish the stage in a really impressive time.”

“I was quite sad for them because Robyn (de Groot) has been so strong.”

Ariane went on to explain that their own day also didn’t go according to plan. “I went out quite hard in the beginning of the stage trying to repeat what we did on Friday,” she says.

“Unfortunately Adelheid was struggling with her shoulder after yesterday’s crash (she was caught up in a tumble with a media motorbike). She was in a lot of pain, barely managing to hold onto the bar through Groenlandberg and some of the other really rough descents, so we had to tap off and nurse ourselves to the finish.”

The pair is positive for the final day however, and looking to take it home. “As this stage taught us today, it’s never over till it’s over, so we have a fight on our hands tomorrow for sure.”

This year the Absa Cape Epic finishes for the first time at Val de Vie and its renowned polo fields – the fourth host for the Grand Finale in the race’s 14 editions. The stage, over 85km, sees the least amount of climbing of this year’s race, with a total altitude gain of 1350m, but it includes a march up the iconic Franschhoek Pass, so will be a fitting final test to a tough eight days.

Watch the action live on: www.cape-epic.com

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Back in the game

Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath managed to shrug off the very frustrating past few days to finish on the podium on the Absa Cape Epic’s traditional ‘play day’ over 84km on the spectacular trail network around Elgin.

The pair crossed the finish line in third place, just under three minutes back from the teams of Ascendis Health and CBC Meerendal who finished first and second, respectively, after a sprint.

“The women’s field this year is super strong and to make it onto the podium on the stage makes me super happy,” said five-time champion Ariane, elated with how the day played out.

The performance also saw them claw back some time on Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro (Annie Last and Mariske Strauss) who are still third on the GC.

“It was a pretty tough stage, even though it looked short,” she said. “There were some hard, steep climbs early on…”

“Before the stage I told myself, ‘listen, you have to go super deep today and embrace the pain’. It worked out really well and we could stay with the leading teams for quite a while. When they did get away we caught up again after water point two.”

“Seeing that orange jersey is obviously a big motivation,” she said.

Saturday’s Stage 6 should play into the hands of Ariane and Adelheid. The pair will be looking to carry today’s momentum into what is billed as the Queen Stage – the toughest of all seven. It features the daunting Groenlandberg climb and a number of vicious climbs and descents towards the latter part of the 103km course. Ariane is familiar with much of the terrain, however, and this experience could prove critical in her and Adelheid’s plans to overcome the disappointment of the early stages.

“I’ve put the disappointment of the beginning of the week behind me. You know, you’re here with this expectation to win – I’ve won it for the past five years and actually don’t quite know what it feels like to not to be up there all the time. I had to get my head around that and now I’m super motivated for the next two stages. We’re ready for tomorrow,” Ariane said.

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Fourth place on Stage 4 for Team Spur

On an action-packed Stage 4 in the Hansgrohe Women’s category at the Absa Cape Epic, Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath narrowly missed out on a podium spot on Thursday. The 112km route took racers over 112km from Elandskloof near Greyton to Oak Valley Wine Estate in Elgin..

“It was a longer stage, with a lot of open roads, especially in the beginning, where the whole women’s field stayed together,” Ariane says. The field did eventually split up a climb leaving four teams up the front, including our stars Ariane and Adelheid. “We rode together for quite some time before I had to let go of the pace.” Ariane says. Not long after this Sabine Spitz sliced the sidewall of her front tyre and she and partner Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health) had to stop to fix it. Ariane and Adelheid passed them and went after second placed Annie Last and Mariske Strauss (Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro). But an unfortunate tactical slip-up caused them to miss out on a possible third place.

“At the last water point Adelheid stopped to fill our bottles,” Ariane says. “I continued on slowly but then saw Mariske and Annie again and I was kind of chasing after them and didn’t realise that Adelheid was battling to get back to me. She put in too much of an effort there. I should’ve waited up for her there and we battled after that, so Robyn and Sabine overtook us again and we had to nurse ourselves to the finish. All things considered, we are happy with our fourth today.”

Friday promises to be a fast, fun 84km on the legendary trails around Elgin. But with 2100m of vertical ascent over some of the area’s iconic singletrack trails, it is not going to be easy.

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Tough going for Team Spur on Stage 3

Looking to build on their momentum from Stage 2, things didn’t quite go the way of Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath on the 78km Stage 3 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. An early puncture and a cracked rim hamper Team Spur’s comeback chances on the loop around Greyton, which took in 1650m of climbing, including the iconic climbs of the area, such as ‘Zig Zag’ and ‘UFO’ – both having featured in the race before.

“Early on it was all open district road and we were all together,” Ariane explains. “However, when we got into the singletrack we got held up a bit and fell back,” she says.

The pair worked hard together and managed to crawl their way back up the field and were fighting in fifth place when Ariane suffered a pinch flat.

“It didn’t take us too long to fix, so we didn’t lose much time, but a lot of teams passed us, which was not ideal. That’s how we finished, so all-in-all a rather disappointing day.”

While Ariane and Adelheid are dismayed at seeing their GC podium hopes diminish, they are philosophical about the situation, knowing that racing, particularly in a gruelling multi-stage race like the Absa Cape Epic, is unpredictable and anything can happen.

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Ariane also has her mind on the ‘other’ reason they, and their back-up team of Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux (Team Spur Foundation), are riding – to raise awareness for the Spur Foundation’s charity, The Full Tummy Fund.

“We will be having a jersey auction soon,” Ariane says, explaining that details are to be released. She and Sabrina will also be visiting some of the kids who benefit from the Full Tummy Fund on Monday after the race. “We are looking forward to visiting the kids on Monday. She (Sabrina) has a little surprise for them from France and hopefully we’ll see some smiles there.”

Thursday’s Stage 4 from Greyton to Elgin over a distance of 112km with 2150m of climbing is bound to suit the experienced Team Spur outfit. It is all to play for for stage wins and they are bound to be in the mix up front.

 

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Onto The Podium On Stage 2

A valiant show of consistency saw Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath shrug off their woes from Stage 1 to finish in third place on Tuesday’s Stage 2. The pair came in some five minutes after the first two teams in the Hansgrohe Women’s category, Meerendal CBC and Ascendis Health.

In an unprecedented move in the 14-year history of the Absa Cape Epic, organisers announced early on Tuesday morning that the stage would be shortened to 62km and finish in Caledon. This, after race medics warned that a combination of heat and humidity on the originally-scheduled 102km from Hermanus to Greyton, could endanger the health of riders.

Despite the shorter route the 62km was no walk in the park, with its technical climbs, sweeping singletrack and rolling open gravel roads.

“It was definitely our goal to finish on the podium for today’s stage,” commented Adelheid after the finish. “We worked really well together as a team and managed to get a gap to the fourth team on the road. And then maintained that all the way to the finish.”

According to Adelheid the shortened distance didn’t necessarily suit them and they are looking forward to some of the longer stages later in the week to eat into the gap to the podium GC. “It was perhaps faster today than it would’ve been. It’s good for us to have a slightly longer stage tomorrow to perhaps make up some time,” she said.  

Wednesday’s Stage 3 will see riders enjoy another shorter stage (78km) on the celebrated trail networks around Greyton. The racing promises to be tough and fierce however, with a series of solid climbs including Mad Dog Bite, Zig Zag and the UFO, as well as technical descents.

Follow the action on www.cape-epic.com.

Team Spur limit losses on brutal Stage 1 of Absa Cape Epic

In a race as long as the Absa Cape Epic there are bound to be challenging days. In fact, riders will experience as many ups-and-downs over the eight days as a typical stage’s spiny race profile.

Today’s Stage 1 was a tough one for Ariane Lüthi and partner Adelheid Morath. The pair dropped back early on the 101km day around Hermanus, which featured some 2300m of climbing on a brutally hot and dry day. “We started well but then after the first little climb, going into the second climb I had to settle a bit and a lot of teams passed us, which was pretty tough for me mentally,” concedes Ariane. “We were sitting in seventh or eighth position at one stage. I stopped counting teams that had come past us.”

The two however showed the character that has come to define their racing spirit and dug deep to ride themselves back into podium contention.

“Watching the other teams disappear over the horizon is never easy, luckily I could keep myself together and Adelheid - who was super strong - was very supportive.”

According to Ariane they stuck to a steady pace, which paid off in the end, seeing them wrestle to a hard-fought fourth on the stage. “We managed to haul back at least three teams during the last kilometres for a fourth place finish.”

The seasoned campaigner that she is, Ariane also knows that anything can happen and a mechanical or a similar ‘bad’ day could see any of her competitors lose time. The pair are positive and are looking to put today behind them and consolidate and then start to build again.

The back-up team of Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux riding under the Spur Foundation banner in aid of the Fully Tummy Fund are loving their experience of the race thus far.

Alice, who has ridden before, believes that the separate women’s start is a big and positive change. Sabrina, who is new to the race is amazed by the ever-changing landscapes and how much variety there is on the types of routes: “I said to Alice as we were riding though some trails that I thought it was paradise.”

To which Alice replied, “Where? Take me to that!”

Perhaps the two will experience some more paradise on Tuesday’s Stage 2 over 102km from Hermanus to Greyton.

Follow the action on www.cape-epic.com.

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Absa Cape Epic off to a dusty start at Meerendal Prologue

The Absa Cape Epic is not timed on a stop watch, rather on a calendar. With the champions being decided after eight gruelling days of racing. Every minute counts, however and the teams battled it out for those minutes today.

The 2017 edition kicked off on Sunday, 19 March with the now-traditional Prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate, outside Cape Town, and was a fierce 26km with some 750m of climbing in hot and dusty conditions.

Team Spur went out hard with an eye on a stage podium, rolling down the start chute last in the Women’s category – the privilege of the defending champion.

However, a solid effort, driven by Adelheid up the first climb saw them having to settle for fourth place, some 2 minutes 18 seconds behind Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health), Esther Süss and Jennie Stenerhag (Meerendal CBC) and Mariska Strauss and Annie Last (Hansgrohe-Cadence OMX).

“It’s definitely not what we were aiming for,” says Ariane. “We were pretty disappointed to not be on the podium, but we did all we could out there.”

According to Ariane, the team knew this was going to be a very competitive Cape Epic, and although the first day may not have gone completely to plan it is all to play for in the next few days and they are confident of cutting down the deficit.

“We are working well as a team and we’re excited about the next few stages,” she said, before adding, “I believe we have to race smart and consistent and play our cards well when we can.”

The racing proper starts today (Monday, 20 March), with a 101km stage in the beautiful mountains surrounding Hermanus – the first time the race has returned to the coastal town since 2008. The route will see some 2300m of vertical gain and take in the Rotary Way and Nine One One climbs, as well as the iconic Haarkappers Roete.

Follow the action on www.cape-epic.com.

All Systems GO for Absa Cape Epic

It’s the classic case of ‘all hands on deck’ ahead of the world’s premier mountain bike stage race.

“We’re in for a tight battle,” commented Ariane Lüthi ahead of Sunday’s start of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. “This is the strongest field I’ve ever faced in the women’s category. I know I say it every year, but this year I believe it more than ever.”

According to Ariane, the biggest challenge is likely to come from the new Team Ascendis Health pairing of Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz, as well as Team Meerendal CBC – Esther Süss and Jennie Stenerhag.

“Then there is Mariske (Strauss) and Annie Last, as well as Candice (Lill) and Vera (Adrian). Candice rode well in the Tour of Good Hope and I’ve never seen her this strong,” she said.

“One can never say how it’s going to play out because it’s such an unpredictable race, but there are three or four teams in with a very good chance.”

As defending champion Ariane and new partner Adelheid Morath will set off at 10:35:25, as the last women’s team on Sunday’s prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate. It is often said that the race cannot be won on the prologue’s serpentine 26km route (with some 750m of climbing) but it can easily be lost on its dusty trails.

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Knowing a fierce challenge lies ahead, from both the unforgiving terrain and the world-class competition, Ariane and Adelheid are confident and excited to start the battle.

“Adelheid is a super accomplished athlete and has prepared so much harder than for last year’s race (where she finished third overall with Sally Bigham),” Ariane said. “We had our last big training ride on Tuesday and I was amazed at how fast she was climbing.”

“We’ve also focused a lot on our teamwork the last few weeks – getting to know each other and building that trust is crucial for this race.”

“I feel very good after the Tour of Good Hope (a five-day road stage race held recently). It was good for my condition and form,” Ariane said. “It gave me a lot of confidence. I’ve definitely improved from last year, both strength and endurance wise. Also, I’ve worked a lot on my technical skills with Jo Dobinson of Biking in the Bosch.”

A first in the women’s race this year is the addition of a true back-up team, with Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux riding under the banner of Team Spur Foundation. Alice and Sabrina will ride in support of Ariane and Adelheid, but also to raise awareness for Spur Foundation’s charity, the Full Tummy Fund. “I’m really excited that it worked out,” Ariane said. “It’s an experiment, but for me it was about giving a second team a chance to benefit from our setup and getting two strong athletes to the event to help grow the depth of the women’s racing. We are also privileged to be able to draw attention to the amazing work of the Full Tummy Fund in this area.”

Alice and Sabrina set off at 10:19:35 on Sunday.

According to Team Spur boss Nic Lamond, who is riding his 10th Absa Cape Epic in 2017, and, alongside brother Simon, is gunning for a Masters GC podium, the 2017 route is likely to once again favour “the more technically-accomplished all-rounders.”

“The Epic is not a slog fest anymore, where the biggest engine wins,” he says. “Using the region’s more exciting technical terrain means teams need to know their strengths and exploit them. This rewards mountain bikers who do their homework and build on all their skills. Of course, this has been true for the past few years, but is definitely different from, say, five years ago. I’m incredibly proud of the entire Team Spur’s preparation and focus.”

The 2017 route will take riders through 691km of the Western Cape with some 15 400m of accumulated climbing over the eight days.

After the prologue it is on to Hermanus, for the 101km opening stage on Monday 20 March. Stage 2 sees riders heading inland to Greyton for two nights, with Stage 3 starting and finishing in the quaint town.

Stage 4 is another transition day, as the travelling circus moves on to Oak Valley Wine Estate. Stage 5 takes riders on a circular route around the Grabouw/Elgin area as does Saturday’s Queen Stage over 103km with some 2 750m of elevation gain.

Stage 7 will finish at the new Grand Finale venue, Val de Vie Estate near Paarl.

Catch all Sunday’s racing live on SuperSport and cape-epic.com. The Grand Finale – the final stage on Sunday, March 26 will be live from 9.30am to 1.30pm.

In addition, this year will see more live race coverage than ever before. Stages 1, 2, 4 and 6 will be live streamed from 9am to 12.20pm on cape-epic.com and Stages 3 and 5 from 8am to 11.20am.

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Team Spur Stirs it up on the road!

The Bestmed Tour of Good Hope took place over five days last week (6-10 March). Both of Team Spur’s riders, Ariane Lüthi and Alan Hatherly, swapped the knobblies for the road skinnies for a big week of ‘in-race’ training.

For Alan, it was a big block of speed work as he prepares for the European XCO season. For Ariane, a last big week (and test) ahead of one of her major goal races for the season, the Absa Cape Epic, which she starts in less than a week with Adelheid Morath.

Ariane was intent on making the racing in the ladies’ peleton from the start. Instead of riding in the bunch and getting the training in the legs without risking too much in terms of crashes, Ariane fought hard for a high GC placing, eventually finishing fourth overall behind Candice Lill (Dorma Kaba), Briton Chanel Mason (Café Riders) and An-Li Kachelhoffer (Bestmed ASG).

“I expected Stage One to come down to a sprint,” Ariane explains. “I knew that An-Li is an excellent sprinter and Vera (Adrian) is also an accomplished roadie, so I positioned myself well in the bunch leading up to the finish line. I was very happy with my third place there, not really being a sprinter,” she said.

Ariane was equally chuffed with her result in Stage Two’s Individual Time Trial (ITT). “I had a pretty solid effort. Every year I ride a time trial and think afterwards ‘here and there I could probably have shaved off a couple of seconds.’ It’s always the same but I was generally really happy with the numbers I was pushing. They looked good to me and my coach was really happy. An effort like that gives a very good estimate as to where the shape is for Epic. I’ve definitely improved from last year and in much better shape so that makes me really happy.”

Ariane’s fourth place in the ITT did cost her time on the GC. “Looking back, the time trial was undoubtedly the decider of the tour. Candice took the lead in a very impressive ride, and Chanel also rode really well without triathlon bars.”

Stage Three involved a lot of climbing, taking in both Franschhoek and Du Toits Kloof Passes. “My plan was to drive hard up Franschhoek Pass,” Ariane says. “It’s a pass I know really well from training. My plan was to split the bunch here and possibly make some time on Vera – who at that stage was lying second overall.”

“We did manage to ride away from Vera on the climb and I tried to go hard on the downhill, which I also know really well. But there was a lot of traffic because the open seeded riders had started ahead of us, which wasn’t ideal. Then it all came back together.”

There were a few attacks in the bunch across the flats, but nothing stuck. Until a group of about five riders, including Ariane, got away just before the last climb.

“That little group work really hard, we spent a lot of energy going up Du Toits Kloof Pass,” says Ariane. “An-Li attacked at the bottom and rode herself into fourth place on GC by winning the stage and on that climb I also had to admit that Candice and Chanel were just too strong.”

Following Stage Four’s cancellation due to high winds, Ariane went into the final stage in third with a buffer of only 5 seconds on An-Li. The stage’s hilltop finish at the Afrikaans Taal Monument was always going to be tough to defend against the climbers.

“I knew it was going to be tricky because both An-Li and Chanel had a lot of team mates and Candice had Vera to help chase down any attacks, so was tricky for me to defend the podium spot. I tried a few attacks and tried to get away with Chanel Mason, but that didn’t quite happen so we all came together into that last climb into the Taal Monument. An-Li attacked and I couldn’t hold her wheel, which meant she had her five seconds back on the GC very quickly.”

Ariane did manage to finish third on the stage, which she says was a worthy consolation prize: “I really enjoyed the Tour of Good Hope. The racing was fiercer than in previous years with a lot more GC contenders and strong girls riding.”

“Most importantly though, I’m really looking forward to Epic now after seeing my numbers.”

For Alan Hatherly, who rode in Team Spur colours for Christoph Sauser’s Investec-Songo-Specialized team describes his Tour of Good Hope experience as “a week of fast motorpace sessions.”

“This type of training is great for me at this time of year to get the leg speed up. Straight after this I’m going into another strength block. As I do my final preparations for Europe.”

According to Alan the highlight of the tour for him was Stage Three. “My peak race time is around two, to two-and-a-half hours – and that stage was 3:40 – so it was a little bit too long. Suffering that hard up the last climb after racing for that time was really good training for me!”

“It was nice to mix it up on the road bike and I’m very happy with the overall outcome. Think I finished around 20th on GC or something. Especially since GC wasn’t an aim and the time trial which I did on a road bike, I lost all my time there. Looking forward to the next block of training as I finish up my prep for Europe.”

Both Alan and Ariane were scheduled to finish off their big road racing week at the 40th Cape Town Cycle Tour on Sunday 11 March, Ariane being especially excited about the Women’s Invitational race group and special start. The event, as everyone knows, had to be cancelled due to gale force winds and protests, however. We fully support the brave decision of the Cape Town Cycle Tour’s organisers and applaud their handling of the situation.