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.

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.

Exciting XCO season openers for Team Spur’s Hatherly and Lüthi

The first cross-country (XCO) round of the 2017 SA MTB Cup Series went down at the Hero Adventure Trails at Rhebokskloof Wine Estate on Saturday, 25 February. This, the first of four events in the country-wide series, boasted one of the most star-studded international fields ever seen at a local XCO race.

Team Spur’s 20-year-old XCO specialist Alan Hatherly faced stiff competition in the UCI Pro Elite Men’s field, which featured the reigning U23 XCO World Champion, Kiwi Sam Gaze and Danish former Junior Cyclocross and XCO World Champion Simon Andreassen. Not to mention UCI World Cup stalwarts Manual Fumic, Marcel Guerrini, Mathias Flückiger, Nicola Rohrbach, Simon Stiebjhan and Martin Gluth as well as all the top local contenders.

“The start was pretty narrow, tricky and risky,” Alan explains. “I managed to navigate through there safely and got onto the first climb in about fifth,” he says.

According to Alan he got to the first singletrack well within his limit and realised some of the other guys were already breathing pretty hard.

“I moved up into second there onto Sam (Gaze’s) wheel.” The two went under the start/finish banner together and it was here that Alan put the hammer down and went into the lead. He dictated the racing for the entire second lap and managed to string out the chasing field, but then disaster struck:

“I looked back to see how far Manny (Fumic) was to our group and went off the track and into some sticks. I collected one that went into the derailleur and jammed the gears up,” he says.

“I knew the tech zone was about 500m away, so I didn’t  bother stopping and just sprinted up and over the hill – it was dragging badly but it was enough to turn the pedals.” He soldiered into the tech zone where Team Spur mechanic, JP Jacobs managed to quickly diagnose and fix the problem.

“By then I had lost about 20 seconds, so I went out really hard to try catch up to the front group.”

Alan did manage to make contact again, but just as he did Fumic, Flückiger and Rohrbach started attacking each other to try split it up before a powder-dry loose descent on the second part of the course. “That threw me way over the limit after my effort to catch them. So, from there it took a good few laps to regroup, take a few gels and find some energy,” he says.

“I managed to hammer the last two laps again and finish off with fifth place.”

Sam Gaze crossed the line in first place followed by Flückiger and Rorhbach, with Fumic in fourth.

“On the whole I’m really happy with the first cross-country of the year. There is still a lot of work to do, ahead of my first peak in around April/May for Europe. But being the first South African home is really good for the National Series, and I take a lot of confidence from that.”

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Team Spur’s marathon queen, Ariane Lüthi also fired up the sprint legs on Saturday among a strong field of lap-racing specialists, including Swiss compatriot Katherin Stirnemann, Germany’s Helen Grobert, British Champ Annie Last, as well as South African XCO Champion Mariske Strauss and Cherie Redecker. After a brutal start and a few early setbacks Ariane charged home to a respectable fourth place after five laps of the Rhebokskloof circuit.

“The start was really fast,” she picks up the story. “Everyone around me went out really fast and left me behind on the start stretch. I had a good warm-up and tried to sprint as fast as I can. I went as hard as I possibly could off the grid, but Cherie (Redecker) was leading out, Mariske (Strauss) was in there and Kathrin Stirnemann.”

Ariane did manage to make up a few places on the first climb, but by that time the front bunch was away. Into the first technical descent a small hiccup saw her dismount her Specialized S-Works Epic, but she quickly recomposed and started the chase.

“From there I was just playing a catch-up game,” she says. “I did start reeling them in and the longer I rode the better I felt and the more I got into the rhythm, which meant I was smoother through the technical sections.”

“When I got to the support zone I heard the time split and knew I was close to Mariske, which was really motivating and then I managed to catch her there.”

The race was eventually won by Kathrin Stirnemann, followed by Annie Last and Cherie Redecker.

“I will take any position in a cross-country race to gather some points,” Ariane says. “It was good to go flat out and to get back into cross country riding – it’s just a completely different mindset to marathon racing; a different rhythm and speed.”

“My diesel engine got going a little bit late but I take a good session from that.”

Ariane, an ambassador for the popular Spur Schools Mountain Bike League also commented on how encouraging it was to see so many young racers at the event. “Marathon racing is more an ‘old people’s game’ and it was just nice to have so many young racers around, and having fun on their bikes. It’s quite inspiring.”

Fighting it out for marathon kudos

“Stoked! Very stoked with third-overall today.” Those were the sentiments of Team Spur’s 20-year-old XCO specialist Alan Hatherly immediately after the opening round of the Ashburton Investments National MTB series in Grabouw on Saturday, 28 January.

Hatherly rode a smart tactical race to finish a close third to defending National MTB Series Champion Max Knox and Swiss racing legend, Christoph Sauser. The 2017 series has seen the culling of the ultra marathon distance for a more traditional marathon distance and it played right to Alan’s strengths on the day.

“The plan for the Grabouw national today was to use it for training, so in the week leading up to race-day I trained as per normal and even did quite a lot of strength work on Wednesday,” he says.

Alan wasn’t too sure what effect that kind of training load would have on race day, but was determined to give it a full go and test form and fitness, especially with the all-star field assembled.

“The start was crazy,” he explains. “It was 30 guys going flat box through the twisty roads and was quite scary, to be honest. Obviously the risk of crashing was really high.”

With the start safely negotiated it was out into the famed mountains above Grabouw where Alan found himself at the sharp end of the race. “We arrived at the bottom of the KOM quite quickly and in the approach I saw Philip [Buys] and Matthys [Beukes] set up a one-two to try and slingshot each other to get a head start.”

“I managed to go with them and from there we started a really hard effort to see who was actually good for the day.”

Alan reached the top first to claim the KOM and from there dictated the race for a while. “I had a 20-second gap on Matthys and there was another 20 seconds back to Max and then another big gap to Sauser and the rest of the guys,” he says.

“I was hoping Matthys and Max would bridge across and that we would work together from there and keep the group smaller.” After about 5km of riding solo and the field being strung out, Alan made the wise move of sitting up and waiting for the regroup. “There was about 40km still to go and it didn’t make sense to leave it all out there by myself in the wind,” he says.

A group of five rode together testing each other on each climb until the final steep challenge.

“Here it all fell apart,” Alan explains. “By the top of that last climb it was myself, Sauser and Max and the three of us were sort of sussing each other out, still hammering it trying to get rid of one-another.”

At the top of the concrete section Alan unfortunately lost touch. “I hit my limit there and watched Sauser go full risk on the muddy descent to pull away. I could see him and Max all the way to the line – they were around 30 seconds ahead of me.”

“All-in-all a very good day out and I’m stoked with the form so far. The pre-season training has gone really well and Saturday – with the racing style being so similar to cross country – suited me. I’m looking forward to the first (XCO) National of the year at the end of Feb. I think it’s going to be a good one.” We do too!

Our three-time Absa Cape Epic winner and current Swiss Marathon Champion, Ariane Lüthi chose not to race on Saturday. She was protesting the elite women’s prize money not being equal to the men’s. We support Ariane in her stance and are happy that race organisers and sponsors recently committed to changing the prize money structure. On Monday afternoon Ashburton Investments and Advendurance announced that men and women would enjoy equal prize money. You can read the announcement here.

Taming the Mighty Attakwas

The first race of the season is always an important one – a crucial gauge of training and form, and a guide for what needs to be done ahead of the season’s bigger goals and milestones.

For Team Spur’s Swiss machine, Ariane Lüthi the first race of the year has traditionally been the gruelling 121km Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge, from Oudtshoorn to Great Brak. This year the team’s new recruit Alan Hatherly also made his debut at the event, taking on the Spur Atta Mini over 52km.

After a tough day out, Ariane soldiered to a very credible fourth place among a stellar UCI women’s field, while Alan took the win over the shorter route. Here’s how it all went down.

Alan Hatherly
Alan outgunned Dominik Buksa and Tristan Nortje to take the win at the Spur Atta Mini in a time of 01:52:45. “It was a great warm-up for me for the season, for sure,” said the Olympian and reigning U23 African XCO Champion after the event. “Coming straight out of base training it was a good test for the up-coming races.”

While Alan will focus on the XCO discipline in 2017 he will race a selection of longer events, including the Ashburton National MTB Series opener in Grabouw on Saturday, 28 January where he will contest the 72km distance. “I opted for the Mini because it’s obviously a shorter, more explosive race and will help me prepare for [the Ashburton event] next weekend,” he said.

“It was a really good day out. The route rode fast – quite a bit faster than expected – and everything went smoothly with the new S-Works Epic, so I’m very happy. I’m looking forward to next weekend and the rest of the year.”

Ariane Lüthi
As a five-time winner at what is considered one of the toughest one-day races in South Africa, Ariane was eager to reclaim her title. The 2017 edition was a UCI-rated World Marathon Series event and Ariane found herself up against the strongest field ever assembled in the 121km point-to-point race. Also, having missed two weeks of crucial training in the build up due to injury she wasn’t on the start line with the same amount of hours in the legs as in the past.

After a bit of a setback a-third-of-the-way through, Ariane found her legs in the last 40km and grafted her way to a respectable fourth place behind her 2016 Absa Cape Epic partner and reigning XCO World Champion, Annika Langvad, South African XCM Champion and 2016 winner, Robyn de Groot and Swedish XCM Champion, Jennie Stenerhag.

“It was great to have our own start batch for the first time in many years,” Ariane said afterwards. While the UCI Men started a minute ahead of the UCI Women, the A-batch men started only three minutes back, which meant the strongest amateur men caught the women at about the 30km mark.

“Annika, Robyn, Jenny and myself were together, with Amy [Beth McDougall] not too far back,” Ariane explained. “We got into a bit of a mess there when the A-batch men caught and overtook us, because they didn’t really pull away. Whenever there was a technical section we would reel them back in. Annika got fed up with this and rode away! My legs didn’t agree with that so I fell back a bit and had to ride my own pace from there.”

Ariane believes the decision to focus on her own race was probably her saving grace: “I think if I had tried to stick to Annika for much longer you probably would’ve seen a big mushroom cloud above the Attakwas,” she joked.

On one of the steep, rocky climbs (for which this race is famous) deep in the Attakwaskloof, Amy Beth McDougall caught and passed Ariane. This provided the proverbial ‘carrot’ for her to chase.

“I thought maybe she had gone too hard early on and held hope that I could catch her. This happened at about 70km on the rolling gravel road. I managed to ride away from her there and could put my head down and time-trial the last 40km to the finish,” she said, before adding, “that 40km into the headwind was actually good. It was good to see how fast and hard I could go there.”

“Annika, Robyn and Jenny were definitely stronger than me on the day, a huge congratulations to them. I went the hardest I could and left it all out there. I haven’t done a lot of racing-like training so this was part of the reason for racing Attakwas – to get racing fit.”

“There is a lot of work to be done ahead of the Absa Cape Epic,” she said. “I trust my coach and we will get the work done. It is going to be a challenging Epic, but I firmly believe I will get into the shape to be able to win it.”

Ariane Back Racing in South Africa

Buffet Olives MTB Classic, 23 October
Paarl, South Africa

Ariane: 1st place

After a successful racing stint in Switzerland, most recently placing second overall at the seven-day Swiss Epic, Ariane is back on African soil. The Buffet Olives MTB Classic, a 42km race in Paarl, saw her return to winning ways.

The relatively short route took riders through singletrack before tackling the slopes of the Klein Drakenstein. It was a small field of competitive women, with Ariane’s greatest challenge coming from Carmen Buchacher and Michelle Lombardi.

With the small field size, Ariane was able to extend a gap between herself and her chasers right from the start. She managed to increase her buffer as they made their way through the single track sections. As riders made their way to the climbs, Ariane noticed her gap back to Carmen dwindling. “I  saw Carmen closing the gap, she’s quite a strong climber, super skinny and light so I had to push a little bit harder there to ensure I maintained as much of my gap as possible” reflected Ariane

Reaching the summit with a slightly reduced gap, Ariane tackled the descent with aggression so as to cement her lead. This paid off as Ariane was able to cross the line in 1st place, 3 minutes 32 ahead of Carmen and 14:46 ahead of Michelle. Despite coming away with a win, the day was less about the racing and more about the activation with Anna Foundation for Ariane.

The Anna Foundation aims to assist disadvantaged schools and communities by providing academic, social and environmental support in order to aid in the developmental process. One of the communities which the Anna Foundation work with, is that of the farm workers from the Buffet Olive Farm which hosts the mountain bike race.

With a newly built pump track at the Buffet Olives farm, Ariane was asked if she could assist the Anna Foundation in developing the cycling skills of the young girls involved in the programme. After seeing the lack of confidence and abilities in most of the girls on the track, Ariane took the girls through a basic skills clinic. Assisting them in learning the basics of braking, cornering and bike handling, Ariane was impressed with the rapid improvements in their confidence and abilities. “It was very good to see that they were immediately able to put their new found skills to work and eventually ride the track.” said Ariane “It was amazing to see how quickly they improved, and very rewarding to see how much fun and how much confidence they gained from the short skills session.”

 

Scintillating Stage Racing by two XCO Champs

Prologue: 13km; 320m elevation

James Reid and Julian Jessop: 4th Place

The start of the 2016 Cape Pioneer Trek began with a short and speedy 13km Prologue with a mere 320m elevation. Starting and finishing at Milkwood Primary School in Mossel Bay, riders tackled some of the sharp climbs on the streets of Mossel Bay before heading to the rocky and tricky descents around the Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse.

As James and Julian are both XCO champions in their respective age-categories, they were ready to hit the ground running and had high hopes for a stage win. They set a blistering pace as they set-off for the short but technical route. James and Julian were looking in a good position to take the fastest time for the day. James lead the way down to the finish, with Julian hot on his heels as they fought to maintain their speed while carefully choosing their line through the rocky descent. It was here where Julian slammed his rear wheel into a rock, which cracked his rim and resulted in a puncture. Despite their teamwork to plug and bomb the tyre, they were unable to recover their lost time on such a short route. After a strong start James and Julian managed a 4th place finish as the strong pair of Erik Kleinhas and Matt Beers claimed the fastest time of the day.

Despite the slightly disappointing start to the week, the young riders were optimistic and excited for what the remainder of the event had to offer. With some long days ahead the pair aimed to limit their losses and set their sights on the shorter stages later in the week.

Stage 1: 95km; 1700m elevation

James Reid and Julian Jessop: 7th Place

Stage 1 was the first real test for Julian Jessop as he was taking on his first stage race. James and Julian tested their legs against their opponents as James kept a close eye on his younger teammate. The 95km route with 1700m of elevation proved to be an eye opener for what the rest of week had in store.

A difficult day of racing saw NAD Pro MTB of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrink, attack midway through the stage and they held their lead to the finish. James lead Julian through the route as he took the majority of the workload. Julian was able to hold James’ wheel as they maintained their position within the group. As they neared the final 20km, they had a potential 3rd place finish on the cards. It was at this point however, where Julian’s legs cracked. They soon lost sight of their bunch as James pulled a broken Julian along the final tar road stretch to the finish. “After we lost our bunch, I tried to shelter Julian to the finish line.” said James “As he locked onto my wheel, I was doing around 200 watts, but even this was too much for him as he soon drifted back.”

The difficult stage and fast pace from the outset of the neutral zone had caught up with Julian. As they had crossed the line, their time deficit was around 10 minutes and they finished the stage in a respectable 7th place. Despite the challenging day, both James and Julian were in high spirits and a little wiser on what to expect in the days ahead.

Stage 2: 99km; 2200m elevation

James Reid and Julian Jessop: 5th Place

The Queen stage of the event saw riders tackle the 99km route from Mossel Bay to George with 2200m elevation. After the eye opener of stage 1, the Team Spur pair better understood how to manage their legs on the longer days. The goal, to nurture Julian through the difficult stage with the knowledge that Stage 3 was more suited to their XCO format.  James lead the bunch through a lot of the early tar sections, while Julian happily sat further back in the group, conserving his energy.

The bunch was all together as they rumbled through water point 1 at 35km in. The mass of riders was made up of all the top men’s, ladies and veterans teams, with everyone taking it fairly easy. It was not long after however, when riders made their moves and the race began split. By water point 3 at 76km, James and Julian were still looking good as they were firmly ensconced in the lead bunch which had now been reduced to 4 teams.

The final 12km of the stage was the tipping point for Julian once again. It was around the 85km mark which left Julian scraping the bottom of his energy stores. Despite a split in the bunch, James’ experience and power allowed them to stick with the remainder of the group as they entered the final kilometres. Rounding the bend towards the finish line resulted in a sprint for 3rd place. Julian had given it his all but had hit the power too early and soon dropped off the back of the bunch. A podium finish was not to be, Julian crossed the line a few seconds back from the bunch and they finished in 5th place.

Despite suffering through the toughest day of the week and narrowly missing a podium finish, James and Julian were happy with their performance. Julian was recovering well as he looked to be getting stronger each day.

Stage 3: 57km; 1150m

James Reid and Julian Jessop: 3rd place

Stage 3 had been targeted for a stage win prior to event by James and Julian. The shorter distance with less climbing and lots of single track would suit the strengths of the two XCO champs. The bunch stuck together in the early section of the stage, but as they neared the first single track section the leaders began to jostle for position. James had been hammering the pace for the first few kilometres and this allowed them to enter the single track at the sharp end of the bunch. This early pace however, seemed to have taken its’ toll on Julian. After two hard days in the saddle, and carrying the weight of their potential stage win on his shoulders, he was battling to find his legs.

At each checkpoint their gap to the leaders increased. James and Julian found company in the CBC Elite Pro pair of Konny Looser and Daniel Gathof. The two teams worked together for the final half of the stage. As they neared the line team CBC Elite Pro sat up slightly, this allowed James and Julian to claim their well-deserved 3rd place finish.

Although they had hoped for a stage win, their 3rd place was a brilliant result considering the distance they had already covered. They now sat in 4th on GC and the new goal of a podium finish on GC was in sight.

Stage 4: 94km; 1650m elevation

James Reid and Julian Jessop: 3rd place

After a tough week of racing, Stage 4 was set to take its’ toll on the riders as the rode from George to Oudtshoorn. With temperatures reaching 38 degrees, the Klein Karoo was even more unforgiving. As riders climbed through the mist of the Montagu Pass between George and Oudthsoorn, the top names were all still together. By water point 2 at 53km the lead bunch seemed to be in a truce. They cruised through the feed zone to gather their fresh bottles and rehydrate during the scorching temperatures.

It didn’t take long after the water point before the first team made their move. After a slow start, Team Full Sus of Matt Beers and Erik Kleinhans attacked on a false flat and they were able to maintain their lead to the finish. Team Spur and CBC Elite Pro were the next group on the road as they battled it out for 2nd and 3rd on the stage. Entering the finish straight on the fields of Langenhoven Gimnasium in Oudtshoorn, James and Julian crossed the line in 3rd just behind CBC Elite Pro.

With their second podium finish of the week, the pair had now closed the gap to 3rd on GC and were looking to Stage 5 to remove the gap altogether.

Stage 5: 88km; 1700m elevation

James Reid and Julian Jessop: 3rd place

Another long day was ahead of the riders as they headed into the dreaded Kamanassie. After the previous days scorching temperatures, riders welcomed the sight of a cooler forecast. As riders exited Oudtshoorn, the neutral zone ended. The pace however still remained fairly stable as riders cruised to Water Point 1 at 30km in. With the rolling terrain and compact dirt roads, it would be difficult to obtain a sustainable lead. With the difficult section of the day still to come, riders conserved their energy for the rocky, treacherous terrain of the Kamanassie.

In order to secure a 3rd place on GC, James and Julian would have to go searching for the time deficit, which was just over 1 minute. James was the aggressor and Julian had to hang on for all his worth. They managed to gap Team Stappenbelt Specialized who were in 3rd on GC. After receiving time gaps from their support at Water Point 3, the pair knew they were in with a chance to take 3rd on GC.

The stage ended with Team Spur coming across the line in 3rd, 2:13 ahead of Team Stappenbelt Specialized. Their goal had been achieved, and ahead of the final day of racing it would be vital to prevent any loss of time.

Stage 6: 57km; 1200m elevation

James Reid and Julian Jessop: 6th place

The shorter final stage suited the skills of the two XCO riders as they planned a possible stage victory and a potential 2nd place on GC. It was all to play for as the gap between 3rd and 5th on GC was a mere 2:53. The day however did not go to plan. The morning started with an easy 11km ride to the start at Chandelier Game Reserve just outside of Oudtshoorn. As they lined up in the chute, mechanic JP Jacobs was doing some final checks when he noticed Julian’s shoes were covered in tyre sealant. Julian had picked up a 3 cm thorn on the ride in. After a scurry to change his rear wheel, the riders set off for what would be the toughest day in terms of mechanical issues.

Riding up front, James was marking Erik Kleinhans of Full Sus as they sat in 5th on GC and were eyeing the podium. Julian and James were looking in line for a possible stage victory as they stuck with the lead bunch. It was then, when disaster struck. The rocky terrain and fatigue from the week resulted in a lapse of concentration. Julian cracked a rim and punctured. They had soon lost sight of the lead bunch and their hopes of a stage victory. After struggling to repair the flat they were able to get back on their bikes. This did not last long however as the tyre was not holding air and Julian was forced to run. They were lucky enough to receive two CO2 cartridges from Ben Melt of team Squirtlube, this allowed them to continue to the finish.

Despite their admirable fight to the finish line where they crossed in 6th place and they had lost their podium finish on GC. After the disappointing final stage James and Julian finished 4th on GC, a mere 14 seconds off the podium. The whole week of racing was extremely exciting and despite being 19, Julian rode way out of his comfort zone as they far exceeded expectations. James was brilliant as he helped Julian through the tough times and controlled the race where possible to assist with his partner’s recovery.

 

For the full stage results: click here

 

Perskindol Swiss Epic: A battle for the line

Perskindol Swiss Epic: Stage 5, 17 September
Verbier, Switzerland

Ariane and Corina: 3rd on stage, 2nd place Overall

The final stage of the 2016 Perskindol Swiss Epic was not going to be an easy pedal to the finish line in Verbier. Adverse weather forced organisers to shorten Saturday’s Stage 5 to 39km with less climbing than the 2200m initially planned. Snow had been predicted on the peaks above Verbier, which made access to the area dangerous. The news was welcomed by riders after a hard week battling the Alps.

Nevertheless, Stage 5 provided an exciting battle for the final spots on the women’s podium. With only 4 minutes separating Team Spur Öztal and the Wheeler Rocky Mountain team of Esther Süss and Hielke Elferink, it was a tussle to the line. As the Elite Women made their way onto the first climb of the day, the top three teams were still together. Stöckli Pro Team of Jolanda Neff and Alessandra Keller pulled away near the top and as they hit the downhill, their descending skills allowed them to further increase their lead.

Ariane had battled with the climbs throughout the week, and when Hielke attacked a gap opened. Corina fought hard to help Ariane bridge the gap and then power past Esther and Hielke. It was a typical cat and mouse chase as the two teams jostled to enforce an attack that would stick. Ariane and Corina edged ahead on the final downhill but, erring on the side of caution in the rain, Ariane and Corina took the last parts of the descent conservatively, ensuring they made it to the finish in Verbier in one piece. Esther and Hielke took the chance to close in on our team as a sprint finish loomed. 

Ariane used her experience of the finish to their advantage distancing the Wheeler Rocky Mountain team before the final dash to the line. However, Ariane misjudged a corner and their rivals were right back on their wheels. An all-out sprint for the line was on, and the two teams came flying through the center of Verbier. Esther managed to edge out Corina, and Wheeler Rocky Mountain stole a hard-fought second place on the day with Team Spur Öztal in third.

Ariane and Corina were happy with their overall performance after a week of mechanical issues and heavy legs. Team Spur Öztal took second overall, 49 minutes behind the Stöckli Pro Team, comfortably the strongest team of the week. “Hats off to Stöckli Pro Team, especially Alessandra Keller who was the weaker rider,” said Ariane. “I mean, she is 20 years old, she really did so well this week.” Ariane also complimented Esther and Hielke who were their rivals for the week and congratulated them on the fight they put up to challenge for second.

After a tough week, Ariane looked back on her performance: “I was struggling up the climbs, after the second stage I was thinking this is not going to happen anymore,” she reflected. “At least I could ride a steady pace, it just wasn’t the greatest.” Ariane’s season now eases off for a few months and she heads back to South Africa for the summer to start the build-up for another busy race calendar next year.

Perskindol Swiss Epic: Back in 2nd ahead of the final stage

Perskindol Swiss Epic: Stage 4, 16 September
Verbier, Switzerland

Ariane and Corina: 2nd on stage, 2nd place Overall

The penultimate stage of the 2016 Swiss Epic took riders on a 62km route over the mountains surrounding Verbier. Despite the stage being slightly shorter than previous days, there was still 2600m of climbing to contend with and wet and cold weather conditions. The sublime run of 30 degree days earlier in the week cam e to an abrupt and chilly end in Verbier!

With their disappointing result from mechanical issues on Stage 3, and their drop to third on GC, Ariane Kleinhans and Corina Gantenbein were determined to reclaim their second position overall from Team Wheeler Rocky Mountain, consisting of Esther Süss and Hielke Elferink.

Ariane and Corina were on the tail of GC leaders, Stöckli Pro Team from the gun and still in touch as they reached the first summit. This however, was the last time the eventual stage winners would be seen on the downhill. “Jolanda Neff and Alessandra Keller are in a league of their own when it comes to descending,” said Ariane.

Making their way up the day’s major climb, which ascended a staggering 1419m, the leading three teams were able to catch glimpses of their rivals on the hairpin bends. This motivated Ariane and Corina to keep pushing and work on chasing down the second step of the podium. Team Spur and Wheeler Rocky Mountain made it to the top of the climb with only seconds separating them.

As they made their way up the final climb into Verbier, Ariane and Corina could see the leading Stöckli Pro Team riders again. Ariane was happy she felt stronger than on previous stages and dropped the hammer, also dropping Esther and Hielke in the process. But there was no touching Jolanda and Alessandra from Stöckli: “It’s really impressive how Alessandra is riding up those climbs, hats off to her.” said Ariane. By the time they had reached the line, they had managed to extend a 6-minute gap back to Esther and Hielke, enough to put them back in second on GC.

The final Stage 5 is another shorter day of 48km, yet plenty of climbing. With 2200m elevation, the legs will be feeling the previous four stages. Riding at high altitudes is always tough on the lungs and the possibility of snow is likely to make it even more challenging. As their form has improved throughout the week, Team Spur Öztal hopes to hold their second place on the General Classification and finish strong.

Perskindol Swiss Epic: Mechanical Misfortune

Perskindol Swiss Epic: Stage 3, 15 September
Leukerbad, Switzerland

Ariane and Corina: 3rd on stage, 3rd place Overall

Stage 3 was the revered Queen Stage and the longest day of the race as riders traversed 91km with 3000m of elevation. The day made for some exciting racing and an unfortunate shake-up of the GC standings for Team Spur. Feeling stronger than the previous stage, Ariane Kleinhans was confident that she could tap out a constant pace and was looking forward to a good day in the mountains. Despite starting strong and holding off their chasers, the pair suffered some mechanical issues and lost their second place on GC.

As they worked their way down an early descent, Corina punctured. The team was able to quickly inflate the tyre and were soon on their way again. The mechanical misfortune then shifted to Ariane as she suffered a broken spoke which had been repaired only the day before. After struggling to replace the spoke, Corina punctured for a second time. This repair was not as quick as the first and attempts to plug the hole were fruitless. In the end they were forced to replace the whole tyre.

Once Ariane and Corina managed to get back on the bike, they had dropped back into fourth place on the stage. Determined to finish strong, Ariane and Corina pushed up the final climb into Verbier. Their strength and endurance paid off, as they were able to pass the team of Ghost Factory Racing and reclaim third on the day.

Ariane and Corina were disappointed with losing their second place but took some comfort knowing that their lost time was due to mechanical issues and they had ridden hard over the final part of the stage to limit their loss to just over 2 minutes. With the final two stages ahead of them Ariane and Corina still have a chance to move up the GC standings into second.

Stage 4 will be another challenging one, as the 62km route takes riders up 2600m of climbing while overlooking Verbier.