Absa Cape Epic: Thrills and Spills

Absa Cape Epic: Stage 1, 14 March
Tulbagh, Western Cape

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

It was a hot and dusty day around the Tulbagh Valley for Team Spur as they battled through a tough 108km on Monday’s Stage 1. Both our men’s and women’s teams fell victim to the harsh terrain and ruthless nature of the Absa Cape Epic.

Our women’s Team Spur-Specialized had a fantastic start to the race. Laying down the power and surging clear of the world-class chasing ladies’ peloton early on, building a three-minute lead heading into the final 20km.

Unfortunately, the run of form came to a crashing end as Ariane Kleinhans slipped up in an innocuous turn and bent her bike’s rear brake disc. Unbeknownst to Ariane and her powerful Danish partner Annika Langvad, the brakes were engaging and it wasn’t long before Ariane felt the effects of riding flat-out with her brakes on!

They were caught in the final 2km by Team Ascendis, and beaten to the line by 38 seconds. Ariane was shattered as she crossed the line, but ultimately relieved to hear the problem was with her bike, and not her legs!

Our ladies are the ultimate professionals and are already focused on reversing their fortune tomorrow. Ariane and Annika remain motivated and excited to put their stamp on this race!

Absa Cape Epic: Resplendent in Red!

Absa Cape Epic: Prologue, 13 March
Meerendal, Western Cape

James and Gert Heyns: 1st place African jersey; 4th place Overall

Our Men’s team of James Reid and Gert Heyns will wear the Absa African jerseys at the start of Stage 1 in Saronsberg having put their cross-country skills to good use on the shorter Prologue course for a respectable fourth place.

As the leading all-African team at the event, they’ll start Stage 1 in the red special jersey. The pair, who only came together in the week leading up to the Absa Cape Epic due to various misfortunes befalling their teammates, was looking good and lying in second place behind winners Karl Platt and Urs Huber at the halfway mark. But both athletes have suffered from flu symptoms over the past week and the second half of the course saw them unable to hold their ferocious pace, with James taking a tumble towards the end of the Prologue adding to their time.

“We went out as hard as we could today – maybe our pacing was a little bit off, we didn’t really play it safe – as you can see from the crash,” James commented afterward, “and besides, on a Prologue you can’t afford to hold back.”

The short Prologue course obviously suited the cross-country expertise of James, but there’s plenty more technical riding to come… This year is being billed as the Epic of singletrack and there are a few stages later in the week that will play into their hands – particularly the stages around Wellington.

“We definitely earmarked [the Prologue] as a stage we were more likely to do better in,” James said, “mostly because 100-plus kilometres is a bit more challenging – especially in a multi-stage format. There are a couple of other days in the week that we have our eye on for sure.”

Tomorrow’s Stage 1 from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh promises to be a tough one – as has become the tradition with the first full stage of the race. The riders will ascend 2 300m over 108km, a lot of it on rugged and rocky terrain. This is a stage that will suit the marathon specialists and will give a good indication of riders’ form for the event.

Absa Cape Epic: Poised for Attack!

Absa Cape Epic: Prologue, 13 March
Meerendal, Western Cape

Ariane and Annika Langvad: 2nd place

Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad started their charge for a hat trick at the 2016 Absa Cape Epic with a smooth second place in the race’s Prologue, held at Meerendal Wine Estate, outside Durbanville on Sunday.

Behind winners Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag by over a minute at the first two checkpoints, Team Spur Specialized chased hard over the last third of the 26km course and limited the time gap to a mere 18 seconds. The margin leaves them perfectly poised to pounce on Stage 1 on Monday, which leaves from Saronsberg, Tulbagh.

“I felt very good, I had a good race today, unfortunately not good enough for first place, but a really big congrats to Jennie and Robyn,” said Ariane.

“I like Meerendal as a Prologue venue because there is so much singletrack and it’s technical – I really enjoy it. It’s fun riding here, especially coming into the finish with a lot of berms and table tops. It’s a lot of fun,” she added.

Our Swiss and Danish duo were relaxed, but with the Prologue out of the way, they are ready to focus on the race for the Women’s Leader jersey and their third straight title. As the adage goes – you cannot win the Epic in the Prologue, but you can lose it there.

MTO Songo.info Champions Race

MTO Songo.info Champions Race, 9 March
Kayamandi, Stellenbosch

Ariane: 1st place

Ariane had to fight hard for her victory at the MTO Songo.info Champions Race – a fun event that has become a tradition for the world’s top professional athletes in the Western Cape for the Absa Cape Epic. Held in the streets and surrounds of Kayamandi township, in Stellenbosch, it attracts crazy local fans and the who’s who of local and international racing. Triathlete and Xterra World Champion Flora Duffy was second followed by Team Spur-Specialized’s Annika Langvad. Duffy showed some amazing skills to challenge the full time mountain bikers but it was our Ariane who emerged victorious on the day.

Tour of Good Hope

Tour of Good Hope, 29 February-4 March
Western Cape

Annika Langvad: 1st place
Ariane: 3rd place

2016 is the first year that Ariane Kleinhans and her Danish partner Annika Langvad have spent time together before the big off-road showdown at the Cape Epic, which is now just six days away. Their joint training program seems to be paying off! The Tour of Good Hope is a five-day, 500km road stage race and our women’s team had a fantastic week at the road tour, dictating the pace in a strong women’s field. Our riders worked well together, delivering Annika the yellow leader’s jersey at the time trial on Tuesday’s Stage 2, which the Dane held for the rest of the week and into the finish on Friday. Ariane defended her teammate superbly and earned an impressive third overall.

Cape Town Cycle Tour MTB Challenge

Cape Town Cycle Tour MTB Challenge, 28 February

James: 1st place

James was eager to put the disappointment of Saturday’s Helderberg XCO behind him at one of the country’s largest and most prestigious mountain bike races. The CTCT MTB Challenge is not known as a technical race, as it caters for over 2,000 riders of all levels. Yet the fight for the win amongst the professionals is fierce!

The Stellenbosch race delivered picturesque and exciting racing. After 55 hot dusty kilometres, our James held off the classy Michiel Van Der Heijden and local strongman Matthew Beers (Cannondale Red-E) in a tense sprint finish.

SA XCO Cup #2, Helderberg

SA Cup Series XCO #2, 27 February
Helderberg Farm, Stellenbosch

James: 5th place

All the South African XCO specialists were in town for a key Olympic qualifying event at Helderberg Farm, outside Stellenbosch. The technical but fast and flowing course had also caught the attention of a number of international big guns.

The powerful Kiwi Sam Gaze and Danish Junior XCO and Cyclo-cross World Champion Simon Andreassen were on the start line. Their Specialized Factory Team was holding a training camp in Stellenbosch and the team manager, former World Champion and multiple Cape Epic-winner, Christoph Sauser keen to test the team’s form. Dutch former U23 Mountain Bike World Champion, Michiel Van Der Heijden (Scott-ODLO) was also in town and excited to mix it up in the sweltering heat.

Unfortunately, our Cape Epic plans were dealt a severe blow when James’s Epic partner Howard Grotts fell and cracked a few ribs in Friday’s practice… We will keep you posted on developments here.

The racing was intense and hot! Gaze blew the field to pieces from the start gun, and his confidence grew with each lap as he consistently lapped faster than anyone else and built a two-minute buffer that no-one could answer. South Africans Allan Hatherly (Kargo) and Phil Buys (Scott-LCB) fought back bravely towards the end to finish in second and third, respectively.

James had high hopes for Helderberg and expected to make much of the racing at the front of the field as he had won the first round of the Cup Series in Mankele in January. Unfortunately, after a good start he was unable to engage top gear and lapped consistently in fifth, where he finished just behind Andreassen in fourth. It was a frustrating day for our young ambassador, but it provided valuable feedback in his quest for Olympic qualification.

Dutoit Tankwa Trek

Dutoit Tankwa Trek, 12-14 February
Koue Bokkeveld, Western Cape

James & Howard Grotts: 5th place

The Koue Bokkeveld outside Ceres is usually a sleepy valley of apple orchards, red rock and extreme temperatures. Over Valentines weekend in February it was the scene of some brutal mountain bike racing. Team Spur pitched its gazebo in support of James Reid and his American counterpart, Howard Grotts as they were pitted against some of the fastest endurance stage racers on the planet.

There was no love lost between the top teams and Howard found the frenetic pace a tough introduction to Africa. After making the early racing on Stage 1, Howard’s long commute from Durango, Colorado just two days prior, took its toll and James was forced to nurse his partner home in a disappointing sixth position, 18 minutes behind the experienced Team Bulls pairing of Karl Platt (GER) and Urs Huber (SUI).

Stage 2 saw our young XCO racers again put up a solid fight early on, but dropped off on the big Merino Monster climb to end the day in fifth, 6 minutes behind the winners, fellow Specialized riders, Christoph Sauser (SUI) and Sam Gaze (NZL).

The last stage was a technical affair with stunning rocky singletrack over punchy terrain, but Howard was still reeling from the intensity of the first two stages. The pair decided to use the day to consolidate their fifth place and brought it home easy, finishing the event in a disappointing fifth, but aware of the work to do for the Cape Epic a month away.

SA XCO Cup #1, Mankele

SA XCO Cup #1 Mankele, 30 January
Mankele, Mpumalanga

James: 1st place

On Saturday, 30 January James Reid made his bid for Olympic selection known up north. James had the measure of a strong Elite Men’s field, winning the first round of the South African XCO Cup Series in Mankele, Mpumalanga and earning Team Spur its first victory of 2016.

Ariane and James Conquer Attakwas

Fairview Attakwas Extreme Mountain Bike Challenge, 16 January
Oudtshoorn, Western Cape

Ariane: 3rd place
James: 3rd place

It was a successful first outing for Team Spur’s Ariane Kleinhans and James Reid at the 2016 Fairview Attakwas Extreme Mountain Bike Challenge last weekend. Both athletes persevered against the challenging 122km course and world-class competition to finish on the podium. As the pervasive dust settles on another exciting Attakwas event Team Spur has plenty of achievements on which to reflect.

James’s third was a solid result in his debut Attakwas. The 24-year-old Reid was the only South African who stood up to the German onslaught, as Team Bulls’ marathon specialists dominated the race. Four-time Absa Cape Epic winner Karl Platt was the first across the finish line, with teammate Tim Böhme a close second and Simon Stiebjahn fourth.

2016 Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge-06655 sml

“It’s about what I expected,” James Reid said after the race. “I felt good going up to the King Of The Mountain (KOM) spot but it was rough; a long hard route and challenging rocky terrain. I lost touch with the leading trio midway through the race. From there it was a long slog by myself. I managed my energy levels and pictured it being a five-hour day [James finished in 5:17:12]. The gap to the leaders is a little bit of a concern but it’s early days and there’s time to improve.”

Ariane was understandably disappointed in her third place, which brought to an end her five-year winning streak at Attakwas. Yet her fight back from a near race-ending mechanical while leading the race, to claim the final podium position, bodes well for her season. Ariane was third behind Team Ascendis’ Robyn de Groot in first and Jennie Stenerhag second. Ariane fell victim to the rock-strewn descent shortly after claiming the Queen Of The Mountain spot prize at the 57km mark. She rejoined in a distant sixth place and charged home over the last half of the course, but couldn’t close the gap on De Groot and Stenerhag.

“I’m sad about not winning the Attakwas,” Ariane said. “It was the very first racing day that I spent in South Africa when I arrived here more than five years ago so it’s a special race for me. I’m especially sad for the new team – I would have liked to please Spur and Specialized with a great win because I’m really happy to be a part of this professional setup.”

Team Spur Manager, Nic Lamond was excited by the form and character both athletes displayed at Attakwas: “This was our first real chance to test the team and I am proud of the outcome. It is great to see the team working and problem-solving together. We have a fantastic energy and incredibly supportive sponsors and partners. There was never any doubt that Ariane and James would hold up their end of the deal and fight with everything they had out on the brutal course. That’s just who they are. I understand Ariane’s disappointment, she’s a world-class athlete who races to win, but mechanicals happen – we must learn and move on. The team is elated with this start to the season.”