By Fred Dreier
The winners of the 2007 Absa Cape Epic, the Bulls squad of Stefan Sahm and Karl Platt took their first victory of the 2008 race, winning the fifth stage from Swellendam to Bredasdorp. The two out sprinted the Alb-Gold team of Hannes Genze and Joschen Kaess for the win. The victory took a sizable chunk out of the overall lead of the Cannondale-Vredestein squad of Jakob Fuglsang and Roel Paullissen, who crossed the line in 5th place, nearly eight minutes down.
Taking the women’s win was the Trek-Volkswagen squad of Susan Haywood and Jenny Smith, who won their second-consecutive stage ahead of leaders Alison Sydor and Pia Sundsted (Rocky Mountain). The Trek-Volkswagen squad crossed the line nearly two minutes up on the Rocky Mountain women, who still hold a 56-minute advantage in the general classification.
The 146km stage, which included 1819m of climbing, was the longest in Absa Cape Epic history. While the stage was held predominantly on rolling dirt roads, the length and speed of the front group wore on riders’ sore legs. A rocky climb through the De Hoop nature reserve provided riders a view of baboons, ostriches and elephants, but also killed the momentum of many.
The Bulls came into the day a full 18 minutes down on Cannondale-Vredestein, the team they barely beat to take the overall in 2007. Sahm had suffered a stomach virus through the first four stages of the 2008 race, pushing the German squad squarely into second place.
But bad luck felled Cannondale-Vredestein just 40km into stage 5. Fuglsang suffered an untimely flat tire and the duo lost contact with the front group. The duo fumbled on the side of the track with two quick-fill cartridges, but did not have the correct adaptor to fill the tire. The duo was rescued when Rune Hoydahl of team Etto-Hoydahl passed on his adaptor, allowing Fuglsang to remount his rig.
But the young Dane, who took the 2007 U23 world cross-country title, suffered another flat just 18km from the finish line.
“We didn’t know what to do,” Fuglsang said. “We had no cartridges left and gave the adaptor back to Rune. We then decided, ‘why not just ride in on the rim without the tube?’ which we did. Roel was feeling stronger today so he suggested that we exchange wheels.”
Absa Cape Epic rules strictly forbid outside assistance from persons not competing in the event. So Paulissen rode the remainder of the stage on just a rim, with Fuglsang pushing him from behind on the climbs. But the Dane had lost his brake pads during the wheel exchange, and therefore had to cautiously pick his way down the descents.
“It was like riding on a drilling machine, and I can still feel the effects of this afterwards,” Paulissen said. “We didn’t have a clue how far we were behind – our gut feeling told us it must’ve been more than 18 minutes, and we were sure that we would no longer be overall leaders. But we kept going, which was definitely the right decision.”
Amazingly the duo lost only eight minutes to the Bulls, and still hold a precarious 10-minute lead over the Bulls squad.
Absa Cape Epic Stage 5
1. Bulls (Karl Platt, Stefan Sahm), 5:10:52;
2. Alb-Gold (Jochen Kaess, Hannes Genze), 5:10:52;
3. Dolphin-Trek (Bart Brentjens, Alban Lakata), 5:10:54;
4. MTN Energade 1 (Kevin Evans, David George), 5:10:55;
5. Cannondale-Vredestein (Roel Paulissen, Jakob Fuglsang), 5:19:26
1. Trek-Volkswagen (Susan Haywood, Jennifer Smith), 6:19:17;
2. Rocky Mountain (Pia Sundstedt, Alison Sydor), 6:21:10;
3. Scott Contessa (Jane Seggie, Ischen Stopforth), 6:50:09;
4. Absa Ladies (Erica Green, Hanlie Booyens), 7:08:32;
5. Valhalla (Petruschka Constancon, Louise Hemmes), 7:39:47