Cape Town – A South African stood on top of the Absa Cape Epic podium for the first time in two years on Thursday when Philip Buys and his Swiss partner and cross country world champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo) swept home on stage four of the iconic cycling race.
Both Buys and Schurter are known for their technical skills, so Thursday's 88km stage – a loop which started and finished in Greyton and contained many singletrack sections – suited the pair.
There was considerable drama in the field behind them, the biggest being the withdrawal of four-times winner Karl Platt. Platt had damaged a knee in a fall on Tuesday and started Thursday's stage, but could not pedal properly and had to withdraw, leaving his partner Urs Huber (Team Bulls) to ride on alone and out of the race.
“This morning I felt it, but I thought I might me able to go on. I mean I just wanted to finish the race … I have never not finished the Epic before,” Platt said of his disappointing end.
“But on the first climb I knew there was trouble. At seven kilometres I said to Urs, 'it is no use, I can’t pedal.'
“I wont say it was the hardest decision ever to make, because I had no choice. I am very disappointed because I was in the shape of my life. I will be back though.”
There was also bad news for Cherise Stander, the top South African contender in the mixed category with Theo Blignaut (RECM mixed), who withdrew about 30km into the stage with breathing problems while lying second overall.
There was a significant turnaround in the women's race when leader Esther Suss's back shock absorber stopped working soon after the start, forcing her to ride in an awkward position which negated her power.
“My sitting position was not good and I did not have power,” said Suss afterwards.
“My front wheel kept on lifting.”
The Swiss rider and English partner Sally Bigham (Meerendal) lost 12 minutes on the day and slipped to second behind a charging Ariane Kleinhans, from Switzerland, and Dane Annike Langvad (RECM2).
For the first time since the race began on Sunday, the leading men's team retained the yellow jersey, as Topeak-Ergon's Robert Mennen (Germany) and Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic) finished third on the stage but still have a lead of nearly 12 minutes.
“We’re the first team to have it for a second day and we’ll do our best to keep it until Sunday (the closing stage from Elgin to Lourensford wine estate),” Hynek said of the day's events.
Thursday's second place finishers was the German pair of Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess (Centurion-Vaude), but they remain outside the top 10 overall after a bad day on Tuesday when Kaufmann broke the frame of his bike. Second overall after finishing fifth on Thursday were four-times winner Swiss Christoph Sauser and Czech Frantisek Rabon in spite of the former breaking a chain and crashing during the stage. The last South African to win a stage of the Epic was Burry Stander in 2012. He was riding with Sauser. Sapa