Cape Town – Defending champion Christoph Sauser and his Olympic champion teammate, Jaroslav Kulhavy (Burry Stander Songo), produced another superb ride of power and commitment to extend their lead in the Absa Cape Epic in Wellington on Friday.
The duo covered the fast, technical 75km fifth stage in three hours, three minutes, four seconds (3:03:04) to take an overall lead of almost four minutes over the chasing Bulls team of Karl Platt and Urs Huber.
The Bulls were fortunate to even be in that position. They had been given a reprieve on Thursday when they successfully appealed after going off course, following signs designed for Friday’s stage. After lengthy debate, the officials awarded the erring teams the winning time plus 10 minutes.
Sauser and Kulhavy had powered their way to a six-minute lead when the chasing pack went off course, and at one stage were looking at an overall advantage of more than 13 minutes.
The successful appeal meant that Platt and Huber were now just one minute, 12 seconds behind at the start line on Friday morning, but they found themselves lacking the firepower to make any headway against the Songo team.
Platt paid tribute to the Songo pairing, admitting they were too strong, even with his team working with the Bulls 2 duo of Thomas Dietsch and Tim Boehme, and with the Meridan team of Jose Hermida and Manuel Fumic.
They had been pulling together on Thursday, when all three went off course.
“They are very strong. We tried really, really hard, but we could not make up time,” Platt said.
“Sometimes we would fight back and maybe we were 30 or 40 metres behind, but then they would just zoom.
“We tried everything but we just could not go faster.”
Sauser was seething over the decision to allow the Bulls teams back into contention.
“If you make a mistake, you must face the consequences,” he said.
Sauser and Kulhavy had also gone off course on Wednesday, and lost the stage win to Platt and Huber, although time-wise, they lost just three minutes.
Songo took up where they left off on Thursday, testing the Bulls’ resolve. Declining the offer of refreshment at the first water point at 18km, they made certain they were on the single track first and kept the Bulls chasing.
“We pushed all the way,” said Sauser, a three-time winner of the annual mountain bike race.
“Never for one second did we soft-pedal, but it was a good course, with lots of single-track riding.”
Coming through behind the Songo team were Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel, who set the early pace. But Vogel, who crashed in the prologue, admitted he was suffering.
“I have wanted to stop the race once or twice already, and even now I don’t know if I can continue tomorrow,” Vogel said.
Despite their troubles, they ended two minutes, 14.9 seconds behind the Songo outfit. The Bulls 1 team ended third, 17 seconds further behind.
In the South African battle, Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes again rode strongly to take seventh place for the stage and snatch the African leaders' jersey from Darren Lill and Charles Keey.
Lill had been ill for the past two days and was struggling to hold on.
In the women's race, Yolande Speedy and Catherine Williamson won the stage by more than 10 minutes, extending their overall advantage to more than two hours over second-placed Hanlie Booyens and Ischen Stopforth.
Saturday’s sixth stage is a tough 99km leg which ends in Stellenbosch. – Sapa