Absa Cape Epic: Sauser and Stander win prologue

The second prologue in the six-year history of the Absa Cape Epic, which is a common feature in grand tours on the road, set the seeding order for Stage 1 of the magical untamed mountain bike stage race.

Sharon Laws and Hanlie Booyens.  Copyright: Karin Schermbrucker / SPORTZPICSFor the first time in the history of the race, the 16.5 km prologue circuit took place on the slopes of World Heritage site Table Mountain. The 1.200 teams raced for the honours of wearing the leader jerseys out of Gordon’s Bay for tomorrow’s 112 km stage race between Gordon’s Bay and Villiersdorp.

The prologue attracted thousands of spectators, with people lining the course, picnicking along the route and cheering the riders on. The challenging climb to Dead Man’s Tree, one of the highest points during the prologue, provided spectacular views for participants and was lined with enthusiasts – cheering their favourites on with school bells and flags -reminiscent of Alpe d’Huez at the Tour de France.

The Men’s Category during the Prologue was very competitive with what some labelled as “a slightly surprising result” and some of the favourites not making it to the podium. Crowds were very excited when top South African team and last year’s winners of the Prologue Kevin Evans and David George (MTN Energade) had the best split time halfway through the course (20:45).

However, they could not hold on to their lead and lost around 15 seconds on the last single-track section. In the end, Evans and George finished only 5,3 seconds (41:04,1) behind Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander (Team songo-info), who won the Prologue in a time of 40:58,8. They were followed by Hannes Genze and Jochen Kaess (Multivan Merida) finishing in third place (41:45,3).

On the way down from Table Mountain, Karl Platt of Team Bulls, one of the favourites and two times winner of the Absa Cape Epic fell off his bike and dislocated his shoulder.  Handicapped by the injury, the Bull Team lost some valuable time and therefore a chance to win the Prologue. They still finished the 16.5 km loop in 42:51,7 minutes, only 1:52,9 minutes behind the winners.

Sauser (32) is the reigning Cross Country World Champion and double World Cup Overall Champion with 16 World Cup wins behind his name. He has been racing professionally since 1993 and won the 2006 Absa Cape Epic with fellow Swiss rider Silvio Bundi. It is the second year in a row that he races with twenty-one year old Stander as team Songo.info. Stander is the current South African Under 23 Cross-Country Champion - a title he has won six times in different age groups. He also finished second in the Under 23 World Championship, second overall in the World Cup Andorra, 5th overall in the 2008 World Cup Series and 15th at the Beijing Olympic Games.

Says Sauser: “We hit the gas from the word go and actually deemed Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm to be faster than what they were in the end. We had a brief look at the route yesterday, got lost a few times, but finally had the key sections imprinted in our minds. So we could go fast.” Adds Stander: “Today I felt that the Prologue didn’t go as well as it did last year, so it was a big surprise to me that we won. This is testimony that we’re in good shape and takes the pressure off us.”

According to David George, his advantage is rather the physical fitness than the technical strength. “Let’s face it, I’m racing against the best technical rider in the world, Christoph Sauser, and I’ve actually been a roadie until last year. Considering all of this, my performance was not so bad.”

South African rider Hanlie Booyens and British team mate Sharon Laws (Absa Ladies) won the Ladies Category in a time of 56:26,5 minutes ahead of Sarah Koch and Daniela Hartmann (2 Swiss Epic Girls) in second place (01:02:30,2) with South African team Robyn Adendorff and Sarah van Heerden (WSP – Jeep Girls)  in third place (01:08:01,7).

Booyens and Laws won the Absa Cape Epic Ladies division in 2004. They also raced together at La Ruta in Costa Rica the same year. In 2006 they raced the TransAlps and it was their last race as a team until now. Says Booyens: “It was very easy for us to connect again – we’re good friends.

The Masters Category was won by Shan Wilson and Andrew Mclean (Cycle Lab Toyota) in a winning time of 47:18,2 minutes. They were closely followed by last year’s overall winners in this category, Doug Brown and Bärti Bucher (Absa Masters) at 47:22,5. In third place was Corrie Muller and Robert Sim (Van Loveren/SAND) in a time of 50:19,2 minutes. This will be Shan Wilson’s sixth Absa Cape Epic. He was placed 3rd in the inaugural Absa Cape Epic and 5th in 2005 in the Men’s category.

Last year was his first year in the Masters category and he finished in second place overall with team mate Walter Platzgummer. Besides winning quite a number of stages in the previous Absa Cape Epic races, he is particularly known for his winning streaks in the Greyton area which has been part of the race twice.  Wilson is by far the strongest Master rider in South Africa and his challenge is always to find an equally strong partner such as Platzgummer who is one of the best Masters riders in Europe. Platzgummer took a very bad fall last year and they therefore could not fulfil their dream of wearing the victory crown.

Mountainbikers at Absa Cape Epic.  Copyright: www.cape-epic.com
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In two days, on Saturday, 21 March 2009, the Absa Cape Epic, now in ist sixth year, will kick off with a prologue on the slopes of Table Mountain and will finish 8 days and 685km later at the Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West.

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