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Cape Epic - S2

South Africa, March 24-31, 2007

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Stage 2 - March 25: Uniondale - Oudtshoorn, 132km

Standings shake up as distance takes its toll

Mannie Heymans of Raleigh MTN Energade 2 walks his bike
Photo ©: Cape Epic
(Click for larger image)

The longest day of the 2007 Absa Cape Epic resulted in a top-10 shake-up, including a change in the lead, as the Cannondale-Vredestein One team of Roel Paulissen (Bel) and Jakob Fuglsang (Den) put minutes into its rivals. The duo's sensational performance over the 132km leg from Uniondale to Oudtshoorn claimed the pair the second stage victory and the overall lead. This victory was particularly satisfying for the team, after coming in second yesterday, with just 0.5 seconds separating them from the winners.

“It was really tough. It was so warm, especially in the long technical climb and you lose so much body liquid, because you ride slowly, you are sweating so much and you don’t drink enough, because you have to keep your focus on the route all the time," explained Paulissen. "For the last 30 kilometres I was dying, as I had dehydrated a little bit. I never expected that it was such a long way to the finish line from the bottom of the downhill. The last fifty kilometres of gravel road were so difficult, especially with the wind coming from the side. But Jakob was very strong today. He really pulled me through to the finish. We attacked in the long climb and Christoph and Hannes joined us."

Starting today’s route at 7:00am in Uniondale, the riders covered a gruelling 132 kilometres of open roads, steep climbs and loose descents, with a total of 2245 metres worth of climbing. 35 kilometres of today’s stage led riders through the exquisite Kamanassie Reserve, where lagging spirits from the heat and tough climb, were lifted by unmatched sights of Western Cape fynbos and game. Many of the international riders were treated to their first glimpses of buffalo, rhino and elephant, as they sped through the Buffelsdrif Game Reserve.

Mannie Heymans (front) and Melt Swanepeol of Raleigh MTN Energade 2
Photo ©: Cape Epic
(Click for larger image)

After being pipped in the sprint on Stage 1, Paulissen and Fuglsang made sure there wouldn't be another tight finish when they charged clear of opening stage winners, Karl Platt (Ger) and Stefan Sahm (Ger) of Team Bulls, to secure the win in 4:58.24. Team Bulls came home second in 5:01.35 with Team Dolphin - Bart Brentjens (Ned) / Rudi van Houts (Ned) rounding out the top three with a time of 5:02.33.

"The plan was to hit the bottom [of the descent] together and to ride with [Christoph and Hannes] into the finish as they were a few minutes behind us yesterday," explained Paulissen of the tactics. "But then my chain broke. We were able to repair it quite quickly, but a little bit later Christoph had a flat. In the last tech zone he even had to change his wheel and then we said now we have to go, because the other guys will be coming soon. So we had to leave them behind and were on our own in the long flat stretch where we were pushing it for almost two hours."

The South Africans contesting the event also had a better day with three local teams in the top 10. Former Cape Epic winner, Mannie Heymans and his Raleigh MTN Energade 2 teammate, Melt Swanepoel, rode a steady stage to finish seventh while the Adidas William Simpson pair of Shan Wilson and Jacques Rossouw were ninth and Raleigh MTN Energade's Kevin Evans and Brandon Stewart claiming 10th position.

"We're riding within ourselves," said Heymans, winner of seven Cape Epic stages in the past and, at 35, one of the most experienced riders in the race. "This is an eight-day race. You can have seven great days and one bad day and lose a lot of time. We're taking a slightly cautious approach and hoping our consistency pays off."

Heymans' teammate Swanepoel is still recovering from a recent bout of flu, but Sunday's result shows that he's approaching full health again. Despite losing time on the second stage, Evans and Stewart retain the Absa African Team leader's jersey.

"We didn't have a great day today," said a disappointed Evans afterwards. "Brandon struggled towards the end of the stage and we lost a lot of time. We were with a group of five teams, including Mannie and Melt at the last water point with 15km to go, but lost five minutes to them by the finish."

But the biggest losers on Sunday were the Specialized pair of Christoph Sauser (Sui) and Johan Palhuber (Ita). Despite cresting the summit of the gruelling 12km climb at 50km in the lead, Palhuber first punctured and then blew his tyre, leaving them to trail across the finish line in 14th place: dropping them from sixth to 12th in the overall standings.

Stairway to where?

Brandon Stewart of Raleigh MTN Energade 1, wearing the Absa African Team leaderís jersey,
Photo ©: Cape Epic
(Click for larger image)

The key obstacle on today's stage was the misnamed rocky 12 kilometre jeep track called Stairway to Heaven, which came just after the 42 km mark. All the top teams were forced to dismount and push their bikes, at some point, up the testing ascent, which gains 800m metres at an average gradient of more than six percent.

It was here that the race split apart and reaching the summit with Sauser and Palhuber at the front was Paulissen and Fuglsang. Three teams, Brentjens/Van Houts, Platt/Sahm and Multivan Merida's Ralf Naf (Esp) and Jose Hermida (Esp) were a minute back. The long descent proved to be the day's big bike breaker and various mechanical stoppages among the leading five teams ensued, resulting in time gaps opening up with more than 50 km of undulating terrain remaining.

"That Stairway to Heaven mountain needs to be renamed!" said Heymans. "It's as tough as any of the hardest climbs in Europe and if you weren't careful, you would have suffered a sense of humour failure."

After two stages, the overall race now seems to be a three-way tussle between leaders Paulissen/Fuglsang, the Germans Platt/Sahm, second overall just over three minutes back and the Dutch pairing of Brentjens/Van Houts (Ned), 10 minutes off the pace.

Paulissen, Platt and Brentjens are all former Cape Epic winners so will know that one bad day, physically or mechanically, can result in dramatic changes in the General Classification. Stage 3 from Oudtshoorn to Ladismith is widely regarded as the race-maker or breaker. The distance of 128km isn't quite the longest of the race, but with 2425 metres of climbing in store and two days worth of racing already in the legs, it's likely to live up to its decisive reputation.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Cape Epic

Images by Ron Gaunt/Gallo Images

Brief Results

1 Roel Paulissen (Bel)/Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Cannondale/Vredestein    4.58.24
2 Karl Platt (Ger)/Stefan Sahm (Ger) Team Bulls                         3.11
3 Bart Brentjens (Ned)/Rudi van Houts (Ned) Team Dolphin                4.09
4 Ralph Naef (Swi)/Jose Hermida (Spa) Multivan Merida                  13.22
5 Alban Lakata (Aus)/Roman Peter (Swi) Trek Volkswagen                 14.24