South African Philip Buys yesterday became the first South African to stand on the top step of the Absa Cape Epic podium since Burry Stander in 2012 as the race dished up a host of new dramas.
Buys and his Swiss partner, two times cross country world champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo), won the 88km stage four – which started and finished in Greyton – after breaking from the field near the halfway stage and managing to keep a chasing pack at bay.
They are both cross country specialists – shorter races with an emphasis on technical skills – and yesterday’s shorter stage with many singletrack sections suited them.
Buys said he and Schurter “managed to increase the gap on each downhill and then maintain it on the climbs… it is a very special feeling to win it”.
Schurter, the world’s top ranked mountain biker, said the South African was getting stronger every day: “Soon I’m going to be in trouble and in the hurtbox.”
Behind them there was an early shock when four-times winner and pre-race favourite Karl Platt withdrew with a damaged knee. He had damaged it in a fall on Tuesday and started Thursday’s stage, but had to withdraw, leaving his partner Urs Huber (Team Bulls) to ride on alone but out of the race.
For the first time since the race began Sunday the leading men’s team retained the yellow jersey: Topeak-Ergon’s Robert Mennen (German) and Kristian Hynek (Czech) finished third on the stage but still have a lead of nearly 12 minutes.
Second Thursday was German pair 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.
Moving into second overall after finishing fifth 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.
There was a significant turnaround Thursday in what has become a thrilling women’s race when leader Esther Suss’s back shock absorber lost air and stopped working minutes after the start. 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).
There was bad news for Cherise Stander, the top South African contender in the mixed category with Theo Blignaut (RECM mixed), when she had to withdrew about 30km into the stage with breathing problems while lying second overall.
To view more information on the Absa Cape Epic event, click here.