Cape Town - The ninth edition of the Absa Cape Epic race kicked off with a 27km prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate in the Durbanville Wine Valley – mountain biking Mecca on Cape Town’s doorstep. The event saw 1 200 excited riders from 46 countries enjoy sunny weather with the first group of riders starting their 8-day journey at 06:45. Far from just a ceremonial stroll, it was flat out from the start ramp heading through spectator points Contermanskloof, Kliprug Hillcrest and Nitida. The route took riders through protected Renosterveld, railing the sublime single track created by the Tygerberg Mountain Bike club. On the final push on the lung-bursting climb up to the Meerendal hilltop finish - a first in the history of the Cape Epic, riders saw spectators lining the trail for support, with magnificent views of Table Mountain and Table Bay in the background. Teams opened up their throttles for a good seeding at the start in Robertson for stage one. This time trial was a race against the clock to decide the seeding in the field and which teams will wear the coveted leaders’ jerseys at the start of Stage 1 in Robertson. The South African/Swiss team of Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser (team 36ONE Songo Specialized) will wear the sough-after Yellow Zebra Jersey made by Craft, with Kevin Evans and David George wearing the Red Absa African leader jersey. Esther Süss and Sally Bigham (Wheels4Life) will be leading the Ladies in Orange, with Robert Sim and Nico Pfitzenmaier of Robert Daniel Momsen wearing the Telkom Masters Blue jersey. Men’s Category For the second year in a row, the Men’s category for the prologue was won by the South African/Swiss team of Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser (team 36ONE Songo Specialized) in a time of 1:11:52,1. They were followed by South Africans Kevin Evans and David George of 360LIFE (1:12:05,3) with Alban Lakata and Robert Mennen of Topeak Ergon Racing in third place in (1:14:57,0). In fourth place was Max Knox and Kohei Yamamoto of Songo-Specialized (1:15:08,3). “We started really well. I pushed too hard at the beginning and crashed on a bend. Shortly after Christoph almost crashed and we decided to back off a bit. We found our rhythm shortly thereafter and Christoph was very strong today," said Stander."I just had to hang on as he pulled us. Thirteen seconds is a small gap, but it’s very nice to wear the Yellow Zebra jersey again for Stage 1 of the race. It was a fast course and one had to keep up your speed through the turns. The dust made it a bit difficult. Luckily I didn’t hurt myself or damage the bike, so all in all it was a good day," Sauser added.“We started out very steady and I was drafting behind Burry. Towards the end, I felt really good and took over the lead. But this is a long race and from tomorrow, the racing will be very different. We also have a strong second team in Max and Kohei and it’s good to have them out there – also for team bonding and to help each other, which is very important. Tomorrow the real mountain bike racing starts and one would need to conserve your energy – it’s still a long way to go Lourensford Wine Estate.” Kevin Evans of 360LIFE said they rode the perfect race. “It felt very good and to have two World Champions only 10 seconds ahead of us, is very good. Today’s course also suited cross-country riders and we’ll have a lot of interval training in the next seven days, so we’re happy with our second place.” Adds David George: “It was obviously a course that suited Susi (Sauser) and Burry (Stander) more than us, but our technical skills are there and we never felt never under too much pressure. For us our second place is fine. The Absa Cape Epic has never been won or lost by 13 seconds. We still have 7 days of hard racing to come and will plan day by day, take our chances and take nothing for granted. We all expect a big battle.” For first-timer Robert Mennen of Topeak Ergon Racing, it was an incredible day. “We never thought of finishing on the podium – in third place. We kept calm in the beginning and pushed harder towards the end. It worked out really fine. It was a tough course but we’re really happy. It’s still a long way to go and we decided to start slower. It’s the first time I compete in such a long race. We’re cross-country riders.” His team mate Alban Lakata added: “It's a great start to finish on the podium and we really didn’t expect it. We’ll stay calm and relaxed and see how every stage goes, how long it is and also what the others do - and enjoy the race at the same time.” Ladies CategoryEsther Süss and Sally Bigham (Wheels4Life) won the Ladies category in a time of 1:29:27,3, ahead of Theresa Ralph and Nina Gässler (Biogen Britehouse) 1:31:46,7. German team Ivonne Kraft and Elisabeth Brandau (notebooksbilliger.de) finished third in 1:36:01,1, with South African Scottish duo Karien van Jaarsveld and Jane Nüssli (MTN Qhubeka) in 1:37:25,4. “Today was brilliant. It was a really nice stage and I felt really good and strong. It was a good pace for me and we worked really well together as a team – I think we’re going to have a good week. It was also a nice course, I loved the climbs, and nice single trails. Although I’ve lost my voice yelling ‘excuse me’ to all the riders ahead of us to make way," said Bigham. “It was a good starts to the Cape Epic. It was a hard, dusty course but good. I think finishing first laid a good foundation for Sally and I," said Süss. Elisabeth Brandau of team notebooksbilliger.de said she enjoyed the first stage. “It was amazing and I had fun. This is my first Absa Cape Epic and I can see why riders keep coming back for more. It’s very well organised. It was great to have the crowds cheer us on along the way. I think I’ll also come back for more.” Adds Ivonne Kraft: “We’re very happy with third place. I had a bit of flu earlier in the week, but feel a bit better today. It was not our best result, but we still have a long way to do.” Telkom Business Masters Category The Telkom Business Masters Category was won by Robert Sim and Nico Pfitzenmaier of Robert Daniel Momsen. Their winning time was 1:23.00,9. They were followed by Adrian Enthoven and Delaney Impi (Jag Craft) in 1:26:57,7, with former Olympic medallist Bart Brentjens and Jan Weevers of World Bicycle Relief finishing third in 1:27:19,4. A hotly contested ‘race within a race’ is the one for the red Absa African jersey, awarded to the highest placed team, with both members holding African nationalities. Team 360Life (Kevin Evans and David George) successfully managed to secure this jersey for Stage 1. Siphosenkosi Madolo and Azukile Simayile of team Exxaro Academy 9 managed to secure the Exxaro Development jersey with their impressive performance during the prologue (overall 49 out of 600 teams). Mixed Category The Centurion Vaude team of Udo Boelts and Milena Landtwing, won the Mixed Category (in 1:31:34,1), followed by Erik Kleinhans and Ariane Lüthi of Contego 28E in 1:32:46,5. The South African/Swiss team of Russell de Jager and Andrea Huser (Big Tree / Velocity Sports Lab) finished in third place (1:37:26,7 ). Says Erik Kleinhans of Contego 28E: “It went very well. We started off great and on the first climb we passed two of the mixed teams. We built up a nice gap, but towards the end of the race, on the last downhill, Ariane cut her front tyre and we had to plug it to save it. We then managed to chase hard to catch up with the leaders. Tomorrow we’ll keep it safe and steady.” Adds Ariane: “I was really annoyed with myself. I saw the rock in my path, but I don’t know what I was thinking and went straight over it. At least I kept my cool and we tried to get ahead as fast as possible. I managed to control my nerves to the end and push myself.” STAGE ONE: ROBERTSON TO ROBERTSON (distance of 115km, 2350m of climbing)As the race’s history revealed before, stage one is always a rude awakening for the riders. Combining the length, the climbing, the severity of the trail surfaces and the speed of fresh-legged hares at the front of the field - all will be a shock to the system, even for the best prepared. Three major climbs loom ahead of the athletes. The first 3km rise is littered with loose rocks and tilting to 25 per cent, forcing portage, and there’s a risky descent lying in wait. Then it’s Hangman’s Tree, which may be short, but could take up to half an hour to conquer. Beautiful flowing trails then traverse the mountain ridges, showcasing the breathtaking scenery everyone has come to expect from the race. Tortoise Peak is the third major obstacle (there are still a few lesser ones after) and riders will be creeping up this slow, yet rideable five-kilometre ascent, named after its ancient residents. Riders with bar ends ought to take care on the descent, with grabbing branches on the off-camber dual tracks. For their considerable efforts, riders are rewarded with a beautiful section of trails through Nama Karoo, with a few gentle rises before finally turning east, back toward Robertson with a final rocky plunge into town.