Worcester - Immediately after Team RECM Specialized’s Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad crossed the line of Stage 3 at HTS Drostdy in Worcester, they collapsed to the ground in exhaustion and elation.
The 128km ride – blitz in their case – from Elgin to Worcester had been an emotional rollercoaster.
Moments later, Kleinhans was in tears as a close friend offered his congratulations. The 1 hour 13 minute time penalty from Stage 2 had been wiped out by an incredible day in the saddle on a course that left many of the riders dreaming of the lush surrounds in the hills and valleys of Elgin.
While photographers jostled for images that told the story of the day, Kleinhans smiled broadly in between wiping away the tears.
Langvad, cool as a Copenhagen snowman despite the 30-degree temperature on the windswept high school field, was as composed as ever. “We were very motivated when we started this morning,” she said.
“We needed to put ourselves onto another level, and we did that.”
So potent was Team RECM Specialized on Stage 3 that they now go into Stage 4 with a nine-minute overall lead over Jennie Stenerhag and Robyn de Groot of Team Ascendis.
It was not a good day on the bike for the first-time Cape Epic pairing as they finished sixth on the stage, 36 minutes and 25 seconds off the lead. Stenerhag and De Groot have been riding well all week, but there were suggestions from out on the course that De Groot might have been ill, with the rider herself admitting at the finish that she felt “flat” on the day.
Kleinhans and Langvad certainly took advantage of Team Ascendis Health's bad luck, finishing 20th in the general classification on the day. This is the best result for a women’s team in the history of the Absa Cape Epic.
“It was tough and flat, and nowhere near as entertaining as Stage 3. Some sections were so sandy that it felt like we would never get anywhere,” said Kleinhans. “It was a mentally tough day for us too, especially after the time penalty. It was our intention to claw back as much time as possible, though we didn’t expect to do it in one day. We didn’t want to risk anything, though we were motivated to do well.”
Elsewhere in the Sasol Women’s category, six-time cross country world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja and her partner Kathrin Stirnemann of Team World Bicycle Relief finally came to the Cape Epic party (though Dahle Flesja has insisted from the start that she’s using 2015 as a Cape Epic “sighter”), finishing second on the day.
Seconds later, former Mixed and Women’s category winner Esther Suss and debutant Alica Pirard of Team Meerendal Wheeler crossed the line in third.
“We’re very happy to be up in second place for the stage,” said Dahle Flesja. “This is where the racing is and for the first time in the Cape Epic we felt like we were in the race. It was a long, sandy day and some places it felt like we weren’t moving at all.”
Stirnemann has been struggling with illness all week, but it looks like the pair are cranking up the pace. “We didn’t push too hard today, but we got into it eventually,” said Dahle Flesja.
“I’m just happy to be at this event and to be part of it at last. It’s so cool and we are having a lot of fun. I think my job now will be to go and tell everyone else about the Cape Epic.”
On Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic riders will face 111km and 2000m of climbing through and around the Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve, winding along the Hex River Valley before finally turning for home – but not before tackling three steep climb after the 90km mark called “The Skyscrapers”.
The route starts and finishes at HTS Drostdy.
Sasol Women Stage 3 results
1 RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 5:46.21,3
2 World Bicycle Relief 53-1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja (Norway) 53-2 Kathrin Stirnemann (Switzerland) 6:15.51,6 +29.30,3
3 Meerendal Wheeler 51-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 51-2 Alice Pirard (Belgium) 6:16.03,8 +29.24,5
1 RECM Specialized 50-1 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 50-2 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 18:03.10,6
2 Ascendis Health 55-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 55-2 Robyn Lee de Groot (South Africa) 18:12.29,2 +9.18,6
3 Meerendal Wheeler 51-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 51-2 Alice Pirard (Belgium) 18:17.30,9 +14.20,3
4 SasolRacing 56-1 Yolande de Villiers (South Africa) 56-2 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 18:44.33,2 +41.22,6
5 Meerendal Wheeler C'dale 54-1 Milena Landtwing (Switzerland) 54-2 Hielke Elferink (Netherlands) 18:50.24,7 +47.14,1
6 World Bicycle Relief 53-1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja (Norway) 53-2 Kathrin Stirnemann (Switzerland) 18:51.28,1 +48.17,5
7 RBS 137-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 137-2 Jeannie Bomford (South Africa) 18:52.18,1 +49.07,5
8 Novus OMX Pro 79-1 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 79-2 Cherie Vale (South Africa) 20:05.59,8 +2:02.49,2
9 SasolRacing 2 59-1 Leana de Jager (South Africa) 59-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 20:21.11,5 +2:18.00,9
10 Lovechock Specialized 57-1 Sanne van Paassen (Netherlands) 57-2 Jolien Janssen (Netherlands) 20:56.22,4 +2:53.11,8