Cape Town - Despite winning the Queen Stage on Thursday, Centurion Vaude's Daniel Geismayr and Nicola Rohrbach still find themselves in fourth place on the general classification - five minutes behind Canyon Topeak.
After a solitary night in Worcester, the race transitioned to Wellington via a testing 113km/1800m course dubbed the Queen Stage. After relinquishing their lead and yellow jersey to Investec Songo Specialized, Cannondale Factory Racing were on a mission to rectify their tactical mistakes of Stage 3 on a course that suited the cross-country specialists.
"Stage 4 looks like a good stage for us with lots of singletrack so we will try and put the others in the hurt box," said Fumic after Wednesday's disappointing Stage 3.
Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek pushed the pace of the leading pack early in the stage in a ploy to hurt Howard Grotts. It worked - and Grotts, the first American to wear the yellow zebra jersey, had no choice but to call on his partner, Jaroslav Kulhavy, for assistance.
"I only had one speed out there today so it was very tough for me but Jaroslav (Kulhavy) was helpful riding at my pace," said Grotts.
Prologue winners Daniel Geismayr and Nicola Rohrbach showed their objectives by taking the Dimension Data Hotspot but their efforts were short lived after multiple attacks from Cannondale Factory Racing put them as well as Centurion Vaude, BULLS 1 and 2, Buff Scott MTB and Investec Songo Specialized in the hurt box - just as Fumic had forewarned.
"We felt good. After Stage 3 we wanted to show our strength in the technical terrain," said Fumic. "We showed for a large portion of the stage that we are strong."
A telling move came at the 60km marker where Cannondale Factory Racing attacked in the Land Rover Technical Terrain Section, the 'Goudini Spa singletrack'.
The two used their superlative cross-country skills to gain a 40 second advantage over the yellow jersey group. Avancini was relishing the terrain and, with Fumic in tow, the two were able to increase their gap by a further 20 seconds heading into Water Point 3 at 67km.
For the third stage in a row Investec Songo Specialized suffered another puncture with Canyon Topeak following a similar fate. Holding onto their yellow jerseys looked highly unlikely but the Czech Express had other plans...
Cannondale Factory Racing continued their assault up the loose and sandy 'Thudbuster' climb consolidating a three minute lead with Centurion Vaude, Buff Scott MTB and BULLS 1 a further 20 seconds adrift.
With Cannodale Factory Racing up the road, Centurion Vaude made an attack of their own at the base of Bains Kloof Pass, which would prove to be the move of the day. They reeled-in the Cannondale boys who were experiencing some mechanical issues of their own, and attacked just before the summit.
"Cannondale Factory Racing pushed really hard in the technical sections and we were behind in the rocky singletrack. Jaroslav (Kulhavy) had some issues and we took the lead from the chasing group and we got away," said Rohrbach. "And when we reached the asphalt of Bain's Kloof Pass we pushed really hard. When the climb kicked up we closed the gap on Cannondale Factory Racing and attacked."
Fumic and Avancini would lose even more time and with it any hopes of regaining the yellow jersey after a string of untimely mechanicals.
Jaroslav Kulhavy fought back strongly with Francesc Carretero/Luis Pinto and Karl Platt/ Urs Huber following hot on their heels. After a sizeable lead Cannondale Factory Racing were lingering in fifth place.
Despite the late charge by Investec Songo Specialized, Centurion Vaude took the spoils, sending a stern warning to their rivals in the process.
"We really wanted to win today - especially after the disappointment of yesterday," said Geismayr. "We went for it and it paid off for us. We're still in this race."
As it stands, there are no changes in the top five on the general classification: Investec Songo Specialized leads, followed by Cannondale Factory Racing, Canyon Topeak, Centurion Vaude and darkhorse team, Buff Scott MTB.
Asked about their progress in the race thus far Buff Scott MTB had the following to say: "It's a dream come true. At 10km we were very far back and didn’t think we'd finish on the podium so to us it’s a victory," said Carratero.
PYGA Euro Steel continued their superb run of form in the Absa African Men's special jersey race with a well-earned victory ahead of Marco Joubert and Dylan Rebello and Timothy Hammond and Arno Du Toit. The win puts them 3.28,7 clear of Ellsworth-ASG on the general classification with SPOT Africa rounding off the top three.
"We have been getting stronger every day," said Beukes. "I must say that I'm very impressed with Julian (Jessop) - he is great. I'm looking forward to winning my fifth red jersey so we will keep the pressure on."
"Matthys has been so patient and he is so positive," said Jessop of his partner. 'I'm having a great time thanks to him."
Meanwhile, Annika Langvad celebrated her birthday by winning a "brutal" Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic with her American partner Kate Courtney on Thursday and extended their lead in the women's category to an almost unassailable 32 minutes.
The birthday presents started rolling in for Langvad even before the start as their nearest rivals, Ariane Lüthi and Githa Michiels, were forced to withdraw with the tough Michiels picking up a fever overnight and being advised not to start by the race medical staff.
And then out on the course the Investec Songo Specialized pair broke away early on the 113km stage from Worcester to Wellington as their rivals let them ride off the front.
By the time they reached the finish Langvad and Courtney could celebrate a win of over eight minutes over Mariske Strauss and Annie Last (Silverback-KMC), with Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) just more than a minute further back.
It is hard to see Langvad and Courtney not being crowned the 2018 champions when the race finishes at Val de Vie Estate on Sunday, but the leaders refuse to concede that their victory is finalised.
"Day by day it looks better and better, but we are not going to jinx anything because we know that even a tiny little issue can cause a lot of problems," said Langvad after crossing the line.
"It was a really tough birthday present to myself. That was the hardest day out there so far this year. It was brutal - super brutal. There was so much single track, so much concentration, so much power and so much on-the-gas all the way through.
"It did not feel like we were dominating out there.
"Mariske and Annie put the hammer down big time over the first half of the stage. I was sure that we were not going to make it but after the hotspot sprint they sat up and we just slowly pulled away.
"On a long climb we opened up a gap and all of a sudden we saw they had fallen behind. We went really hard out there and when we got a time split of 11 minutes we were surprised."
Courtney agreed that it was a tough way for Langvad to celebrate her birthday.
"That was a tough present to give ... it was a really hard day for us, and it was very tough for me. Some of my weaknesses are flats and sand and there was a lot of that today.
"We heard about Githa at the start and obviously that is such a bummer. You never want to see your competition taken out by something so horrible and so unfair. But we wish her a quick recovery."
The real battle in the women's category is now to decide the positions of the bottom steps of the podium with Strauss and Last holding a nine minute advantage over De Groot and Spitz after the Silverback-KMC pair added a minute in the closing kilometres of the stage.
Friday sees the competitors ride the second time-trial of this year's Cape Epic and the 39km race against the clock. The lumpy profile of Friday's route is an indication that big chunks of time can be won and lost if somebody is struggling.
"Tomorrow is going to be hard," said Strauss after the finish. "But at least we can do our own thing and don't have to worry about people around us. Like we saw last year, and this morning with Githa, anything can happen so you have to keep chiselling away at the big block and see what happens."