Start: Meerendal Wine Estate
Finish: Meerendal Wine Estate
Total climb: 700m
Rolling off the start-ramp, the route took riders through – yes, through – the historic Meerendal Manor House, after which a surprising twist awaited. Riders then faced the challenging singletrack climb up Stairway to Heaven to the top of Dorstberg and its 360-degree views of Table Mountain, Robben Island and Cape Point. The teams dived straight into a rugged renosterveld-lined trail that descended into the quarry and the adjecent Hoogekraal Farm, where sweeping singletrack waited. Well-bermed turns made for a fun roller-coaster descent as the route headed back through steep vineyards, up a steady climb past dairy fields and onto Meerendal, concluding with singletrack and broad smiles on riders’ faces.
The Prologue was only 23km and not necessarily an indication of how things will go on the marathon stages to come, but it did suggest that several teams are in excellent form and that the pre-race favourites will not have everything their own way.
Spaniard Jose Hermida and his Dutch partner Rudi van Houts (Team Multivan Merida) grabbed a thrilling 14 seconds win after finishing in 59 minutes and 8 seconds. They have arrived at the Epic in excellent form and seem certain to be challengers later on. Second place went to Swiss pair Lukas Fluckiger and young Martin Fanger (BMC) – a later replacement for Ralph Naef, also Swiss. Third place went to German Robert Mennen and his Czech team mate Kristian Hynek (Topeak-Ergon), more than a minute back.
Race favourites Karl Platt and Urs Huber (Bulls) finished 6th, more than two minutes off the pace, while Christoph Sauser and his partner Frantisek Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized) were 9th – more than three minutes behind the winners. Rabon converted to mountain biking relatively recently and there have been questions about his ability to handle technical riding such as they experienced on the parts of the Prologue. Both Sauser and Platt are aiming for a 5th Epic win and will now know that they have their work cut out!
The women’s race was fairly comfortably won by RECM, Ariane Kleynhans and Dane Annika Langvad – in spite of the latter crashing heavily as the course took them down some steps outside Meerendal Manor House near the start.
Kevin Evans and Max Knox (FedGroup Itec) emerged as the quickest South African team and took an early hold of the Absa African jersey.
Exxaro jersey and team results
The winners of the inaugural Exxaro Development Jersey, Sipho Madolo and Azukile Simayile from the Meerendal Songo Specialized team are leading in the Exxaro category on the Prologue.
Jan Motshioa and Phillimon Sebona from Team Exxaro/PwC 1 came in second (37th overall) and shortly after them Prince Maseko and Thokozani Mahlangu from Team Exxaro/RMB 1 (39th overall). Nare Manamela smashed his rear rim on a rock which cost Team Exxaro/Tronox 1 some valuable time. Shalotte Mojela (riding for Team Exxaro/PwC 2) punctured, but the ladies still managed to finish in a comfortable time.
The race is still very close for anyone to take. Stage 1 will be a real battle for the Exxaro jersey.
|Lucky and Nare waiting their turn to strart the Prologue||Exxaro MTB Academy’s biggest supporter, Sipho Khumalo||Countdown for Luke and Khupi|