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Words: Francois Flamengo | Photos: Gary Perkin

2013

Cape Epic in review

Team Songo

Rides for Burry


Champions are born, but champions with the will to fight for Gold, no matter what it takes, is what sets these elite athletes apart. Christoph Sauser, also known as Susi, is one of those special champions. Another name that comes to mind is the late Burry Stander. And when they joined forces, they showed the world what a formidable pair they were by winning two back-to-back yellow jerseys in 2011 and 2012 at the prestigious Absa Cape Epic.

The dream team

This year’s Cape Epic would be a test to see how the Songo.info team adjusted without Burry. And so Olympic gold medal Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy, also known as Jaro, was called on to join the team in their effort to defend the yellow jersey at the 2013 event, where they would ride under the banner ‘#Ride4Burry’ during the race. However, a winning team is not just about great riders. There are two other vital components. One is having a strong and experienced support team, and fortunately for the Songo.info team, Max Knox, the current SA Marathon Champion, and Kohei Yamamoto, the current Japanese National Champion, were keen and willing to fulfil this role. Riding in their second Cape Epic together, they knew the team dynamics well and would look to excel if the opportunity presented itself at this year’s race. In the future, Max and Kohei will be an exciting pair to look out for as they also put in a challenge for the top spot at the Cape Epic. The remaining element required to reach the finish line is the equipment and support team. Here, the partnership with Specialized, under the direction of Irish triathlon legend Bobby Behan, created the perfect platform to work from. It also made communication very easy because Bobby and Christoph are very close friends and have ridden for Specialized for many years in the past. Furthermore, the Specialized crew is extremely professional and passionate, as well as totally dedicated to the fight for the number one position.

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Jaroslav Kulhavy & Christoph Sauser of Burry StanderSongo finish during the 1st stage of the 2013 ABSA Cape Epic from Citrusdal to Citrusdal

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CITRUSDAL - during stage 2 of the 2013 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Citrusdal to Tulbagh, South Africa on the 19 March 2013

And with that, what must arguably be the dream-team combination for man and machine was complete! Now all that was left was to face a race that pushes you beyond your boundaries and makes you find new ways of conquering your limits. In mountain biking, the Absa Cape Epic is renowned worldwide and this year it assembled the best of the best. Some of the international names found on the entry list were the German Bulls’ rider Karl Platt (the most successful Epic winner with four wins under his belt); Multivan Merida ex Crosscountry Champion Jose Hermida; the current World Champion and silver Olympic winner in London Nino Schurter; and bronze Olympian and Italian Champion Marco Aurelio Fontana, to mention but a few.

Champion’s Race

Prior to the race, Christoph Sauser; who has made his second home in Stellenbosch, invited all these riders, as well as Jaroslav, Kohei, Philip Buys and a number of riders from Kayamandi, to take part in a fun Champion’s Race to raise funds for Songo. info, a non-profit organisation that gives back to the Kayamandi community. Established by Christoph and Songo Fipaza a few years ago, the organisation strives to improve the lives of children living in the Kayamandi community by providing them with a safe place to play, grow and develop.

The Champion’s Race has been going for a number of years now, and starts on the sport fields in Kayamandi. Riders start off doing two laps around the field, which helps to separate the field and avoid a massive bottleneck on the first climb, then they do laps for 30 minutes and three final laps. The first rider across the finish line is declared the winner.

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Leaving the sports grounds, the competitors ride up a steep hill, across a BMX track and part of the township before descending down to the sports field, and then start their next lap. All the top riders where riding in a small bunch and entertaining the crowds with an exhilarating performance, but it was Jaroslav who took an early lead. About 20 minutes into the race, the man from Japan fought his way to the front, with Christoph and Jaroslav in hot pursuit. On the final lap, the pair caught up to Kohei, but on the final descent, it was Christoph who powered across the finish line first, with Jaro in second and Kohei third. After prize-giving, Songo and Christoph proudly opened the new Cycling Clubhouse, which had been built from the proceeds raised from the Champion’s Race over the last few years. It was very special to see what Christoph has achieved with Songo, and reinforced what an exceptional person he his.

Riding the dream

With the race day fast approaching, it was now time for the Songo.info team to focus all their energies on the Epic, and the gruelling eight days that were to follow. The Prologue was scheduled to take place at the Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville and everyone was anxious to see who would be the leading team to start the first stage. As the field got stronger and stronger, the time to complete the 25 km loop grew smaller and smaller, and by the time the Pro field had reached their allocated time to start, a winning time of less than an hour was expected from them. Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes were the first to break the onehour mark, and with about 15 team starting after them, their time was the time to beat. Max and Kohei bettered their time, but they were bettered by six of the top pairs. Now, everyone was holding their breath to see how Susi and Jaro would fare. They did not fail to impress, improving by more than a minute over the Multivan Merida team of Jose Hermida and Rudi van Houts. The stage had been set for an exciting race that was expected to be closely contested by all the teams featuring in the top ten.

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WELLINGTON - Jaroslav Kulhavy & Christoph Sauser of Burry Stander-Songo during stage 4 of the 2013 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh to Wellington, South Africa on the 21 March 2013

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Stage one

Stage one at Citrusdal proved to be very controversial, with lots of drama unfolding. Just before water point one, the rear rim on Christoph’s bike cracked whilst tackling a very rocky descent and they lost time to the charging Bulls and Merida riders. Max and Kohei provided the necessary back up by swopping Max’s rear wheel with Christoph’s. Up front, the leading pack suffered more drama when Topeak Ergon Racing rider Robert Mennen accidently rode into a bush pig that ran across the road. At the speed he was going, there was absolutely no chance of avoiding the collision. Mennen suffered a broken collarbone, thus ending the team’s campaign.

This 96 km stage covered a lot of terrain over sand, which meant that everyone had to dig deep just to finish. The stage ended with Multivan Merida taking the yellow, followed by the two Bulls teams, led by Karl Platt. Susi and Jaro, who came in fourth, had managed to close the gap to 2 minutes and 49 seconds after their mechanical problems, but they would have to give it their all if they wanted to reclaim the yellow jersey.

Stage 2

Stage 2 from Citrusdal to Saronsburg Wine Estate was the first big marathon stage and this 146 km route challenged the riders all the way to the finish. Susi and Jaro went out hard from the start and were beginning to make up time when disaster struck. This time it was Jaro, who snapped his chain, and they lost more valuable time to the leading teams. But, they were not the only ones who had trouble. The yellow jersey leaders suffered a flat tyre that cost them precious time, enabling the two Bulls teams to take command. The day ended with the two Bulls teams leading the field and Songo.info coming in third, more than 8 minutes adrift.

Stage 3

Stage 3 in Tulbagh was a tough 94 km course, and the day started once again with Christoph and Jaroslav attacking the Bulls teams to take the lead. But, as they say, bad luck always comes in three.

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WELLINGTON - Overall leaders and stage winners Jaroslav Kulhavy & Christoph Sauser of Burry Stander-Songo during stage 5 of the 2013 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Wellington, South Africa on the 22 March 2013


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With only a few kilometres to the finish, they made a navigational error and lost their lead to Karl Platt’s Bulls team. The stage ended with the Bulls still in the yellow jersey, but Songo.info had moved up into second and was only 46 seconds off the pace, with Bulls 2 in third.

Stage 4

Stage 4 from Tulbagh to Wellington was another long and testing 120 km stage. Determined to get their hands on the yellow jersey, the Songo.info team launched an early attack and dominated with a performance that displayed their tremendous power and endurance. With the Songo.info team stretching the field and creating a gap of more than 6 minutes over the chasing Bulls and Merida riders, the day was once again overshadowed by controversy. All the chasing teams got lost when they followed the incorrect course markers that were supposed to be used for Stage 5. This resulted in the Cannondale and Scott Factory teams of Fontana and Fumic, and Buys and Beukes, being given two spots on the podium. The Bulls and Merida teams lodged an appeal and won, so the organisers deducted 10 minutes from their time, thus putting the Bulls team back in contention and reducing the gap between the leading Songo.info team and themselves.

Stage 5

Stage 5 in Wellington consisted of a ‘quick’ 75 km course and the cross-country riders where expected to excel here. Although the stage was short, the climbs were brutal. Despite a valiant effort from Karl Platt’s Bulls team, they were unable to close the gap and Songo. info ended the day as the first team over the finish line. They had extended their lead to more than 2 minutes over their closest rivals. ScottSwisspower's Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel came in second, making their first appearance on the podium, and in third was Karl Platt’s Bulls team. Misfortune struck again for Songo.info's back-up team when they crashed, leaving Max with an injured knee and Kohei an injured hand.

Stage 6

Stage 6 was another massive test and most people referred to this stage as the mother of all the stages. The racing started to heat up quickly at the front and it soon became clear that team Songo.info was looking to extend their growing lead even further and make it even harder for anyone to try to close the gap on the final day.

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STELLENBOSCH - Jaroslav Kulhavy & Christoph Sauser of Burry Stander-Songo ride Karl Platt & Urs HUber of Team Bulls during stage 6 of the 2013 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Wellington to Stellenbosch, South Africa on the 23 March 2013

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STELLENBOSCH - Burry Stander's brother Duane & widow Cherise finish during stage 6 of the 2013 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Wellington to Stellenbosch, South Africa on the 23 March 2013

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However, fate intervened once again and Kohei’s broken hand forced him to pull out of the race. This left Max to complete the stage by himself, but his knee had started to swell and was taking its toll. Karl Platt’s Bulls team put up a tremendous fight, but they were no match against the power and speed from the Songo.info team, who had stretched their lead by another 2 minutes and 32 seconds and were first across the line. Bulls 1 and 2 came in second and third respectively. Songo.info was now in a commanding position to win this year’s event.

Stage 7

Stage 7 was a relief to most of the riders as it only featured a fast 54 km loop from the school in Stellenbosch to the glorious Lourensford Wine Estate. The top teams stayed together for the first 15 km until the young Scott Factory team took the initiative to go on the attack and break away. Songo.info and the Bulls teams decided not to take any chances that could result in losing their overall leading positions, leaving Scott Factory Racing and Multivan Merida to fight it out. It came down to who had the best strategy, but with Jose Hermida’s vast experience, it wasn’t an even fight and the Multivan Merida team snatched victory when both riders crossed the line first. Hats off to Phillip Buys and Matthys Beukes for showing great guts and determination, they did South Africa proud! Scott-Swisspower MTB Racing Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel came in third, followed by Songo.info in fourth and the Bulls 1, 2 and 3 teams behind them.

An epic win

Celebrations were well under way as the Songo. info team crossed the finish to clinch the coveted Epic title, and emotions spilled over as they dedicated their win to ex-teammate Burry. It was remarkable to see what the result meant to the team, and proved once again that it takes a dedicated team to win the Absa Cape Epic! •

èRelated articles: • Argus 2013, What a Ride! (Digital article, March '13) • An Epic Journey (Issue 23, p. 50) • 94.7 Cycle Challenge - Ride for a Purpose (Issue 19, p. 132) www.doitnow.co.za • 15


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MOUNTAIN BIKING: Team Songo Rides for Burry