Combrinck, Bell close red jersey gap at Absa Cape Epic

Henrique Avancini of Cannondale Factory Racing XC & Christoph Sauser of Investec-Songo-Specialized during stage 4 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Elandskloof in Greyton to Oak Valley Wine Estate in Elgin, South Africa on the 23rd March 2017 Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Henrique Avancini of Cannondale Factory Racing XC & Christoph Sauser of Investec-Songo-Specialized during stage 4 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Elandskloof in Greyton to Oak Valley Wine Estate in Elgin, South Africa on the 23rd March 2017
Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

After a day of mixed riding conditions on Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic, PYGA Euro Steel riders Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes still hold onto the Absa African special jersey, while NAD Pro MTB (Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck) made a dash to claim a top 10 spot on the stage.

Diepsloot MTB Academy (William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona) flew triumphantly over the finish to extend their lead for the Exxaro special jersey to over an hour. The leading all-African women’s team of Vera Adrian and Candice Lill (dormakaba) experienced yet another strong stage to add to their dream Absa Cape Epic debut.

Riding as support team for Investec-Songo-Specialized, NAD Pro MTB raced hard on the day to finish ninth with a time of 4:16.39,3.

Combrink was happy after the strong result. “Today was more of a marathon stage, so if you were smart you could hide away in the bunch. We were just in the front at the right times and Nico really set a tough pace. In the end, guys really got going but being in the front made it a little easier for us.

“Our goal was just to stay in the front and support Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy if they had problems. We want to be right there to help if they they have any mechanical issues,” said Combrinck.

The NAD Pro MTB pair were well prepared to keep up with the pace of the front runners.

“Conditions were good. It had been raining nonstop last month in Nelspruit so we are used to cooler temperatures. Today was a little less punchy so it suited us better,” added Combrinck.

PYGA Euro Steel have managed keep the Absa African special jersey, though. Having a healthy overall lead in the category, the South Africans could afford small mishaps. Although they finished 15th for Stage 4, they still lead the chase for the special jersey. They are nearly 17 minutes in front of NAD Pro MTB in overall time.

Buys says he is happy to have the Absa African special jersey heading into Stage 5, but admits Stage 4 didn’t go according to plan.

“Before we started that long climb I was a bit off the pace. There was a particular area where we went over what I think was a piece of fence, and it looked like half of the bunch got caught out by it too. So from there we had to chase them all over again just as we started with the climb so it was tough going,” said Buys.

Buys continued that in spite of PYGA Euro Steel’s mediocre day, there is no need to change strategy and a stage win is still possible.

Meanwhile, Diepsloot MTB Academy are growing in confidence. With a lead that is worth over an hour in time, the Exxaro special jersey leaders are among the few content teams on the Absa Cape Epic. Their time today was 5:09.13,9.

Sebona said, “Yesterday was a very strong day; today we continued with that strength. It wasn’t easy though because we spent some long hours out there on the saddle, but everything is going according to plan.”

His partner Mokgopo, added, “Today, the most important thing was keeping consistency and pacing ourselves from the start and we did that. We weren’t trying to kill the legs today because I think the test is going to be stage six where we are going to try as hard as we can because we only have one day to go, so we can risk whatever we have. If we manage to build up an hour’s gap then I think we can afford to play around.

The dormakaba riders Vera Adrian and Candice Lill finished fifth yet again. The pair have looked fit every day of this year’s Cape Epic, collecting a time of 5:14.42,6 on Stage 4.

Candice Lill explained the conditions on Stage 4, “ In the beginning it was a lot of open roads and quite windy so being in the group it was a bit difficult because you had to fight for position all the time to stay out the wind and there were even a couple of crashes.

“Then there was a point when it got really hard and we did not make that break, so we were in the second group, but I think we still rode strong and maybe made a bit of time on the leaders near the end.”

* The 2017 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race is taking place until Sunday 26 March. Watch the action live on our website www.cape-epic.com