Last year the pair claimed the final stage of the Cape Epic; this year they put their considerable cross-country talents to good use to out-race a star-studded field to claim the 26km Prologue at a blazing hot Meerendal.
2016 Olympic cross-country champion Nino Schurter and teammate Matthias Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) finished second, with Trek-Selle San Marco’s Samuele Porro and Alexey Medvedev taking the final podium place.
Defending champions Karl Platt and Urs Huber (Bulls) finished sixth, while returning five-time winner Christoph Sauser and Czech teammate Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) were fourth on the day.
“We are very happy with the result,” Fumic said. “Our plan was to put up a good time and that’s exactly what we did. Obviously the Prologue is a cross-country day and that really suits us. We targeted this day and our aim was always to be number one on the podium. But 26km is very routine for us. Tomorrow the race starts and we are hopefully be near the front for the rest of the week.
“It was very warm out there, one of the hotter days I’ve had. We realised very quickly that we had to pace ourselves, ride together and take turns doing the work. On Saturday we rode the Prologue route, so we knew what to expect. It also helped us make the right adjustments to the bikes overnight. Our strategy worked and we also had a faultless ride; we made no mistakes on the bike today. Everything came together nicely.”
World Champion and Olympic champion Nino Schurter gave it his all on the day, but the heat appeared to take a heavy toll on his teammate Stirnemann.
“It was very warm, which came as something as a surprise to us,” Schurter said. “We are here for stage wins and today just didn’t work out. Looking ahead to the rest of the week, we will target a few more stages and hopefully stick in the top three or four of the overall race. Our focus is not the overall win, but the podium is definitely a target.”
BIG DAY FOR DE GROOT AND SPITZ
“We did what we had to do,” was Robyn de Groot’s understated description of Team Ascendis Health’s victory in the opening stage of the Absa Cape Epic on Sunday.
South African De Groot and her German partner Sabine Spitz landed the first blows in the fight for the Hansgrohe Women’s category when they beat Esther Suss and Jennie Stenerhag (Meerendal CBC) by 39 seconds over the 26km prologue course at Meerendal Wine Estate.
Cape Town local Mariske Strauss and Briton Annie Last (Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro) claimed third, another 70 seconds back, with the Spur duo of defending champion Ariane Luthi and Adelheid Morath (Spur) struggling to a disappointing fourth, over two minutes behind the leaders.
Luthi, was visibly shattered after crossing the line and virtually conceded defeat after the opening stage.
“We were just not strong enough today,” said the three-time Women’s category winner. “We did what we could but it was not enough.”
When asked if she thought the longer stages from Monday may suit them more, she shook her head and repeated: “We are not strong enough.”
In contrast a very relaxed and upbeat De Groot could not keep the smile off her face.
“We really enjoyed the route out there today. It was so nice doing what we love doing today. The plan was to take is at is comes and it went perfectly so we had a very good prologue today.
“For me it is such a privilege to be to be able to learn from Sabine for this week – and who can there be better to learn from?” said the multiple South African champion.
In the Virgin Active Mixed race, Olympic Women’s gold medallist Jenny Rissveds and mountain biking legend Thomas Frischknecht (Scott-Sram Nextlevel) claimed the early lead and take a one minute 44 second lead into the second stage.
Grant Usher and former World Single Speed World Champion Amy Beth Mcdougall (Joberg2c-Valencia) are second with the New Zealand paring of Willy Williams and Kate Fluker (New World St Martins) third just six seconds further back.
Stage 1 will be very different to the prologue. The riders will tackle a gruelling 101km stage that starts and finishes in Hermanus. It features 2,300 metres of climbing.