The stage victory was the first of the 2017 edition for Kulhavy and Sauser as they finished ahead of Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) and overall leaders Manual Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC).
“That was very tough. The first half was so fast, and then we didn't stop at all for water," Kulhavy said. "I was worried at one stage, but we managed to pull through. Christoph lost contact up the big climb, but luckily he caught back on and we were able to push on for the stage win.”
From the outset, the pace was fast and furious as some teams eyed a potential stage win with the distance cut by 40km, making it more of a pure cross country effort than marathon day in the saddle.
“It was hectic at the start, really frantic stuff,” Fumic said. “The Pyga guys clearly wanted a stage win, so they went off like rockets. But I wasn’t surprised by the pack, it was just pure cross-country racing today. There was a lot of suffering on the route, but I am used to suffering.
“Henrique and I weren’t too worried because our plan was always to sit in the peloton and to see what happens. Nino and Matthias pushed at the Hot Spot so we went with. Jaro and Susi dropped off but Jaro kept bringing them back on the flats. At this stage, he was doing all the work.”
For Fumic and Avancini, the surprise leaders as the race heads into Stage 3, there is the prospect of a major upset in the air. Stage 3 will, at 78km, also suit their considerable talents, and leave the chasing pack with the tricky task of trying to eat into their lead with less road to race on.
They are playing their cards close to their chest, though, and will continue a so far successful strategy of riding hard at the front and attempting to control the pace of the race. They’ll also continue having fun.
“For us, it’s all about limiting damage and making the chasing teams do the work. They are the ones under pressure, not us. We are very comfortable and we just try to stay in front and control the situation,” Fumic said.
“So far it is working. Our tactics going forward are pretty simple; every night that we are in the yellow leaders jersey we drink red wine, that is our motivation to stay in front for the rest of the week.”
STENERHAG AND SUSS CONSOLIDATE LEAD
Jennie Stenerhag and Esther Suss (Meerendal CBC) claimed won the women's elite category, crossing the line in a time of 3hr 05min 51sec.
Their nearest rivals, Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) were right behind in second, but Meerendal CBC’s overall lead sits at a comfortable eight minutes and 58 seconds.
Third on the day went to defending champion Ariane Lüthi and her new partner Adelheid Morath (Spur), who finished just over five minutes after the first two teams. Barring a major mishap for the leaders or the intervention of a minor miracle for Spur, it would appear that a new women’s champion will be crowned in 2017.
On the shortened day it was always going to be tough for De Groot and Spitz to cut into the lead of Stenerhag and Suss. And so it proved.
The four riders spent the entire stage riding together, with neither team being able to make a break. De Groot, though, was in high spirits and finished the stage all smiles.
“It was a good ride; in fact, it was very nice to ride together with Jennie and Esther,” she said. “Sabine and I were comfortable. We wanted a risk-free day, so we just took it easy. On a day like this, there is not much you can do, so we kept it nice and tight and just enjoyed the ride.”
Stenerhag, who’s 2016 Absa Cape Epic, where she partnered De Groot, ended prematurely due to ill-health, is enjoying her moment in the leaders jersey.
“I am very happy with the way the week is going,” she said. “It’s great to be in the lead, and Esther and I are having a great time. I must admit, though, that today was quite strange”
Like the men’s race, the shorter distance didn’t mean an easier ride for those chasing titles.
“Shorter often equals harder,” Stenerhag said. “The pace was really up from the minute we started. But we didn’t mind. As we’ve done every day, Esther and I just took it kilometre by kilometre, our only real strategy is to see how each day unfolds.
"Today Robyn and Sabine were really strong, so our plan was just to stay with them and let them do all the work. In the days to come, the pressure is really on them to make a move.”
Stage 3 of the Absa Cape Epic is a 78km circular route of the area surrounding Greyton and Genadendal that starts and finishes at Elandskloof.