The sweltering sun and an abundance of dust turned the 26km Absa Cape Epic prologue into more of a challenge than had been anticipated but German Manuel Fumic and his Brazilian partner Henrique Avancini blitzed the course to take the leaders’ yellow jersey into Monday’s Stage 1.
In the women’s race South African Robyn de Groot and her German teammate Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) laid down a marker with a dominant performance. Several riders collapsed after dismounting over the finish line as temperatures reached the mid-30° C mark.
Avancini and Fumic’s lightning 1:01:52 time trial was nearly matched by Olympic gold medallist Nino Schurter and his Swiss countryman Matthias Stirnemann (Scott-SRAM), but they eventually fell back by 1min 30sec.
The favourites are expected to make their mark on the longer stages ahead. On Monday they will tackle a tough 101km course that starts and finishes in Hermanus and they will mostly have been happy with their ride on Sunday.
Trek-Selle San Marco’s Samuele Porro of Italy and Russian Alexey Medvedev were third at 1:43 behind the leaders followed by Swiss five-times winner Christoph Sauser and Czech Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec Songo Specialized) another four seconds back and SA’s Max Knox and Colombian partner Hector Paez (Kansai Plascon) fifth, a further two seconds back.
Sixth place went to defending champions Karl Platt of Germany and Swiss Urs Huber (Team Bulls), but they were 3min 23sec back on the leaders and will have some work to do if they are going to repeat their heroics of 2016.
Fumic was all smiles after the ride. "We are very happy with the result," he 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 ... routine for us. Tomorrow the race starts and we will hopefully be near the front for the rest of the week."
Sauser, who has returned to racing after a short retirement, said: "I’m super happy with that result. I think we were one of the first marathon teams home, which is a good result for us. It feels great to be back racing — maybe I won’t say that in the middle of the week — but right now it’s a good feeling."
Defending women’s champion Ariane Lüthi of Switzerland, riding with German Adelheid Morath (Spur), had her chances dented when she finished fourth, more than two minutes behind Spitz and De Groot. "We were just not strong enough today," said three-time women’s category winner Lüthi.
Swiss veteran Esther Suss and Swede Jennie Stenerhag were second just 39sec behind the leaders with South African-British combination Mariske Strauss and Annie Last in third another 70sec back.
"We really enjoyed the route out there today," said De Groot. "It was so nice doing what we love doing today."
In spite of coming out of a European winter, Spitz said the heat did not trouble her: "The temperature doesn’t bother me too much, it’s hot but I like it because I am used to it."