Riders in the 2018 Absa Cape Epic finish at Arabella Wine Estate in Robertson, March 19 2018. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Riders in the 2018 Absa Cape Epic finish at Arabella Wine Estate in Robertson, March 19 2018. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

On day two, the Absa Cape Epic took another, not entirely unexpected, turn as Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini won a bunch sprint to take the first stage and claim the men’s leader jersey on the fields of the Arabella Wine Estate on a day that saw both the defending champions give up their titles.

The Cannondale Factory Team pair held off the charge of two-time champion Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts (Investec-Songo-Specialized), with whom they had changed the face of the race after a strong break that saw the yellow jersey taken away from prologue winners Nicola Rohrbach and his team-mate Daniel Geismayr (Centurion Vaude).

"Today was such a good day for us. We worked well with the Investec-Songo-Specialized guys and never went over our limit, which is good," said Brazilian Avancini. "We attacked on the Land Rover Technical section and got away, then Jaro and Howie joined us and we rode strongly to open the gap."

Cannondale and Specialized were six minutes ahead of the chasing pack at one stage, eventually finishing five and a half minutes in front of third-placed Fabian Rabensteiner and Michele Casagrande (Trek Selle San Marco 2). Fumic and Avancini now lead Kulhavy and Grotts by 41sec, with Rohrbach and Geismayr 5:33 in third.

"Nothing is won yet, nothing is finished yet," said Fumic, who has now won four Cape Epic stages with Avancini. "There are still six big days to go. We know how the Epic can go and how things can change. But it is always great to win a stage and even better to be in yellow."

The Danish/American combination of Annika Langvad and Kate Courtney (Investe-Songo-Specialized) overcame a puncture to the latter’s bike to beat Ariane Luthi and Githa Michiels (Team Spur) and increase their lead to more than 2min.

Luthi and Michiels caught the leaders, with Luthi particularly aggressive as she tried to shake the leaders. However, Langvad, who won three Epics with Luthi, was calmness personified as she and Courtney did their repairs and then surged to the finish, almost a minute ahead. SA’s Mariske Strauss was third with her British partner Annie Last (Silverback-KMC), 8min behind on general classification.

"They say anything can happen in this race and we defin-itely had that experience today," said Courtney. "Luckily we were able to fix the puncture quickly, but I learnt a lot from the master about staying calm and just working together as a team.

"Annika obviously has a lot of experience, but this is my first Cape Epic and one of the first times I have been out there so long and responsible for my own equipment. She is teaching me a lot."

SA marathon champion Robyn de Groot and her Ascendis Health team-mate, German mountain biking legend Sabine Spitz, 46, endured a tough day after she had struggled with illness. Still, fourth-place overall, albeit a 13:28 gap to the leaders, offers some hope for redemption over six days. It was a day for illness, it seemed. Amy Beth McDougall overcame a bug that saw her head straight to the doctor. She and Candice Lill (Dormakaba) still lead the Africa women’s jersey.

Defending champion Nino Schurter will ride on without partner Matthias Stirnemann of Scott-Sram, who was afflicted by a stomach bug overnight and finished well off the pace. Bad luck befell the 2018 women’s champion Esther Suss, who lost Meerendal CBC partner Angel-ika Tazreiter after she dis-located her shoulder in a crash.