Annika Langvad in action. Picture: SHAUN ROY/GALLO IMAGES
Annika Langvad in action. Picture: SHAUN ROY/GALLO IMAGES

The bright rainbow stripes of the world champions dominated the podium after the first day of the Absa Cape Epic stage race on the slopes of Table Mountain on Sunday.

The race showed some of the old and some of the new as former winners tore up the short and sharp prologue course on Table Mountain.

UCI marathon world champion Annika Langvad and Anna van der Breggen (Team Investec-Songo-Specialized), the Olympic champions, were untouchable and took the lead in the women’s category, while the Team Scott-SRAM MTB duo of Nino Schurter and Lars Forster took the early advantage in the men’s category.

Schurter and Forster tore up the 20km course in 43min 41.5sec, 41sec quicker than Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing). For Schurter, the 2017 winner of the Epic who is regarded by many as perhaps the greatest mountain bike rider of his generation, the prologue was tailored to his strengths of short, sharp climbs.  

“The course suited us quite well,” said Schurter, a six-time world champion, who lives for part of the year in Stellenbosch, having bought a property in the city. “We are cross-country racers and this is our strength, so we are very happy with the win. We want to win the whole race, so hopefully, everything goes according to plan for the next seven days.”

Forster was a late replacement to partner Schurter after his initial partner, Andri Frischknecht, was stuck down by illness last week.

There was bad luck for the SA team of Matt Beers and Alan Hatherly (SpecializedFoundationNAD), who had been pushing hard for the lead before suffering a puncture 2km from the end. They finished fifth on the stage, but there could be more to come from the pair.

“Just bad luck at the end,” said Hatherly, the 2018 under-23 world champion. “With us being the last 10 teams to go the course changed a lot from when we pre-rode it, and there were far more exposed rocks, one of which claimed Matt’s rear tyre. We stayed calm and limited our losses and are happy to wear the Absa African red Jersey, all things considered.”

There may have been some question marks over Van der Breggen, a road rider and the 2016 Olympic champion, teaming up with Langvad, who has four Cape Epic titles to her name, but they answered them with a strong ride that put them 2min 35sec ahead after the first day.

Ariane Lüthi and Maja Wloszczowska (Kross-Spur Racing) were second, while Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath (Summit Fin) were third.

“Getting a good start is always very important,” said Langvad. “It is good for the morale and good for the motivation. I think it is the hardest and fastest prologue I have ever done at the Absa Cape Epic.”

“It is nice it has finally started … and it started in a nice way,” said Van der Breggen. “Today was better than we expected, but we have seven more days to go and we will have to see what is coming up.”

The Absa Cape Epic will finish in Val di Vie on March 24.