Annika Langvad, left, and teammate Ariane Kleinhans cross the line. Picture: CHRIS RICCO/BACKPAGEPIX
Annika Langvad, left, and teammate Ariane Kleinhans cross the line. Picture: CHRIS RICCO/BACKPAGEPIX

As the race for the men’s title got a little tighter and lot more tense on the fourth stage of the Absa Cape Epic on Thursday, Annika Langvad and Anna van der Breggen continued their romp to victory by taking their fifth win in five stages.

There was a small scare for the Investec-songo-Specialized team on the 43km time trial around Oak Valley when Denmark’s Langvad crashed, falling off the side of the track. She remounted and together with her Dutch partner rode to a comfortable victory, beating the second-placed Candice Lill and teammate Adelheid Morath (Summit Fin) by one minute and 44 seconds.

They will go into Friday’s Queen Stage with over 25 minutes on the SA-German combination of Lill and Morath who have eight minutes on Swiss Ariane Lüthi and Pole Maja Wloszczowska (Kross-Spur) in third.

“It is a long race and we have been racing for many days in a row and I think I lost concentration a bit,” said Langvad. “Luckily it was in a safe spot. I fell on a sandy part and just slid off the edge. My bike was stuck in a small bush and I was pulling to get it back on the trail but it was not moving.

“This race is not easy at all. You have to maintain concentration and focus all the time, and you are so tired all the time. That is the real challenge. It is so different going for a two-hour ride and doing a course like today when you are well rested, and then going and doing it on the fifth day of the Absa Cape Epic. I am glad to have made it through today … we are slowly starting to count down the days,” she said.

“Our plan was not to smash it too hard today. You cannot win or make up significant time on a 43km time trial, so we just wanted to protect our second place and ride smooth,” said Lill. “Tomorrow [Friday] is going to be a massive day. I think tomorrow is going to be the biggest day of the Absa Cape Epic.”

Yellow jersey holders Henrique Avancini and Manuel Fumic (Cannondale) might be counting down the three days left of the Epic after they lost a big chunk of their overall lead to Nino Schurter and his fellow Swiss Lars Forster (Scott-Sram). Schurter and Forster blitzed around the course in 1:38:41 to take 90 seconds out of the lead the Cannondale team took on the fourth stage.

Scott-Sram are now just one minute and 13 seconds adrift ahead of the Queen Stage, a tough 100km with 2,850m of climbing from Oak Valley to Stellenbosch.

“Today was amazing,” said Forster. “I had so much fun! And, fun is fast!” 

Schurter, a seven-time world cross country champion and winner of the 2017 Epic, paid tribute to his partner. “Lars was super strong today, he pulled hard and it was a good performance for us.”

Germany’s Fumic said he and his Brazilian teammate had had mechanical issues, but were happy with their day. “I was riding more or less 40km with a locked suspension. This left ‘Ava’ to do all the work and he was really strong. He brought me to the finish, we’re happy with the second place and kept yellow, that’s alright.”

SA’s 2018 under-23 world champion, Alan Hatherly, and his Specialized Foundation NAD teammate, Matt Beers, had another solid ride and extended their lead in the Absa African jersey competition for riders born in Africa. Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill (Galileo Risk) retained their lead in the Absa African women’s jersey.