Wind was the word of the day at the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Prologue on Meerendal Wine Estate, which turned out to be rather fitting as eventual stage winner Karl Platt likes to talk about there being only one gas, “and that’s full gas”.

With a smooth ride from start to finish, Platt and Team Bulls partner Urs Huber were able to lay down a marker for the week ahead.

Going into the event as one of the pre-race favourites, the pressure was on the Bulls pair to live up to the hype after a few years of middling Absa Cape Epic results. With a flawless prologue, they couldn’t have asked for a better start as they raced home on the 26km Meerendal course in 1:04.34,7.

The Swiss-German pairing Nicola Rohrbach and Matthias Pfrommer of Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 finished in second place, with Trek-Selle San Marco A’s Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro, both of Italy, rounding out the top three.

The other pre-race favourites, Kristian Hynek and Alban Lakata of Team Topeak Ergon Racing, battled on the day and only managed a ninth place finish, two minutes and 19 seconds behind Platt and Huber.

With five-time winner Christoph Sauser participating this year, but not racing competitively, the gap is there for four-time winner Platt to tick off a fifth win. Judging by the huge smiles as he stepped on to the winner’s podium, things are going according to plan in the early stages of the race.

“I’ve never won the Prologue,” said Platt. “So to get off to such a good start makes me happy. The conditions were so tough, and we were battling a side-on wind at the top. There was nowhere to hide out there, so to have such an awesome ride was the best way to start. I’m confident about our team shape and I’m excited about the week ahead.”

Teammate Urs Huber said he felt the weight of expectation going into the Prologue. “People were talking about us as one of the favourites,” said Huber, “so it is good that we lived up to that. It shows the rest of the field that we mean business. Today went perfectly, but if I’m honest, there wasn’t too much time to think out there!”

The first South African team home was Team Spur, in fourth place, with James Reid and Gert Heyns putting their cross-country skills to good use on the shorter prologue course.

As the leading African team at the event, they’ll start Stage 1 in the red Absa African special jersey. The pair, who only came together in the week leading up to the Absa Cape Epic due to various misfortunes befalling their teammates, was looking good until Reid took a tumble towards the end of the Prologue, adding precious seconds to their time.

2015 champion Sauser of Investec Songo Specialized, riding for the first time with South African Sipho Madolo, finished the Prologue in 29th place. The first man to win five Absa Cape Epics was looking relaxed on the finish line. “It was a pleasure to ride with Sipho. We went at a nice steady pace and just enjoyed the stage. It’s a very different feeling than in previous years, but we’ll have fun this week.”

 Leading Ladies at the Cape Epic

Team Ascendis Health's Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag ascends Dorstberg on their way to victory during the Prologue of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, South Africa on the 13th March 2016 Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS PLEASE ENSURE THE APPROPRIATE CREDIT IS GIVEN TO THE PHOTOGRAPHER AND SPORTZPICS ALONG WITH THE ABSA CAPE EPIC ace2016 Team Ascendis Health's Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag ascends Dorstberg on their way to victory during the Prologue of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, South Africa on the 13th March 2016
Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

South African Robyn de Groot carried her blistering recent form into the Prologue of the Absa Cape Epic at Meerendal Wine Estate today when she and Swedish partner Jennie Stenerhag (Ascendis Health) grabbed hold of the Leader Jersey in the Sasol Women’s category.

The 26km Prologue was a gusty and dusty race for the elite women.

In an exciting race, Ascendis Health’s South African/Swedish duo beat the 2014 and 2015 women’s winners and 2016 favourites Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad into second place by 18 seconds. 

Having to navigate the windy, dry conditions meant that neither De Groot nor Stenerhag were aware they were riding into first spot. “To be honest, I didn’t think we were doing a fantastic time, we just rode within ourselves,” said De Groot minutes after they crossed the finish line.

Stenerhag, equally as surprised, said: “We didn’t plan anything, we just wanted to do our best. We both had some patches of suffering and some patches of feeling really good, and they didn’t happen at the same time which was a really good thing.”

Both were elated to win the Prologue. “A win is a win, and last year we won a stage under circumstances we didn’t really want to win, so this fair and square win is what we want,” said De Groot.

The gusting wind affected all riders, making it especially tough for the women, who are generally lighter than the men.

“The wind was really strong, it was pushing hard. On the climbs you almost fell off the bike. It was hard work just to keep on the bike,” said fourth place finisher, Adel Morath – Topeak Ergon.

Team Spur-Specialized, the 2015 winners, were satisfied with their second place, and complimentary of the winning team, Ascendis Health.

“I felt very good, I had a good race today, unfortunately not good enough for first place, but a really big congrats to Jennie and Robyn,” said Kleinhans.

“I like Meerendal as a prologue venue because there is much more singletrack and it’s much more technical – I really enjoy it,” said Ariane. “It’s so much fun riding here especially coming into the finish with a lot of berms and table tops. It’s a lot of fun.”

The Swiss/Danish duo were relaxed, but with the Prologue out of the way, they are ready to focus on the race for the Women’s Leader Jersey.

“The week is still long and anything can happen so we are really going to fight for that jersey now.”

De Groot and Stenerhag, meanwhile, know that their 18-second lead doesn’t give them space to relax.  “18 seconds is nothing in a mountain bike race, so we start on a fresh slate tomorrow,” said De Groot.

Third place finishers, Team Sport for Good’s Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina were unavailable for comment, and finished a minute behind Kleinhans and Langvad.

Further down the field, teams crossed the finish line smiling and high fiving, albeit dusty and windswept.

“We’re here to have the experience, ride the race and ride it as well as we can. We’re just going out with a smile and seeing where we end up,” said Elizabeth Reeder of all-American team Epic Everyday.

Nicky Webb of CANSA Mother & Daughter, was all smiles, happy to be sharing the experience with her daughter Mikayla and raising awareness and money for CANSA screening. “Its unbelievable riding with my daughter. She is such a beast, she is just so strong -I’m just maxed all the time, but she is very kind as well,” said Nicky.