Cross country specialists Manuel Fumic of Germany and Henrique Avancini of Brazil made use of their speed on Sunday to win the short prologue contest, while Robyn de Groot carried the SA flag on the opening day of the Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race in the Western Cape.
Fumic and Avancini, riding for Cannondale Factory Racing, completed the 26km prologue in 1:01:52. They were 1:36 quicker than Olympic champion Nino Schurter and fellow Swiss rider Matthias Stirnemann (Scott-Sram Racing) who settled in second place.
“The training and preparation paid off and I’m really happy about our performance today,” said Fumic, who secured the cross country silver medal at the 2013 World Championships in Pietermaritzburg.
Five-time winner Christoph Sauser of Switzerland and former Olympic gold medallist Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic (Investec-Songo Specialized) were in fourth place, a further 11 seconds off the pace, and Max Knox was the first SA rider, lying in fifth spot with Kansai Plascon teammate Hector Paez of Colombia.
Defending champions Karl Platt of Germany and Swiss partner Urs Huber (Bulls), who led the eight-day race from start to finish last year, were in sixth position, more than three minutes behind the leaders.
In the women’s race, local rider De Groot again got her race off to a great start to win the opening leg of the gruelling annual battle. The multiple national champion had also won the prologue last year, but Swedish partner Jennie Stenerhag was stretchered to the medical tent due to illness and they were forced to withdraw after three stages.
Turning out this week with veteran German rider Sabine Spitz, the 2008 Olympic cross country champion, the Ascendis Health duo won the prologue in 1:15:26.
“It went smoothly, and a smooth start is always good,” De Groot said. “We’ve got seven more days and there are a lot of ups and downs, so when things go well you’ve really got to capitalise on it.”
Stenerhag and former marathon world champion Esther Suss of Switzerland (Meerendal CBC) took second place, 39 seconds adrift.
Another Swiss rider, three-time winner Ariane Luthi, and new Spur team partner Adelheid Morath of Germany were 2:18 behind the leaders in fourth position. Monday’s 101km first stage will start and finish at Hermanus High School.