Absa Cape Epic - Cricketers’ Alpine Adventure
South African cricket legends Gary Kirsten and Alan Dawson are in the Swiss Alps taking part in the Perskindol Swiss Epic. The pair have both completed the Absa Cape Epic, with Kirsten joining the Amabubesi Finisher Club earlier this year and Dawson having completed the race in 2010 and 2011. So they are no strangers to racing mountain bikes in rugged terrain, all the same the Perskindol Swiss Epic is proving a challenge of note.
“Typically my experience of mountain biking is not to worry where you’re going. Don’t have any preconceived ideas, just do the ride” Kirsten said after finishing Stage 2 of the race. “We knew we had 2 700 meters of climbing, that’s all. Where it was going to come was irrelevant” the former South African and Indian cricket teams’ coach said.
As a player Kirsten was famed for his gritty approach to opening the batting. That determination has served him well in the Perskindol Swiss Epic thus far; especially as he and former fast bowler Dawson were expecting far cooler weather. Having mentally prepared for cold conditions the hot Swiss summer has compounded the exhaustive effects of the marathon climbs.
“I reckon it got to thirty, thirty two, degrees Celsius; so very tough” Dawson, his cycling jersey caked in sweat, reflected. “I came prepared for the cold, so we got that one wrong” Kirsten added with a smile. “But every day you get a little bit stronger as your body gets used to the long time out there” the former opening batsman added.
After a good night’s rest; Kirsten and Dawson were looking and sounding a lot chirpier ahead of the Queen Stage on Thursday. Having already conquered 5 400 meters of climbing in the opening two days they, and the rest of the field had 2 850 meters of climbing to complete on Stage 3. “It’s amazing what the body can do to recover” Kirsten said, before turning his thoughts to what he and his partner have learnt thus far in the race. “We’re lapping it up, it’s a great place. We’re staying humble and enjoying the moments. We’re not here to win the race; we just want to enjoy the experience.”
“I think it teaches you to persevere. But I say that and you know every guy here has trained and done his bit. No one wants to stop. So I take my hat off to the guys who didn’t play sport professionally; they come out here, they put in the yards and they stick it out. Everyone is helping everyone at the back of the field. And everyone here are pretty good riders too! Compared to what we see in South Africa, technically people can handle themselves pretty well. So it’s been good for us. I’ve certainly improved in the last two days” he concluded.
If you are intrigued by Kirsten and Dawson’s Alpine Adventure you can follow their progress in real time, thanks to SPOT, on the Epic Series’ live tracking platform: www.epic-series.app/swissepic/tracking. As the Perskindol Swiss Epic nears its conclusion only two stages remain, with Stage 4’s 63 kilometre ride from Grächen to Zermatt providing a little relief from the most strenuous climbing – the route only includes a moderate, by Swiss standards, 2 250 meters of elevation gain. For more information about the race and to read about all the racing categories, visit www.swiss-epic.com.
Stage 3 sees new winners, overall GC remains unchanged
Wednesday’s stage saw the leaders’ jerseys change shoulders in the Men’s and Women’s categories after a hard 77km with 2700m of climbing. Bad luck struck overall leaders BMC Fischer Price with mechanicals costing them over 46 minutes. The leaders’ jerseys went to Scott-SRAM’s Frischknecht and Stirnemann.
In the women’s, Team Canada’s high tempo on the final climb put Thömus RN on the back foot, gaining Pendrel and Smith valuable time and also a significant psychological advantage over Keller and Stirnemann.
The scene was set for the queen stage of the 2018 race. Host to the XCM UCI World Championships in 2019, Grächen’s surrounding trails pose the ultimate test of any mountain biker, showing the highest ratio of climbing of all five stages, with the panoramic views of Moosalp as the perfect antidote. Correct pacing was to be crucial after Kalpetran, with a final sting in the tail.
Team USA Red timed their efforts perfectly, with Christopher Blevins and Keegan Swenson ramping up the power, distancing Andri Frischknecht and Matthias Stirnemann on the final slopes approaching the race village in Grächen. Even though Scott-SRAM regained contact, they had nothing left for the sprint finish, leaving the young Americans to soak up the glory.
The order of events of Stage 3 looked likely to follow the same story as yesterday’s – for most of the stage, the front of the race saw Team USA Red and Scott-SRAM on their own up the road, with Team BiXS chasing on after another flat. But there was to be no fairytale ending for Looser and Stauffer. They were unable to close the gap after puncturing early on, perhaps paying for yesterday’s efforts.
After losing the rest of the field on the first big climb, Scott-SRAM and Team USA Red cooperated well. The multitalented Blevins is well versed in tactics, having already carved out a strong career path on the road. He was well aware that these efforts invested would stand them well on GC, come the end of the week.
Armed with the confidence gained from his silver medal at the under 23 UCI World Championships, he knew he had the right stuff to take on Frischknecht and Stirnemann – two-time stage winner and overall victor respectively at the Absa Cape Epic. “Keegan and I kept it steady on the climb – it’s a different kind of effort from cross country,” said the 20 year old. Team USA Red’s superb performance moved them up to third on GC, displacing Team Buff Scott, with took a distant third, well over 10 minutes back.
Scott-SRAM may hold the coveted leaders’ jerseys, but Andri Frischknecht and Matthias Stirnemann are still hunting for an elusive stage win. They’ll hope to make amends on stage 4.
Like in the men’s, the women’s field turned out another new stage winner. After a low-key start to the week, due to Barbara Benko’s illness and Anne Terpstra still on the recovery curve from complications of her ankle injury, Ghost Factory Racing crossed the line jubilant after some masterful teamwork in navigating the queen stage of the 2018 Perskindol Swiss Epic. Benko said, “Anne was going so hard on the climbs I had to tell to go a little slower because it was a log way up, and then she had to stop me from going crazy on the descents in case we had a crash or a flat.”
An early puncture put pressure on overall race leaders Catharine Pendrel and Haley Smith of Team Canada, who took care not to panic and managed their energy sensibly over the long climb. An hour and a half after their mechanical, they managed to catch Thömus RN’s Keller and Stirnemann, but with Ghost Factory Racing still up the road, there was still some work to do.
Leaving Thömus RN trailing over a minute behind in their wake, Team Canada made the catch. But on the finale, Terpstra stretched her legs, taking Benko along, gapping Catharine Pendrel and Smith. By the finish, Ghost Factory Racing had a 1 minute 47 second advantage. Losing a chunk of time in the last few kilometres, Stirnemann’s energy levels dimmed, along with Thömus RN’s hope of an overall GC win.
For the other categories, it was business as usual. Masters Dani Schnider and Oliver Imfeld added another five and a half minutes to their GC advantage. Finishing at the same time as the masters winners, Bärti Bucher and Hansjürg Gerber had a super day out in the grandmasters category. Also looking set for the overall win in the Mixed category, Florence Darbellay and Jérémy Huguenin took stage 3 by 14 minutes.
Tomorrow’s 61 beautiful kilometers transition the race towards its final destination – the mighty Matterhorn. Another action-packed day includes the coveted Europaweg and Sunegga-Flowtrail – guaranteed to deliver maximum fun! The popular ski resort of Zermatt is ready to give the riders a warm welcome after another hard yet highly rewarding day out.
1. Team USA Red 18-1 Christopher BLEVINS (USA) 18-2 Keegan SWENSON (USA) 3:28.43,7
2. SCOTT-SRAM MTB RACING 1-1 Matthias STIRNEMANN (Switzerland) 1-2 Andri FRISCHKNECHT (Switzerland) 3:28.46,8 +3,1
3. BUFF SCOTT MTB TEAM 3-1 Francesc GUERRA (Spain) 3-2 Enrique MORCILLO (Spain) 3:39.22,3 +10.38,6
4. BiXS Pro Team 2-1 Hansueli STAUFFER(Switzerland) Konny LOOSER (Switzerland) 3:39.36,7 +10.53,0
5. jb BRUNEX Felt Factory 5-1 Thomas LITSCHER (Switzerland) 5-2 Max FOIDL (Austria) 3:42.47,1 +14.03,4
1. GHOST FACTORY RACING 103-1 Barbara BENKO (Hungary) 103-2 Anne TERPSTRA (Netherlands) 4:26.45,7
2. Team Canada 102-1 Haley SMITH (Canada) 102-2 Catharine PENDREL (Canada) 4:28.32,9 +1.47,2
3. Thömus / RN Racing Team 101-1 Kathrin STIRNEMANN (Switzerland) 101-2 Alessandra KELLER (Switzerland) 4:37.08,7 +10.23,0
1. Fitness Maréchal 76-1 Florence DARBELLAY (Switzerland) 76-2 Jérémy HUGUENIN (Switzerland) 4:25.20,0
2. auerpower.ch 85-1 Susanne TANNER (Switzerland) 85-2 Norbert AMGARTEN (Switzerland) 4:39.26,6 +14.06,6
3. MTRX-Racing Team 77-1 Benjamin MICHAEL (Germany) 77-2 Hannah KÖLLING (Germany) 4:54.34,2 +29.14,2
1. DANi SCHNIDER RADSPORT 121-1 Dani SCHNIDER (Switzerland) 121-2 Oliver IMFELD (Switzerland) 4:13.13,2
2. Cykelmagasinet 155-1 Kaare AAGAARD (Denmark) 155-2 Thomas NØRGAARD (Denmark) 4:18.48,0 +5.34,8
3. Mård Racing 170-1 Hans MÅRD (Sweden) 170-2 Henrik MÅRD (Sweden) 4:23.48,6 +10.35,4
1. BiXS / Bikeholiday.ch 201-1 Bärti BUCHER (Switzerland) 201-2 Hansjürg GERBER (Switzerland) 4:13.13,5
2. Centurion KroGa106 220-1 Ralf KROPP (Germany) 220-2 Patrick GALL (Germany) 4:44.16,4 +31.02,9
3. wimos 211-1 Walter SCHWIZER (Switzerland) 211-2 Ewald STROLZ (Switzerland) 4:49.17,9 +36.04,4