A transfer stage at Cape Epic brings the riders to Slanghoek and from there on to the camp towards Cape Peninsula
After three tough days in the mountains, today's stage was a transfer of sorts. As such, the roads were wider, taking the riders through wide fields of areas characterised by agriculture. From Saronsberg, it was a 73-kilometre ride to Slanghoerk, with the last part of the stage only being ridden on trails after crossing the Breede River. There, however, the surface also changed to coarse gravel and became more technically demanding ahead of the finish at Goudini Spa.
"For us it felt more like a race today. We rode in the first peloton for a relatively long time, so the wide roads suited us, as everything was more like a real peloton, in which we can move easily. After a third of the way through, we really enjoyed the day," Ben Zwiehoff says after another exciting day spent within breathtaking South African nature. The somewhat different character of the stage today also suited Lennard Kämna: "Yesterday I suffered quite a bit in some parts. On the one hand because of the heat, on the other, because of the hard first few days. Today everything felt a bit easier. We weren't on the road that long either, so from that point of view it was a very good day."
Along the Limietberg Mountains, the trails wound their way into Slanghoek and although the mountains made for a spectacular backdrop, the climbs only came along the ridges. "Somehow every day looks different here, the cultivated landscapes alternating with national parks. The vineyards of the first days are behind us, today it all looked more like classic agriculture with wide grain fields," explains Lennard. Ben adds that this also changes the route they ride on: "Today, some paths were very sandy and one tended to sink in quite a bit. Then there were also passages with mud, before the ground was rather hard and stony again at the end. But in any case, it was another very cool day with incredibly beautiful passages."
For the first time, the stage finish today was not at the camp. The riders still had to be transferred to Cape Peninsula University in Wellington, which took around 45 minutes.
In addition to the physical challenges that Cape Epic poses for the riders, their material is also pushed to the limits. The set-up of the bikes is, as such, very important, as Mario Lexmüller explains in one of his roles as mechanic: "Basically, Ben and Lenni have a standard set-up on their Specialized Epic bikes here. We run Shimano XTR components, Rock Shock SID Ultimate forks, Rock Shock Brain shocks and Roval 29 Control SL wheels. The bike is 10.2kg ready to race." Yet there are some individual tweaks. "Lenni rides a rain tyre on the front, even in the dry. On the one hand, it has more grip and stability, which gives him more safety on the front wheel. In addition, the tyre has a stronger carcass and if Lenni doesn't lift the wheel cleanly over stones, the tyre doesn't puncture as quickly," Mario continues: "The forks are adjusted each day specifically for the stage, so the air pressure is changed accordingly. Ben also has a slightly different fork set-up, so that the fork has a faster rebound." In addition, both have slightly different gear ratios. "In the rear, the boys ride standard, so 11-50 teeth. At the front, however, we have changed from 34 to 36 chainrings. They are used to higher gear ratios on the road, so this helps them to find a good rhythm," says Lexmüller.
But it’s not only technical details that are taken care of. The riders also have to adjust to each stage and discuss any special features in a daily briefing.
"Every evening, we also have a tactical discussion of the next stage. We go through possible race situations with the other Specialized teams, as well as the key technical sections. In addition to line choice, the other guys also give us tips on set-up. That’s really helpful and we’re very happy that Specialized has integrated us so well here. We can then more easily determine a rough pacing strategy for ourselves, as we can better assess what to expect," Ben emphasises the team spirit that also makes up the spirit of Cape Epic.
Photos: ©Michal Cerveny