Langvad and Anna Van der Breggen (Investec-songo-Specialized) had already established a lead of a minute at the first water point just 22km into Wednesday’s out-and-back Stage 3 from Oak Valley Estate. So when Lüthi’s drama began, they were unaware their nearest challengers were in difficulty even before the climb up the iconic Groenlandberg.
In the end the leading pair cruised home in 5:23:43 to record their fourth win from four stages. With half of this year’s Absa Cape Epic completed, the Danish / Dutch combination has established a massive 23-minute lead.
In the dice for the minor placings, Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath (Summit Fin), who were with Lüthi when she had her first puncture, have moved up to second overall after finishing the 107km ride six minutes behind the leaders. They were followed home 14 minutes later by Silverback-Fairtree’s Jennie Stenerhag and Mariske Strauss. Lüthi and Wloszczowska ended fourth on the stage, but did just enough to hold third overall on GC.
“On the downhill after the Dimension Data Hotspot I flatted,” said Lüthi after finally crossing the line. “I didn’t even think I had hit anything. Many other times I thought I was in more danger of puncturing so it was quite a weird puncture actually.
“We fixed it pretty quickly but then thought it safer to change the wheel. At the tech zone we changed the wheel, but we are sharing with our (male teammates) who have the same wheels. So we took a wheel that they had already changed and it already had a plug in it.
“We had to stop again because it lost air, so we actually then had to fix the guys’ problem and that cost us time again. Then we had to change the wheel a second time at the next tech zone.
“But this is the Absa Cape Epic and you always have to keep going … you never know what is going to happen.”
There is no way Langvad will admit it, but such has been the dominance of the Investec-songo-Specialized train that it is hard to see anybody coming close – unless bad luck derails their charge of course.
“It was good today,” said the four-time Absa Cape Epic women’s champion. “I was not feeling good yesterday, but I felt much more recovered today and we had a nice and steady day. It was so brutal the terrain today. There were so many rocks I can hardly feel my arms because it was so rough out there, but I am very happy to take the victory.
“There was a hotspot early in the race and we decided to test our legs and those of our competitors up the first climb. Once we had a gap we just decided to keep it steady and make the others work hard if they wanted to catch.”
“We did not hear about Ariane’s hassles. We did not even know what was going on.”
Lill and Morath arrived with huge grins as their move up to second overall was announced when they crossed the line.
“Amazing result today,” said Lill. “We certainly did not expect that. Today was a stage where you really had to think about how long it was and how much climbing there was. If you blow yourself on Groenlandberg there are still so many climbs to go.
“We were with Ariane when she punctured but you cannot get too excited and try and sprint away. We just rode at our own pace. It was important not to go too fast on the descents so we were really careful not to make any mistakes and puncture.”
On Thursday riders face a much shorter time in the saddle, but the 43km time trial that starts and finishes at Oak Valley favours the stronger riders. Langvad and Van der Breggen are are likely to increase their lead – barring any incidents of course.
The leading Absa African Women’s team pulled out of the event when Amy McDougall was forced to withdraw with a stomach bug on Wednesday, leaving her dormakaba Ladies teammate Sam Sanders to ride on alone in the Leopard jersey. Their withdrawal leaves the Galileo Risk pairing of Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill to take over as the top all-African women’s team with a lead of almost three hours.
1. Investec-songo-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) 05:23.43,3
2. Summit Fin 54-1 Candice Lill (South Africa) 54-2 Adelheid Morath (Germany) 05:29.35,3 +5.52,0
3. Silverback - Fairtree 52-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 52-2 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 05:43.37,0 +19.53,7
1. Investec-songo-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) 15:42.52,8
2. Summit Fin 54-1 Candice Lill (South Africa) 54-2 Adelheid Morath (Germany) 16:06.36,6 +23.43,8
3. Kross-Spur Racing 53-1 Ariane Lüthi (Switzerland) 53-2 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) 16:12.40,6 +29.47,8
4. Silverback - Fairtree 52-1 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 52-2 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 16:30.28,1 +47.35,3
5. Meerendal WIAWIS Rotwild 51-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 51-2 Nadine Rieder (Germany) 16:43.24,7 +1:00.31,9
6. Galileo Risk 56-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 56-2 Sarah Hill (South Africa) 17:38.11,4 +1:55.18,6
7. FreakShow SCOTT 57-1 Sonya Looney (United States of America) 57-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 18:06.23,4 +2:23.30,6
8. Land Rover Jaguars 46-1 Hannele Steyn (South Africa) 46-2 Katja Steenkamp (South Africa) 20:27.03,6 +4:44.10,8