Mennen, Hynek cycle to victory at Cape Epic
German Robert Mennen and his Czech team-mate Kristian Hynek (Topeak-Ergon) were crowned the 2014 Absa Cape Epic champions as an all-South African team snatched the prestigious final stage win for the first time on Sunday.
Mennen and Hynek started the 67km seventh stage from Elgin to Lourensford wine estate in Somerset West, with a more than 10-minute lead.
They defended it comfortably finishing in a group containing their main general classification rivals for their maiden Epic title.
"I got some revenge for last year," Mennen said in reference to the incident in the 2013 Cape Epic when he hit a duiker that ran in front of his bicycle, was thrown over his handlebars and broke his collarbone.
"But I never thought I could win the biggest mountain bike stage race in the world…it feels incredible."
Riding in his first Epic, Hynek admitted he had very little sleep on Saturday night ahead of the seventh and final stage.
"It was a big relief to cross the line after having problems on the earlier stages, but nothing went wrong today," he said.
Hynek had twice been the beneficiary of sportsmanship by fellow professionals, Germans Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Kaess when they handed over their wheels after he got punctures.
World cross country champion Nino Schurter of Switzerland and his South African team-mate Philip Buys (Scott-Odlo) turned up the pace with their back-up team of Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns (Scott Factory Racing) - joining them.
The chasing pack, led by former Epic winner Roel Paulissen of Belgium and Riccardo Chiarini of Italy (Torpado) could not reel them in.
As the two teams approached the finish line on the grass at Lourensford, Buys and Schurter backed off, allowing the young South Africans to take the stage and make a piece of Epic history.
An emotional Beukes said it was special to win the prestigious final stage into Lourensford two of his best mates - Heyns and Buys - and the world champion.
They and the Scott-Odlo team had got away from others on the portage down the old wagon trail alongside Sir Lowry's Pass.
"Once we realised we were going to win in front of our friends and family nothing could have stopped us…we could have gone on forever," Beukes said.
Four-times winner Christoph Sauser of Switzerland had started the day with Czech partner Frantisek Rabon (Meerendal Songo Specialized) determined to make inroads into the overall lead of Hynek and Mennen, but had to settle for second overall after being unable to shake off the Topeak-Ergon team.
Sauser said he was disappointed not to win after chasing the yellow every day despite suffering several punctures and some technical problems during the race.
Rabon, competing in his first Cape Epic since switching to mountain biking from road racing, said he had been to "the hell and back many times" during the race.
He said he had learnt that the racing was more intense than on the road where one could rest in the peleton on a bad day.
There was some consolation for the Bulls team after losing race favourite Karl Platt to an injury when its back-up team - Germans Tim Boehme and Simon Stiebjahn - finished third overall.
Swiss national and Stellenbosch resident Ariane Kleinhans and her Danish team-mate Annike Langvad (RECM2) won the women's category by more than 30 minutes, overturning a 24-minute deficit after stage one when they were plagued by punctures and mechanical problems.
They had ridden a conservative race on Sunday to hold their lead, but still won the stage by 12 minutes.
Esther Suss of Switzerland and Briton Sally Bigham (Meerendal) finished second, while South African Theresa Ralph and Swede Jennie Stenerhag (Cape Brewing Company) were third. –Sapa.