The men’s and women’s elite Investec-songo-Specialized teams – of Jaroslav Kulhavý and Howard Grotts; and Annika Langvad and Kate Courtney – improved their general classification standings on Stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic, in Robertson on Monday the 19th of March. The men’s team improved their position from fifth to second overall, while the women’s team extended their general classification lead by 40 seconds.

The 110 kilometre long stage started under cloudy skies at Arabella Wine Estate but what moisture there was in the atmosphere burnt off under the hot African sun and perhaps under pressure from the scorching racing across the dry African soil. The men’s race saw a furious pace from the gun with a large group of riders sticking together until the day’s main climb, Skuilkrans.

With the pre-climbs the Skuilkrans ascent measures nearly 20 kilometres long and, along with Cannondale Factory Racing’s Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini, Kulhavý and Grotts forced the split. The quartet drove relentlessly up the climb, before the powerhouse Kulhavý came to the fore and dragged the leaders home, 5 minutes and 33 seconds ahead of the third placed team on the stage, the Trek Selle San Marco 2 pairing of Fabian Rabensteiner and Michele Casagrande. Though the Investec-songo-Specialized pair lost the sprint finish, their significant time gains on all but the Cannondale Factory Racing team leave them in a strong position ahead of Stage 2.

Jaroslav Kulhavý (third from left) and Howard Grotts (second from left) were defeated by Cannondale Factory Racing in a sprint finish on Stage 1 of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Shaun Roy/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS.

“We did really good work together with Cannondale, riding together for 60 kay” Kulhavý said post stage. “It was a good stage, really hard. But ja, it is pretty good for the next days,” the Czech star concluded. “We got a gap about half way through the stage” Grotts confirmed. “And then Jaro (Kulhavý) drove the pace and I got a taste of what the next six days are going to be like” the young American smiled.

In the women’s race Langvad and Courtney established an early lead over Ariane Lüthi and Githa Michiels of Team Spur. By the second water point, on the main road of McGreggor at the 45 kilometre mark, the pair had an advantage of 50 seconds over their closest rivals. But then the leaders’ faced their first challenge of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic.

Annika Langvad in the crown tuck position, with Kate Courtney in tow, as the Investec-songo-Specialized women chased down Ariane Lüthi and Githa Michiels after they had lost the lead on the road following Courtney’s puncture. Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS.

“We had a slow puncture” Langvad explained, before clarifying that it was Courtney who had punctured. “We had to stop and plug it and Ariane (Lüthi) caught and passed us. Then we had to fight back and eventually caught them again” the Danish marathon World Champion elaborated.

Riding her first ever stage race Courtney has no experience fixing mechanical issues, on the trails under race pressure, so emerging from the first such problem with her race lead intact will provide the 21 year old American with a significant confidence boost.

Kate Courtney suffered a slow rear wheel puncture which cost her and Annika Langvad the lead on the road briefly, but the pair were still able to regain the lead and extend their general classification advantage by winning the stage. Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS. sport programme manager Sipho Madolo and his partner, fellow programme graduate, Azukile Simayile endured a challenging day on the trails in the Breede River Valley and the climbs surrounding the picturesque wine region. They had been bullish on the start line, but the day had not progressed as planned. The pair finished 1 hour and 7 minutes after Kulhavy and Grotts had contested the sprint finish. “I need to ride more” Madolo laughed, as he started the post-stage recovery process. “You don’t realise how hot it is out there” he continued. “Only when you stop do you feel the heat. The climbs were very steep and technical and the descents were even more technical.” he revealed.

One rider who enjoyed the technical nature of the route was Anrique Davids of Investec Songo 1. He and Ntlantla Nonkasa crossed the finish line in a time of 5 hours, 52 minutes and 22.9 seconds. “I really enjoyed that descent after the Skuilkrans climb” he smiled. “Ntlantla just had to hang on to my wheel, because I love technical sections like that.”

The Investec Songo 2 team of Lwazi Ntsakaza and Sikhusele Bhungane also lost a few general classification places, but in crossing the line in 6 hours 21 minutes 24.4 seconds they remain on course for a strong midfield finish.

Tuesday’s Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic is 106 kilometres long and features 2 000 metres of climbing in a route which crosses the Breede River twice and explores the mountain slopes on both the North and Southern side of the river. To follow the teams’ progress throughout the stage and the race follow @songoinfo on Twitter or @songoinfo on Instagram, and like on Facebook. Visit, to watch the live broadcast from 10:00 daily.

Jaroslav Kulhavý, in full Czech Express mode, leads Manuel Fumic, Henrique Avancini and Howard Grotts towards the finish line at Arabella Wines. Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS.

Results | Absa Cape Epic 

Women Stage 1:

  1. Investec-songo-Specialized: Annika Langvad & Kate Courtney (4:45.22.7)
  2. Spur: Ariane Lüthi & Githa Michiels (+52.3)
  3. Silverback – KMC: Mariske Strauss & Annie Last (+5.43.7)

Women General Classification after Stage 1:

  1. Investec-songo-Specialized: Annika Langvad & Kate Courtney (5:38.41.2)
  2. Spur: Ariane Lüthi & Githa Michiels (+2.04.9)
  3. Silverback – KMC: Mariske Strauss & Annie Last (+7.59.4)
  4. Ascendis Health: Sabine Spitz & Robyn de Groot (+13.28.2)
  5. dormakaba: Candice Lill & Amy McDougall (+17.35.3)

Nino Schurter (left) reaches for bottles alongside Jaroslav Kulhavý (right). Schurter’s Absa Cape Epic defence came to a halt on Stage 1 as his partner Matthias Stirnemann was forced to withdraw due to illness. Photo by Andrew McFadden/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS.

Men Stage 1:

  1. Cannondale Factory Racing: Manuel Fumic & Henrique Avancini (4:08:22.6)
  2. Investec-songo-Specialized: Jaroslav Kulhavý & Howard Grotts (+1.3)
  3. Trek Selle San Marco 2: Fabian Rabensteiner & Michele Casagrande (+5:33.0)

Men General Classification after Stage 1:

  1. Cannondale Factory Racing: Manuel Fumic & Henrique Avancini (4:54.03.9)
  2. Investec-songo-Specialized: Jaroslav Kulhavý & Howard Grotts (+40.9)
  3. Centurion Vaude: Nicola Rohrbach & Daniel Geismayr (+5.36.3)
  4. Canyon Topeak: Alban Lakata & Kristian Hynek (+6.46.7)
  5. KMC-EKOÏ-SRSUNTOUR: Jordan Sarrou & Victor Koretzky (+7.02.7)

Stage 1 elite men’s podium (L to R): Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts, Henrique Avancini, Manuel Fumic, Fabian Rabensteiner and Michele Casagrande. Photo by Shaun Roy/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS.

songo Teams on the General Classification:

  • TJ songo-Specialized: Sipho Madolo & Azukile Simayile (+1:19.33.6| GC 112)
  • Investec Songo 1: Anrique Davids & Ntlantla Nonkasa (+1:58.07.9 | GC 225)
  • Investec Songo 2: Lwazi Ntsakaza & Sikhusele Bhungane (+2:32.05. 9| GC 338)