Songo in League of Their Own
The trails in and around Wellington on Stage 6 would offer a superb mix of singletrack but with 2000m of vertical ascent spread over 76km the racing was anything but easy, especially with a resurgent Cannondale Factory Racing outfit looking to reclaim their second place on the general classification over Canyon Topeak.
Attacks would come early and at regular intervals. Cannondale Factory Racing’s Henrique Avancini made his early ambitions known when he and Mani Fumic sent the leading group into a frenzy of watts and panic. Canyon Topeak and Centurion Vaude had no choice but to follow in a fast-paced first hour of racing that would see Nicola Rohrbach hit the deck in a crash – something he, and teammate Daniel Geismayr, would never fully recover from.
“Today we rode for the GC,” said Avancini. “We had two goals: get clear of Centurion Vaude and get back our second place from Canyon Topeak. That’s why we put the pressure on early and kept the pace high.”
After riding at the measured pace for most of the morning Investec Songo Specialized would finally make their move on the Green Mamba – a long and steep brute of a climb. Cannondale Factory Racing were unable go with the attack and were forced to adopt a damage control approach for the reminder of the stage. For the Czech Express and his partner, Howie Grotts, it was full speed ahead, the two riding a faultless final 35km in which they stamped their dominance and consolidated their lead.
“It was a pretty good day for us. We knew the profile would suit us so we put pressure on from the start, said Fumic. We lead for most of the stage and tried to press on all the time and put the other guys in the hurt box. Investec Songo Specialized attacked us on Mamba climb but we had nothing left. We saw Canyon Topeak were taking strain so we kept the pace on to get the gap and extend it.”
Their tactic worked and after initially marking Cannondale’s continued attacks, Canyon Topeak’s Alban Lakata was unable to match the intensity and fell off the pace. They’d eventually finish Stage 6 in fifth position and surrender their four second lead and second place position on the general classification to Cannondale Factory Racing.
“Today Investec Songo Specialized showed that they are unreachable,” said a dejected Lakata. “They are both in impressive shape. We lost second but tomorrow we will try again. It was a proper fight with Cannondale so let’s hope the legs are there tomorrow to close that gap.”
Jaroslav Kulhavy was pleased with the way he and partner Grotts performed on Stage 6 but mentioned the race is not over until they cross the finish line at Val de Vie on Sunday’s Grand Finale. Still, their lead has grown to well over eight minutes and barring any misfortune the race is theirs for the taking.
“Howie (Grotts) has been getting stronger every day,” said Kulhavy. “We have to be careful tomorrow. We have a pretty good gap so there can’t be any crashes or mechanicals.”
“Today was perfect – after we got a gap, we just kept a consistent pace,” said Grotts. It’s been an incredible experience thus far and everything has just clicked together for us.”
Trek Selle San Marco 2’s Fabian Rabensteiner and Michele Casagrande continued their consistent run of results by finishing second, leapfrogging Simon Stiebjahn and Tim Bohme (BULLS 2) to sixth overall in the general classification – a position they may very well defend going into the Grand Finale on Sunday.
“It is really nice to be with the front guys racing,” said Rabensteiner. “We are having a good time at the moment. Today’s stage was a really great one – not just our finishing on the podium but the routes, too.”
The biggest surprise of the day was the South African pairing of Matthew Beers and Nico Bell (NAD MTB) who appear to have found their groove after a series of illness setbacks hampered Beers’ earlier performances. The re-energised NAD MTB duo put in a superlative performance that saw them cross the line as the first all-South African team. They now find themselves in third place overall on the Absa African Men’s special jersey competition behind leaders Matthys Beukes and Julian Jessop (PYGA Euro Steel) and HB Kruger and Stuart Marais (Ellsworth-ASG).
“We got some time on the Absa African Men’s special jersey race today,” said Bell. “Tomorrow we will give it a full effort. That’s the goal – we will go as hard as we can.”