And in the Women’s category South African Robyn de Groot and her Swedish teammate Jennie Stenerhag (Ascendis Health) gave notice that they will be a force in this year’s race when they beat favourites Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad (Spur-Specialized).
Wind was the word of the day, which turned out to be rather fitting as Platt likes to talk about there being only one gas, “and that’s full gas”.
Going into the event as one of the pre-race favourites, the pressure was on the Bulls pair to live up to the hype after a few years of middling Absa Cape Epic results. With a flawless Prologue, they couldn’t have asked for a better start as they raced home on the 26km Meerendal course in 1:04.34,7.
The Swiss-German pairing Nicola Rohrbach and Matthias Pfrommer of Centurion Vaude by Meerendal 2 finished in second place, with Trek-Selle San Marco A’s Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro, both of Italy, rounding out the top three.
The other pre-race favourites, Kristian Hynek and Alban Lakata of Team Topeak Ergon Racing, battled on the day and only managed a ninth place finish, two minutes and 19 seconds behind Platt and Huber.
With five-time winner Christoph Sauser participating this year, but not racing competitively, the gap is there for Platt to tick off his fifth win. Judging by the huge smiles as he stepped on to the winner’s podium, things are going according to plan in the early stages of the race.
“I’ve never won the Prologue,” said Platt. “So to get off to such a good start makes me happy. The conditions were so tough, and we were battling a side-on wind at the top. There was nowhere to hide out there, so to have such an awesome ride was the best way to start. I’m confident about our team shape and I’m excited about the week ahead.”
Teammate Urs Huber said he felt the weight of expectation going into the Prologue. “People were talking about us as one of the favourites,” said Huber, “so it is good that we lived up to that. It shows the rest of the field that we mean business. Today went perfectly, but if I’m honest, there wasn’t too much time to think out there!”
The first South African team home was Team Spur, in fourth place, with James Reid and Gert Heyns putting their cross-country skills to good use on the shorter prologue course.
In the Women’s category De Groot carried her blistering recent form into the Prologue when she and Stenerhag grabbed hold of the leader jersey by finishing in 1:17.35,7.
In an exciting race, the South African/Swedish duo beat the 2014 and 2015 women’s winners Kleinhans and Langvad into second place by 18 seconds.
Neither De Groot nor Stenerhag were aware they were riding into first spot. “To be honest, I didn’t think we were doing a fantastic time, we just rode within ourselves,” said De Groot minutes after they crossed the finish line.
Stenerhag, equally as surprised, said: “We didn’t plan anything, we just wanted to do our best. We both had some patches of suffering and some patches of feeling really good, and they didn’t happen at the same time which was really good thing.”
Both were elated to win the Prologue. “A win is a win, and last year we won a stage under circumstances we didn’t really want to win, so this fair and square win is what we want,” said De Groot.
Kleinhans and Langvad were happy with their second place and complimented the winning women.
“I felt very good, I had a good race today, unfortunately not good enough for first place, but a really big congrats to Jennie and Robyn,” said Kleinhans.
“I like Meerendal as a prologue venue because there is much more singletrack and it’s much more technical – I really enjoy it,” said Ariane. “It’s so much fun riding here especially coming into the finish with a lot of berms and table tops. It’s a lot of fun. The week is still long and anything can happen so we are really going to fight for that jersey now.”
Third place finishers, Team Sport for Good’s Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina finished a minute behind Kleinhans and Langvad.
Meanwhile, Dutchmen John van de Wouw and Maikel Govaarts (Van de Haterd MTB) took a 31 second lead in the Masters category, finishing ahead of Australians Damien Jones and Brad Clarke (Hampton Cycles).
Interestingly, the fastest Grand Masters, South African Robert Sim and German Udo Boelts (Robert Daniel) were quicker than the leading Masters, finishing in 1:13.09,3. Second him in the 50-plus category but three minutes behind were Cycle Lab’s South African pairing of Andrew McLean and Doug Brown.
French pair Jean-Francois Bossler and Fanny Bourdon took a two-and-a-half minute lead in the Mixed category, finishing in 1:23.35,6. Next home in the male/female category and two-and-a-half minutes behind were Israeli teammates Idit Shub and Gal Tsachor (Trek Israel).
The Exxaro special jersey leaders after the Prologue are Phillimon Sebona and Lucky Mlangeni (Exxaro/PwC), who finished in 1:19.54, nearly three minutes ahead of Jan Montshioa and Thokozani Mahlangu (Exxaro/RMB).