It was just another day of Absa Cape Epic racing and another win for the Annika Langvad and Kate Courtney as they snatched a surprisingly tight victory at the time-trial in and around Wellington on Friday.

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Kate Courtney & Annika Langvad during stage 5 of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Huguenot High in Wellington, South Africa on the 23rd March 2018. Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

It was the sixth win from six stages for the Investec Songo Specialized pair, but for the first time at the 2018 event there was some doubt about the result in the Women’s category for most of the stage. A resurgent Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health) led by 31 seconds through halfway and ended up just 12.5 seconds down at the end of the tough 39km ride that included 1 430m of vertical ascent.

While the margin of victory was small, the Danish multiple World Champion and her young American partner extended their lead by two minutes 52 seconds over Annie Last and Mariske Strauss (Silverback-KMC) who are currently lying second overall and who were third on the stage.

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Annie Last and Mariske Strauss of team Silverback – KMC during stage 5 of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Huguenot High in Wellington, South Africa on the 23rd March 2018. Photo by Mark Sampson/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

The gap from Investec Songo Specialized to Silverback on general classification has now grown to just over 35 minutes and even the two leaders are being forced to cautiously admit that their victory is looking like a certainty.

“We are counting down the days a little bit now,” admitted Langvad after the finish, the first time she has publicly hinted that it will be tough for their chasers to claim the overall win.

However Langvad, who has never been beaten in her three previous attempts at the Absa Cape Epic, is still cautious about the two remaining stages. “One of the proper challenges of this race is to concentrate all the time. Eight days is a long, long time and just the tiniest little mishap and everything can be gone in the blink of an eye.

“We wanted to keep it nice and steady in the time-trial. Today we could ride at our own pace and we did that.

“But what was quite helpful was that we could see Mariske and Annie on some of the climbs ahead of us and so we kind of figured we were getting closer to them, but we had no idea about Sabine and Robin.”

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Annika Langvad and Kate Courtney of team Investec Songo Specialized during stage 5 of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Huguenot High in Wellington, South Africa on the 23rd March 2018. Photo by Andrew McFadden/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Courtney said their tactic was to ride a controlled stage.

“The time-trial is a different challenge. Everything is tough in its own way out here at the Absa Cape Epic. I think today was hard after a long day yesterday but we were able to ride in control and especially on the descents, where there were a lot of rocky and sandy corners, and we were able to pull back and avoid having any big mishaps.”

The American was also cautiously optimistic about the remaining two stages: “Honestly, anything can happen. We are just trying to stay focused and stay on top of it and maximise our recovery for the last two days.”

Despite nearly becoming the first team to get the better of the potent Investec Songo Specialized duo this week, Spitz and De Groot seemed surprised at the result.

“I did not realise we had done so well,” said the South African. “I felt better than I expected. After four days of over 100kays we expected it to be really tough but we rode nicely together and paced ourselves well, which worked out well for us I think.”

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Sabine Spitz and Robyn De Groot of team Ascendis Health during stage 5 of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Huguenot High in Wellington, South Africa on the 23rd March 2018. Photo by Andrew McFadden/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Spitz seemed pleased that their tactics had worked so well: “Today the goal was to ride smart – smooth pedaling. The time-trial can be killing and I was sure that if we went too hard in the beginning we would not ride well when we got to the technical parts – the technical climbs where you get the rises and the kickers and power peaks. It was the right decision to ride smart and we were second, so it shows we made the right decision.”

“The goal for us is to make time back. We are still battling and fighting for the second place in the overall. So there are still two more days to go and we will see how it turns out.”

With the temperature climbing the pro riders enjoyed the best of the weather, but Englishwoman Last said it was still uncomfortably hot.

“On the first climb you could feel the heat was already there. On the start line it was very pretty because you could see the sunrise, but on the climbs it was hot. It was a 39kay time-trial with 1 400 metres of climbing and (on Thursday) we did 113km with 1 800 metres, so there was a lot of climbing for a lot less distance.”