Reigning ABSA Cape Epic champions, Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser, claimed a confidence boosting overall victory at the Columbia Grape Escape three-day mountain bike stage race at Boschendal Wine Farm near Cape Town, South Africa on Saturday.

Racing in the colours of 36One Songo.info, the cycling development initiative that Sauser established for disadvantaged South African youngsters, the Specialized Racing Team pair showed they’re in good form and on track to defend their Cape Epic title later this month. The three stages of the Grape Escape covered some of the same trails set for the 2012 Cape Epic. The event also attracted a high quality field, making Stander and Sauser work hard for the victory.

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Burry Stander negotiates an underpass on his way to winning Stage 2 of the Columbia Grape Escape.

Photo: Slingshot Media/Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust

Stander, the current South African marathon champion and Sauser, the current world marathon champion, won all three stages, outsprinting Nedbank 360Life’s David George and Kevin Evans on Stage 1 and then ousting multiple Cape Epic winners, Stefan Sahm and Karl Platt (Team Bulls 1) on Stages 2 and 3 for the top podium spot.

Evans and George’s quest to defend the title they won in 2011 ended when George became ill after Stage 2, leaving the two Bulls teams to fill the remaining podium spots, with Germans Sahm and Platt (Bulls 1) filling second and German Tim Bohme and French marathon champion, Thomas Dietsch (Bulls 2) claiming third overall.

“The whole event went very smoothly for us,” said Stander. “We had no technical or physical problems whatsoever. We used the event to fine-tune our preparation for the Cape Epic and we’re happy with our equipment and our form.”

Stander said that although the pace was hard, they were never in any kind of difficulty.

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Burry Stander (left) and Christoph Sauser celebrate victory on Stage 1 of the Columbia Grape Escape.

Photo: Slingshot Media/Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust

“We never attacked and just rode our own pace. Day 1 wasn’t really a great route, but Days 2 and 3 were superb. The final day was actually tough with over 2000 metres of climbing in 66km. We managed just fine and it seems like our recipe is still working.

“We don’t get to race much together other than at the Cape Epic, so it was a well-timed preparation event for us. Christoph is surprised at his form because he’s come from European winter. I’m happy with my form because I came into this race from a hard week of training. I had to return to my recovery nutrition supplementation regime after each stage, which I’ve not needed to do for a while and clearly, that is working. There are still three weeks until the start of the Epic so still time to fine-tune,” smiled Stander.

With both Stander and Sauser eyeing Olympic gold in London later this year, the pair will head to the KwaZulu-Natal province next to compete in the opening round of the 2012 Cross-country World Cup in Pietermaritzburg on 17 March. They’ll then head back to the Western Cape for the 2012 Cape Epic, which starts on 25 March and ends on 1 April.

Columbia Grape Escape

Leading final General Classification

1 Burry Stander RSA / Christoph Sauser SUI (36One Songo Specialized) 08hr 14min 45sec

2 Stefan Sahm GER / Karl Platt GER (Team Bulls 1) 08:18:55

3 Tim Bohme GER / Thomas Dietsch FRA (Team Bulls 2) 08:25:09

4 David Morison RSA / Charles Keey RSA (Blend Property Group) 08:36:05

5 Waylon Woolcock RSA / Neil MacDonald RSA (Team RE:CM) 08:39:57

For full results, visit www.racetec.co.za