The elite men’s field at the songo.info Champions’ Race included numerous World and National champions, anchored by the 2012 Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavý (centre). Photo by Ewald Sadie. The Champions’ Race, celebrating its eighth edition this year, attracts some of the world’s best mountain bikers to an urban cross-country race in celebration of Christoph Sauser’s songo.info sport and education charity. The 2018 race boasted the most illustrious field yet; as the start ranks were swollen by cross-country specialists who had remained in Stellenbosch for warm weather training after the Mountain Bike World Cup event and the traditional crème de la crème of the Absa Cape Epic field. Annika Langvad, the World Marathon champion, repeated her win over, French champion, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot from the UCI MTB World Cup event at the songo.info Champions’ Race. Photo by Ewald Sadie. The start list included Jaroslav Kulhavý, Sam Gaze, Simon Andreassen, Howard Grotts, Victor Koretzky, Matthias Stirnemann, Maxime Marotte, Nicola Rohrbach, Andri Frischknecht, Daniel Geismayr, Annika Langvad, Kate Courtney, Julie Bresset, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Esther Süss, Flora Duffy, Ariane Lüthi, Alessandra Keller, Kathrin Stirnemann, Hélène Clauzel and of course the charity’s co-founder Christoph Sauser; among the over fifty riders who contested the elite men’s and women’s races. The spectators gathered on the Kayamandi sports’ fields to watch the action unfold also included a star name or two, including Julien Absalon and Bart Brentjens. Annika Langvad, representing Investec-songo-Specialized, rode home the comfortable winner of the 2018 songo.info Champions’ Race. Photo by Ewald Sadie. The action kicked off with an age group race for the future champions and young Luca Wiese and Andrea Schofman bravely lined up alongside the under 18 boys. The pair showed the grit and determination they will surely require to forge a career in competitive mountain biking to claim the under 14 boys and under 18 girls titles respectively. The under 18 boys race was a helter-skelter affair, from which Swiss rider Silas Valaulta emerged victorious over Nielse Erik and the talented youngest brother from the prolific junior race winning Penfold family, Aiden. Sam Gaze repeated his World Cup winning performance from Saturday at Wednesday’s songo.info Champions’ Race. Photo by Ewald Sadie. The elite women’s race featured a chance for Pauline Ferrand-Prévot to rekindle her rivalry with Annika Langvad and the French champion was clearly eager to settle the scores after her second position on Saturday as she set the early pace. The Danish champion was not phased however and shadowed Ferrand-Prévot until the repeated toll of ascending the steep embankment climb, dubbed the Alpe d'Huez of Kayamandi by commentator Paul Valstar, at maximum intensity saw Ferrand-Prévot drop back through the field. Langvad then went about establishing a lead over the chasing pack, where her Investec-songo-Specialized Absa Cape Epic partner Kate Courtney was locked in a tussle for second with Alessandra Keller. After half an hour of high paced racing Langvad rode home the comfortable winner, providing another ominous warning for her Cape Epic rivals, followed by Keller, Courtney, Julie Bresset and Hélène Clauzel. The elite women’s podium featuring (from left to right): Hélène Clauzel (5th), Alessandra Keller (2nd), Annika Langvad (1st), and Kate Courtney (3rd). Fifth placed Julie Bresset was absent from the photo. Photo by Ewald Sadie. The men’s race boasted a massive entry list but the brutal 4 minute lap and the 80% rule saw the field thinned out as the 40 minute long race enter the business end. A super-elite lead group formed from the opening lap and the lead changed hands between the likes of Jaroslav Kulhavý, Sam Gaze, Simon Andreassen, Maxime Marotte, Nicola Rohrbach, Andri Frischknecht, Matthias Stirnemann, Daniel Geismayr and Nielo Perrin-Ganier throughout the early stages. By the half way mark though the New Zealand champion Gaze was once again showing his form and strength stretching the field and breaking the lead group down to just five riders strung out behind him. The elite men’s podium featuring (from left to right): Daniel Geismayr (4th), Maxime Marotte (2nd), Sam Gaze (1st), Andri Frischknecht (3rd) and Howard Grotts (5th). Photo by Ewald Sadie. A huge effort, with two laps to go saw Howard Grotts bridge across to the leaders, joining Gaze, Frischnecht, Geismayr, Stirnemann and the French champion Marotte. An acceleration from Gaze then thinned the group down to five again as Stirnemann faded and as the riders started the final lap it looked as if the race might come down to a sprint. On the last assent of the Alpe d'Huez climb Gaze’s relentless pace cracked the pack one-by-one until only he and Marotte remained; but even the Frenchman could not hold on forever and on the short but brutal final climb up Kayamandi’s Mjandana Street the Kiwi made the decisive break. With some breathing room Gaze could celebrate his victory as he crossed the line, capping a highly successful South African trip for the under 23 World Champion. Candice Lill was the highest placed South African in both the men’s and women’s fields as she warmed up to compete for the inaugural Hannele Steyn African women’s trophy at the Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Ewald Sadie. The attention for songo.info now turns to the Absa Cape Epic, which starts on the slopes of Table Mountain on Sunday the 18th of March. The charity will be represented by Jaroslav Kulhavý and Howard Grotts in the elite men’s race and by race favourites Annika Langvad and Kate Courtney in the elite women’s. The programme also has Sipho Madolo and Azukile Simayile contesting the Absa African Jersey; and Anrique Davids and Ntlantla Nonkasa, as well as Lwazi Ntsakaza and Sikhusele Bhungane contesting for the Exxaro jersey. The songo.info Champions’ Race also included a BMX exhibition race contested by members of the songo.info programme. Photo by Ewald Sadie. To follow the teams’ progress throughout the race follow @songoinfo on Twitter or @songoinfo on Instagram, and like songo.info on Facebook. For more information on the charity and the work they do in in Kayamandi please visit www.songo.info.
Results | Future Champions U14 Boys: Luca WieseU18 Girls: Andrea Schofman U18 Boys: Silas Valaulta Results | Champions Race Women: 1. Annika Langvad (Specialized Racing) 2. Alessandra Keller (Thömus/RN Racing) 3. Kate Courtney (Specialized Racing) 4. Julie Bresset (SCOTT-Breizh-VTT du Lie) 5. Hélène Clauzel (KMC-Ekoi-SR Suntour) Men: 1. Sam Gaze (Specialized Racing) 2. Maxime Marotte (Cannondale Factory Racing) 3. Andri Frischknecht (SCOTT SRAM) 4. Daniel Geismayr (Centurion Vaude) 5. Howard Grotts (Specialized Racing)