With just one day to go, both the men’s and women’s overall race leaders at the Absa Cape Epic have their hands firmly on the respective crowns after the Queen Stage around Grabouw on Saturday – but it was all change in the battle for the other podium positions.
Olympic and world mountain bike champion Nino Schurter and his Scott-Sram MTB Racing teammate Matthias Stirnemann were comfortable winners of the 103km Stage 6, beating South African Max Knox and his Colombian partner Hector Paez (Kansai Plascon) into second.
In doing so, Schurter and Stirnemann opened up a lead of almost seven minutes in the overall standings ahead of a struggling Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized), who ended the stage fourth, behind Nicola Rohrbach and Daniel Geismayr (Centurion Vaude 2).
The storming day by Knox and Paez also means they move up to third overall, deposing the winners of the Prologue and Stage 1, Team Cannondale’s Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini, from the final place on the podium. Cannondale have in turn slipped from third at the start of the stage to fifth overall, also falling behind the Centurion Vaude pair.
“I don’t know what happened today, but it was much less suffering than yesterday! It was a good day on the bike,” said Stirnemann. “Every day I feel like I am getting stronger on the bike. I recovered well last night; that showed this morning when I could get my rhythm a lot quicker.”
Reigning South African marathon champion Knox and Paez (a multiple Colombian national champion) have been in good shape all week, but have been rumbled by bad luck at inopportune moments. Today things finally went their way. Knox, tired but elated with second on the day, had nothing but praise for his teammate.
“The stage was tough, very tough. The pace was hard,” he said. “I have to say, my partner Hector is incredibly strong. I was riding at the limit, pushing myself to go harder the whole time. I was dropping off and barely hanging in, but Hector just kept encouraging me, kept pulling me along. He’s incredible. I have been feeling off my game all week, but he has been immense.”
In the Hansgrohe Women’s race it was a similar story with Esther Suss and Jennie Stenerhag (Team Meerendal CBC) finishing second in the stage, but increasing their overall lead to a massive 35 minutes.
The stage winners on Saturday were Mariske Strauss and Annie Last from Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro, and their victorious ride, combined with a crash and resultant broken handlebar to Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health), means the young stage winners have inherited second overall and are 12 minutes up on De Groot and Spitz.
As De Groot and Spitz crossed the line, Spitz summed the feelings of the team when she said with resignation that she “had about all the (trouble) I can take on this race”.
A massively disappointed De Groot simply said she “had no words today … it was a disaster” before going and crying on the shoulders of her parents near the finish line.
Stenerhag had mixed feelings about the day’s result. “It is never nice to hear that someone else has crashed, but when I was so tired it did mean I could slow down a bit because we knew they were not coming back at us.
“But taking nothing for granted, this race is not over until it is over. Nothing is finalised until it is finished.”
Suss added another word of warning.
“I am extremely happy and it is nice that we have the bigger gap but we know with their handlebar that broke that it can happen to us as well. We still have to be safe until the finish line.”
In the Virgin Active Mixed Category, Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds and Thomas Frischknecht (Scott Sram Nextlevel) won their seventh day in a row – the Prologue and six stages – and are now a massive 54 minutes ahead of Grant Usher and Amy Beth McDougall (joBerg2c-Valencia), with Johan Labuschagne and Catherine Williamson (RBI Tech-Mitas) 37 minutes further back.
Going into the final stage, the Dimension Data Masters category is wide open with Tomi Misser and Ibon Zugasti (Orbea Factory) less than three minutes ahead of both the BMC Absa team of Tour de France Champion Cadel Evans and George Hincapie and the CST Sandd American Eagle pairing of Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo.
In the grandmasters, Barti Bucher and Heinz Zoerweg have a massive lead of almost two hours; while Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes (PYGA Euro Steel) are 25 minutes ahead in the Absa African Jersey; and William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona of Diepsloot MTB Academy have over an hour’s lead in the Exxaro Category.
2017 Stage 6 Masters
1. BMC Absa Racing Team 63-1 Cadel Evans (Australia) 63-2 George Hincapie (United States of America) 4:48.11,9
2. CST Sandd American Eagle 61-1 Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 61-2 Abraao Azevedo (Brazil) 4:49.54,4 +1.42,5
3. Orbea Factory 35-1 Tomi Misser (Spain) 35-2 Ibon Zugasti (Spain) 4:51.12,4 +3.00,5
1. Orbea Factory 35-1 Tomi Misser (Spain) 35-2 Ibon Zugasti (Spain) 26:16.01,9
2. BMC Absa Racing Team 63-1 Cadel Evans (Australia) 63-2 George Hincapie (United States of America) 26:18.45,3 +2.43,4
3. CST Sandd American Eagle 61-1 Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 61-2 Abraao Azevedo (Brazil) 26:18.50,3 +2.48,4
4. ROCKY MOUNTAIN – toMotion 62-1 Thorsten Keller (Germany) 62-2 Max Friedrich (Germany) 28:30.12,8 +2:14.10,9
5. LGE Midas/Slender-Wonder 330-1 Igna de Villiers (South Africa) 330-2 Paul Theron (South Africa) 28:36.30,8 +2:20.28,9
6. GACOSUR IEDES CENTAURO 68-1 Manuel Rojo Nieto (Spain) 68-2 Jorge Lopez Janeiro (Spain) 29:09.20,5 +2:53.18,6
7. Oakhaven Capital 340-1 Michael Creedon (Ireland) 340-2 Andrew Cairns (South Africa) 29:11.10,2 +2:55.08,3
8. Podium Sports 65-1 Nic Lamond (South Africa) 65-2 Simon Lamond (South Africa) 29:13.52,7 +2:57.50,8
9. Eurocasa Gaggenau 609-1 Richard Lurie (South Africa) 609-2 Brent Russell (South Africa) 29:19.28,8 +3:03.26,9
10. @40 64-1 Hannes Hanekom (South Africa) 64-2 Ben Melt Swanepoel (South Africa) 29:36.13,3 +3:20.11,4
2017 Stage 6 Grand Masters
1. Meerendal CBC 3 67-1 Barti Bucher (Switzerland) 67-2 Heinz Zoerweg (Austria) 5:12.40,6
2. ABSA Bus Boys 304-1 Greg Anderson (South Africa) 304-2 Deon Kruger (South Africa) 5:50.12,1 +37.31,5
3. ALAIN – KAPPIUS 130-1 Alain Broglia (France) 130-2 Alain Morra (France) 5:56.39,0 +43.58,4
1. Meerendal CBC 3 67-1 Barti Bucher (Switzerland) 67-2 Heinz Zoerweg (Austria) 28:00.36,8
2. ABSA Bus Boys 304-1 Greg Anderson (South Africa) 304-2 Deon Kruger (South Africa) 30:00.08,2 +1:59.31,4
3. Pitstop1Sport24hrs 342-1 Waleed Baker (South Africa) 342-2 Marius Nel (South Africa) 31:42.38,9 +3:42.02,1
4. Cape Airconditioning 594-1 Landon la Grange (South Africa) 594-2 Peter Winn (South Africa) 32:11.51,3 +4:11.14,5
5. Bestmed Jaguar Sandton 312-1 Rex Benson (South Africa) 312-2 Rory Mapstone (South Africa) 32:50.22,4 +4:49.45,6
6. ALAIN – KAPPIUS 130-1 Alain Broglia (France) 130-2 Alain Morra (France) 33:23.02,5 +5:22.25,7
7. Holte MTB Club 291-1 Bo Falck Hansen (Denmark) 291-2 Carsten Kristiansen (Denmark) 34:04.42,2 +6:04.05,4
8. PitstopSport24hrs3 483-1 Ahmed Zaid Mahomed (South Africa) 483-2 Dawood Osman (South Africa) 34:54.50,6 +6:54.13,8
9. Lab Rats 300-1 Arrie Rautenbach (South Africa) 300-2 Philip Vermeulen (South Africa) 34:56.00,8 +6:55.24,0
10. Pedal Damn It 481-1 Renaat Verbeke (Belgium) 481-2 Jozef De Meyer (Belgium) 36:05.24,6 +8:04.47,8
2017 Stage 6 Mixed
1. Scott-Sram Nextlevel 70-1 Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) 70-2 Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland) 5:23.29,7
2. New World St Martins 668-1 Willy Williams (New Zealand) 668-2 Kate Fluker (New Zealand) 5:27.28,6 +3.58,9
3. RBI Tech – Mitas 71-1 Johan Labuschagne (South Africa) 71-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 5:32.00,8 +8.31,1
1. Scott-Sram Nextlevel 70-1 Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) 70-2 Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland) 28:05.46,8
2. Joberg2C-Valencia 565-1 Grant Usher (South Africa) 565-2 Amy Beth McDougall (South Africa) 29:00.01,8 +54.15,0
3. RBI Tech – Mitas 71-1 Johan Labuschagne (South Africa) 71-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 29:37.28,7 +1:31.41,9
4. Fairtree Capital 72-1 Corrie Muller (South Africa) 72-2 Mari Rabie (South Africa) 30:09.54,5 +2:04.07,7
5. New World St Martins 668-1 Willy Williams (New Zealand) 668-2 Kate Fluker (New Zealand) 30:28.20,2 +2:22.33,4
6. Motor Mile Racing 449-1 Bradley Cobb (United States of America) 449-2 Carla Williams (United States of America) 31:13.16,8 +3:07.30,0
7. Vejer Bike 625-1 Cristina Barberan (Spain) 625-2 Jesus Morillo Romero (Spain) 32:04.03,3 +3:58.16,5
8. Comus Clif Bar 583-1 Jean-Luc Perez (France) 583-2 Muriel Bouhet (France) 32:44.14,8 +4:38.28,0
9. Globeflight 49-1 Henning Blaauw (South Africa) 49-2 Louise Ferreira (South Africa) 32:45.34,9 +4:39.48,1
10. SAICA 139-1 Ila Stow (South Africa) 139-2 Darryn Stow (South Africa) 33:32.00,7 +5:26.13,9
* The 2017 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race is taking place until Sunday 26 March. Watch the action live on our website www.cape-epic.com