- The BULLS team of Urs Huber and Simon Schneller took victory in Stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic.
- Prologue winners NinetyOne-songo-Specialized (Matt Beers and Jordan Sarrou) finished in fourth but retained their overall lead.
- Sina Frei and Laura Stigger (NinetyOne-songo-Specialized) won Stage 1 in the Elite women’s race.
In a tight finish on Stage 1 on Monday, the BULLS (Urs Huber and Simon Schneller) and BULLS 2 (Martin Frey and Simon Stiebjahn) teams claimed first and second respectively, with Canyon Northwave MTB (Andreas Seewald and Martin Stošek) racing home in third.
Prologue winners NinetyOne-songo-Specialized (Matt Beers and Jordan Sarrou) finished in fourth, but retained their overall lead with a healthy gap of just under two minutes over second-placed team Canyon Northwave MTB.
For the final 25km of the stage, the BULLS teams, Canyon Northwave MTB, and NinetyOne-songo-Specialized set the pace.
The teams couldn’t pull away from each other and a sprint finish looked inevitable until a seemingly innocuous river crossing altered the day with a few kilometres remaining.
At this stage Canyon Northwave MTB were marginally ahead and looking like the winners, but Seewald and Stošek appeared to misjudge the depth of the river, with the two BULLS teams managing the crossing with better agility than their rivals.
BULLS were able to pull away with Simon Stiebjahn of BULLS 2 in tow; Frey put in a burst of effort into the finish chute so that all four BULLS riders crossed the line together.
"Simon and I checked the last kilometre before the start this morning so we knew what to expect," said Urs Huber. "We’re very happy with the stage win. It was a really nice track, but also hard, we had to push for every metre, nothing was for free out there but that is the Cape Epic and what we are here for. It couldn’t be better to go one-two today."
Despite the Curious Case of the Grassy Cassette, Beers was upbeat with his and Sarrou’s performance.
"We had a good day," said Beers. "We knew we had to stay near the front the whole day. There was a lot of singletrack. It wasn’t really the plan to go for the Hot Spot but we saw the other guys were struggling, so we went for it. Then we pushed on the descent to grow the gap a little and blunt them a little bit. It took quite a while for them to come back but the Bulls rode a good race and near the end I had the grass stuck in my cassette so couldn’t shift the last four gears, so it was a bit of a cadence, spinning match. But I am glad we could consolidate and stay in the Yellow Jersey."
WATCH | Stage 1 of Absa Cape Epic in Ceres
Sina Frei & Laura Stigger crush Absa Cape Epic Stage 1 Elite women’s race
Absa Cape Epic newbies, Sina Frei and Laura Stigger (NinetyOne-songo-Specialized), blitzed Stage 1 in the Elite women’s race.
Riding comfortably, with great control and composure throughout, the first-timers cruised home in 4:34:52 - nearly five minutes ahead of second-placed finishers Ariane Luthi and Robyn De Groot (Salusmed).
The women’s race started with all the protagonists watching each other on the relatively flat trails leading towards Eselfontein and the first climb of the day, welcomingly named Dead Man Walking.
There was, however, an early hiccup for Sarah Hill and Vera Looser (Liv-Lapierre Racing) when a stray piece of wire pierced Looser’s rear tyre. The pair quickly handled the repair work and caught the bunch, but as soon as the climbing started, the main contenders twisted the throttle.
By waterpoint 2, a bunch had formed, starring orange jersey wearers Frei & Stigger, Candice Lill & Mariske Strauss (Faces CST, although dressed in the red of the Absa African Women's jersey), De Groot and Luthi, and Cherie Redecker & Adelheid Morath (Computer Mania MTB). An all-day cat and mouse race appeared to be taking shape. However, Frei and Stigger powered away.
They raced through the Dimension Data Hotspot 50 seconds ahead of Luthi and De Groot, widening the gap as the day progressed. Their cause was aided by both of their nearest rivals suffering crashes. Mariske Strauss crashed twice during the day, with Luthi also taking a tumble.
Stigger and Frei took full advantage of the mishaps. “It might have looked easy, but it really wasn’t,” explained Stigger. “We had to fight the whole way, and we are super happy to take the win.”
Frei added that the stage win was hard-earned, “The legs are super tired now, we suffered a lot. It wasn’t really the plan to go out so early alone, but we just kept going. For most of the time, we had no idea how far ahead we were; and then, at times, we had the feeling as though they were right behind us. So we just tried to keep a solid and consistent pace and work together as a team.”
Tuesday’s Stage 2 is a transition day, with riders leaving Ceres and racing towards Saronsberg in Tulbagh. With 96km and 2100m of climbing as the day's listed demands, any mistakes will be pounced on.
ALSO READ: SA's Matt Beers wins Cape Epic MTB Prologue: 'I just hung on for dear life'
Stage 1 Elite Men's Race Results:
1) BULLS, Urs Huber, Simon Schnellet, 03:57:35.2,
2) BULLS 2, Martin Frey, Simon Stiebjahn, 03:57:37.4 | +00:00:02.2
3) Canyon Northwave MTB, Andreas Seewald, Martin Stosek, 03:57:38.3 | +00:00:03.1
General classification after Stage 1:
1) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, Jordan Sarrou, Matthew Beers | 04:41:05.4 | 20.9 km/h ave.
2) Canyon Northwave MTB, Andreas Seewald, Martin Stosek, 04:42:53.2 | +00:01:47.8 | 20.8 km/h ave.
3) BULLS 2, Martin Frey, Simon Stiebjahn, 04:43:13.7 | +00:02:08.2 | 20.8 km/h.
Stage 1 Elite Women’s Race Results:
1) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, Sina Frei, Laura Stigger (#54-2), 04:34:52.6,
2) Salusmed, Ariane Luthi, Robyn de Groot, 04:39:43.8 | +00:04:51.1
3) Faces CST, Candice Lill, Mariske Strauss, 04:46:55.4 | +00:12:02.7
General classification after Stage 1:
1) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, Sina Freig, Laura Stigger 05:29:01.2 | 17.9 km/h ave.
2) Salusmed, Ariane Luthi, Robyn de Groot, 05:35:31.1 | +00:06:29.8 | 17.5 km/h ave.
3) Faces CST, Candice Lill, Mariske Strauss, 05:42:37.1 | +00:13:35 | 17.2 km/h ave.
Watch the recap here:
(Supplied/Absa Cape Epic)