Thanks to a bit of duct tape the South African duo of Candice Lill and Amy Wakefield (e-FORT.net-SeattleCoffeeCo) went from considering an abandon on stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic and instead powered on to a victory that also put them in the overall race lead.
For the first half of the windy 98km day, with everything from steep single-track climbs to wild mountain descents, it was a compact race for the three leading women’s duos of Sofia Gomez Villafane and Katerina Nash (NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized), Lill and Wakefield plus Kim le Court and Vera Looser (Efficient Infiniti Insure).
However, then the Efficient Infiniti Insure duo dropped off the pace while last year’s winners Villafane and Nash pushed ahead. The gapped e-FORT.net-SeattleCoffeeCo duo were then held up by Wakefield’s collision with a tree, which seemed innocuous at first but it soon became evident that a branch had put a nasty gash in her upper arm.
“I actually asked Amy if she wanted to abandon the race,” Lill said. “It was really bad, but Amy is so tough. She just took my duct tape, wrapped it around her bicep and carried it on.”
And they didn’t just carry on, but also caught Villafane and Nash at 70km into the stage with 2,550m of vertical ascent. The pair then surged and had carved out a lead not far short of six minutes as they headed back through the start/finish line in Hermanus. They also jumped into first on the general classification, from third after the prologue.
“I can’t actually believe we won,” said Lill. “I said to Amy after the crash, ‘let’s not worry about anything else, let’s just ride our own pace.’ Eventually, we caught Sofia and Kate and we just kept going.”
Nash and Villafane took second on the stage and also moved down to that position on the overall, 5:24 behind the top spot, while Le Court and Looser were third on both the stage and overall at the end of the day.
The first stage after the prologue also reshuffled the order on the rankings in the men’s UCI category. Matthew Beers and Christopher Blevins (Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne) had entered stage 1 in the overall lead but after a 12th place finish on the day shifted into eight overall. Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht (Scott-SRAM MTB Racing) took their place at the top of the leader-board after finishing second on the stage.
“That was an awesome stage that went really well for us,” Schurter said. “We tried not to go into the red too much and I think we managed that well. The racing was really fast and we just waited until we had an opportunity. I’m happy with the Stage 1 podium and thrilled to be in yellow. I love this race; it’s great when you can start it like this!”
Fabian Rabensteiner and Wout Alleman (Wilier Pirelli Factory) took the victory on the stage and as a result moved up to fourth on the GC. Defending champions Lukas Baum and Georg Egger (ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company) finished third on the stage after an aggressive day of racing and are now second overall, 57 seconds behind Schurter and Frischknecht.
“That was very tough; the wind made it very hard,” said the stage winning duo’s Rabensteiner. “We got dropped two or three times in the wind, but we kept fighting back. In fact, the whole race was a fight today. When we sensed we had a chance we just went full gas all the way to the end. It was a great way to win the stage.
Defending champions Lukas Baum and Georg Egger (ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company) finished third on the stage after an aggressive day of racing and are now second overall, 57 seconds behind Schurter and Frischknecht. Andreas Seewald and Martin Stosek (Canyon Northwave MTB) are third overall 1:27 back.
Stage two of the six-day mountain bike race on Tuesday has 15,475m of climbing over 648km. It remains in Hermanus for the start but takes on a distinct 116km course with 1,850m of climbing over a relentless route which climbs into the Akkadisberg and Paardenberg ranges and is ripe for attacking racing.
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