First the sprint, and now the marathon. The splash and dash of the prologue around Table Mountain on a damp Sunday gave a glimpse into who are the real, possible and pretend contenders in the delayed Absa Cape Epic mountain bike event.
Yet, as the Epic has proved time and again, nothing is decided on the first day apart from who starts at the front on Monday’s first proper stage.
SA’s Matt Beers and Frenchman Jordan Sarrou (NinetyOne-songo-Specialised), the latter the 2020 cross-country world champion, flowed and flew along the 20km course on the trails around Table Mountain to win in 43 min 24 sec, 1 min 40 sec ahead of the Swiss-Italian team of Filippo Viero Colombo and Juri Zanotti (BMC-KTM), who came home in 45:04.
The sprinters from the short, sharp world of cross-country racing, Swiss Sina Frei and Austria’s Laura Stigger (NinetyOne-Songo-Specialised), marked their debut with a power ride that won them the leader’s jersey for the first proper stage of their first Epic.
At 24, 1.51m and just 46kg, Frei, the UCI short-track world champion, packs a punch that belies her stature. She won silver at the Tokyo Olympics and, as with her compatriot Nino Schurter, a two-time winner of the Epic who was regarded as a short-form cross-country specialist, could spring a surprise.
“We are very happy with the result but we know there are seven hard days to come. Today went well, though. It was very good for us and we both felt good throughout the ride. We kept up a good speed and we communicated well, so hopefully we keep that up over the next few days,” said Frei.
Their time of 54:08.6 was solid on a hard day on Table Mountain. They were pushed hard by SA’s Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss (Faces CST) in second (55:41), and three-time women’s category winner Ariane Lüthi with new partner Robyn De Groot (Salusmed). The two prefer the longer-distance races and will be a team to watch in the 98km first stage in Ceres on Monday.
But the sprinters are not yet done. “It was really tough out there today thanks to the weather, but we are used to those conditions from some of our recent XCO rides, so we handled it well,” said Stigger.
In the men’s race German Andreas Seewald and Czech Martin Stosek (Canyon Northwave) were not far off the pace in 45:14.8.
“It’s a great feeling to get the win,” said Beers. “I’ve been visualising it ever since I got a taste for this a few years back. Jordan was just a beast on the climbs, so I let him set the pace and I just hung on for dear life.”
This is Beers’ fifth Epic, and his progression up the order has been steady, from a 22nd place in 2016 to fifth in 2019. There is a growing sense that with Sarrou, he could be the first South African man to top the podium since the late Burry Stander in 2012.
In their first Epic, Colombo and Zanotti impressed from the off, topping the timing boards early on, but the aggression of Beers and Sarrou was evident as they sought to make an impression on what is perhaps the most open Epic in years.
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