Top Epic men and women tame the Old Wagon Trail
Frei, Stigger, Beers and Sarriou take first place in white-knuckle Absa Cape Epic second stage
The four women and men of the NinetyOne-songo-Specialized teams flew down the white knuckle, bone-rattling Old Wagon Trail on stage two of the Absa Cape Epic on Tuesday to take stage victories and extend their lead in their respective categories.
Swiss Sina Frei and Austrian Laura Stigger were imperious, winning for the third day in a row, the young pair riding off the rest of the women’s elite field just after the halfway point of the 96km stage from Ceres to Saronsberg.
SA’s Matt Beers and Frenchman Jordan Sarrou left their charge to victory a little later, ripping down the rocky, dusty Old Wagon Trail to the Tulbagh Valley with a bravery that gave them their second win of the Epic and ensured they would hold on to the yellow jersey.
“It’s awesome to win another stage. The prologue was good enough, but to win in the yellow, you can’t get better than that,” said Beers, who had issues on the climb out of the Witzenberg Valley, which came after Sarrou had struggled to hold the pace early on in the stage.
“I actually was off the back, which I am sure everyone saw,” said Beers. “I slipped on the ascent and then getting back was not pleasant. I just knew I had to get to the front, so I just bombed the descent, railed the corners and was on Jordan’s wheel. Then I was, ‘OK, let’s go, man.’ With [Sarrou’s] pedigree in cross country and my background in motocross, we could just send it. We made some good time. It felt like a lifetime, but it was worth it.”
They were followed home by German Andreas Seewald and Czech Martin Stosek (Canyon-Northwave) 26sec later, with stage one winners, Swiss Urs Huber and German Simon Schneller (Bulls 1), 1:46 back in third.
Beers and Sarrou now have a 2:13 lead over Seewald and Stosek, while Bulls1 are 4:04 off the lead.
“We wanted to be in front as much as possible, but [Beers and Sarrou] wouldn’t let us,” said Stosek. “Maybe we could have been able to follow them on the downhill, but they took maybe too many risks. We came here for the overall win not to win every stage. We decided to be careful, because if you crash only once on these downhills then it may be over. This is a long race. Anything can happen.”
There had been some talk as to whether this day deserved to be described as the Queen stage of the 2021 Epic, it being 96km with 2,100m of climbing, but it was deceptively brutal. The rocky terrain, the sand and dust, and technical single-track made it a hard day for all, though the 21-year-old Stigger brushed that off: “It was a really cool stage and we really enjoyed it.”
The pair had attacked in the Witzenberg Valley after the second water point. “We set the pace high directly after the water point. We just kept going, we didn’t falter even going uphill for so long. That was quite good for us. We kept the pace high, had a safe descent and are happy to take the win,” said Frei.
The pair’s overall lead is now 7½min with Ariane Lüthi of Switzerland and SA’s Robyn de Groot (Salusmed), who came home in second just over a minute behind.
South Africans Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss (Faces CST) were third on Tuesday, 4:35 down on the winners, after Lill had punctured on Old Wagon Hill.
“She flatted. Didn’t see a rock and hit it,” said Strauss, who said she was “tender” after her two crashes on Monday. “I could really feel it on the final descent. The grip strength was probably not 100% there. I think we paced ourselves really well. Consistency is the name of the game. There is still more racing to come. We did a good job of maintaining and limiting the damage today.”
Lill admitted it had been a tough day, saying: “It’s always very, very rocky and rough terrain. You really start to feel it — like a whole-body fatigue. You have to keep concentrating and, ja, a rock got the better of us on the final descent.”
With them now 18:10 behind Stigger and Frei they will need to do more than maintain and limit damage if they are to challenge for the overall victory. Five big days lie ahead.
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