The Cape Epic has begun with a searing prologue at Lourensford Wine Estate. The 24km loop with 700m climbing was made harder thanks to the high tempertures and dusty conditions. In this year’s event, our team rider Imogen Smith has joined Gina Ricardo for the Wilson Asset Management Team, racing in the UCI Pro Women category.
BMC MTB Racing take line honours
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Robyn de Groot (BMC MTB Racing) served notice to the rest of the CM.com Women’s category at the 2022 Absa Cape Epic with a commanding performance. PFP set the pace and De Groot followed.
The South African rider matched her partner where it mattered most with an impressive ride of her own. The BMC MTB Racing duo, partnered together for the first time, finished the course in a time of 01:09.5,9. Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss (Faces Rola), the 2021 Absa Cape Epic runners up in the Women’s category, claimed second place, while Amy Wakefield and previous winner Ariane Luthi (Symbtech ZA) crossed the line in third. BMC MTB Racing take a 42-second lead into Monday’s Stage 1, the Queen Stage, over Faces Rola. It’s not a huge margin and the racing in this category should make for a very exciting week.
The racing in the CM.com Women’s category was hot, so much so that Ferrand-Prévot was taken by surprise when told she had won the stage.
“Who won? Did we win?” she asked with genuine astonishment on the finish line. “I felt really good out there; it was hot, but I felt strong. Robyn was a great partner, she was really good out there. It was nice to push hard on the route and get the blood pumping; we are one stage win in and we’re very happy with that. It’s a long stage race to come, so we will just take each day as it comes.”
De Groot, a five-time Absa Cape Epic finisher who’s had her fair share of misfortune at the event and with her health, wrote on social media ahead of the race that Ferrand-Prévot had given her “reason to get fit again”. The fitness shone through, with the former SA Marathon Champion rolling back the years on a route not particularly suited to her exceptional skills.
“I didn’t know what I was in for!” said De Groot after the Prologue. “I just had to hang on to the wheel of Pauline. For me, that was a super ride. I have come into the event feeling fresh; I have been doing a lot of running. I feel much better than the last Absa Cape Epic.”
With start times at one-minute intervals for the teams in the CM.com Women’s category, it’s hard for the riders to know where they are in the race. This forces the elite teams to “ride their own races”. It causes some confusion, even for the most experienced riders, with Ariane Luthi also unsure about her final position after the race.
“Oh, we’re third,” she exclaimed. “That’s amazing! We just rode our own race today and didn’t worry too much about the other riders. I’m very proud of the way we rode – we were really in sync out there, made no mistakes, and finished in one piece, which is always good!”
Luthi’s partner, Amy Wakefield, was also happy with the performance, and grateful that the supporters were out on the route to cheer the popular pair on. “The support means so much to us. We obviously can’t say thank you when we ride past, but it’s so nice to hear the cheers of encouragement. It really lifts you. We rode a consistent Prologue; I am stoked with how we performed today. This is my first podium, so I’m really happy and looking forward to the racing for the rest of the week.”
Wilson Asset Management came in 13th, after Gina had a sleepless night with illness. A tough day out – but dealing with illness during the race is far from uncommon. Imogen stated Gina was an inspiration on her Instagram profile.
‘Racing the Cape Epic really has been next level and I’m just proud that we are here despite a bunch of setbacks. This latest is by far the most challenging and we’re not sure what tomorrow will bring but we’ve got the teamwork down and the rest will flow from there.’
Beers and Blevins start as they mean to finish
Defending Absa Cape Epic Champion Matt Beers did not come to the 2022 edition to play. Racing this edition of with American debutant Christopher Blevins for team Toyota-NinetyOne-Specialized, Beers blitzed out of the start chute at the 2022 Prologue and tore into the hot, dry trails. Beers and Blevins romped home in a time 58:06,7 to claim the first yellow leader jerseys of the event.
Second place on the Prologue went to German newcomers Georg Egger and Lukas Baum (Speed Company Racing), while Andreas Seewald and Martin Stošek (Canyon Northwave MTB) finished third. Speed Company Racing’s flat-out assault of the route on their first-ever Absa Cape Epic would have been the shock of the day, were it not for 2019 Champions Nino Schurter and Lars Forster (SCOTT-SRAM) finishing four minutes off the pace.
Schurter suffered a rear puncture early into the stage and then later on the route decided to replace the wheel entirely at the tech zone. Though he and Forster roared along at a fair clip after the pitstop, they still lost considerable time on the leading teams.
“That’s racing,” said a sanguine Schurter on the finish line. “It can happen to anyone at any time on any day. It’s a pity it happened on the Prologue because you do lose a lot of places, but we are still in the race and, hopefully, that is all our bad luck and everything goes smoothly for the rest of the week. It’s a long race with lots of riding to come.”
Energised and enthused by their performance, Speed Company Racing declared extravagantly at the end of the Prologue, “we are not here to take part, we are here to take over!”.
It was certainly fighting talk from the first-timers, but the Prologue performance backed them up. “It’s our first time here,” said Georg Egger. “We didn’t have a plan; we just tried to go as fast as we could. We are fresh and ready to race.”
Beers and Blevins, despite the fine performance of Egger and Baum, had it all their own way thanks to the perfect execution of their gameplan and determination to nab the yellow jersey at the Prologue.
“This was a good Prologue for us,” said Blevins. “We planned to go out there and chase the yellow jersey. We wanted that wind in our sails going into Stage 1. We were highly motivated right from the start and it all came together.”
The 2021 Absa Cape Epic Champion, still beaming from his October victory, was happy to get off the mark in 2022 with a win, a repeat of his Prologue success last year.
“It’s a great feeling to start with yellow again. This was part of the plan and we achieved it. I think I was a bit over-eager in the beginning and overcooked it a little bit but Chris pulled me back and we rode well together. I think our strengths complement each other and I am looking forward to an exciting rest of the week at the race.”
Stage 1 is a challenging 92km and should suit the powerhouse combo of Beers and Blevins, but with Speed Company Racing clearly up for the challenge, the impressive Seewald and Stošek lurking in the top three, and Schurter and Forster determined to make up lost ground, the defending champion and his partner will have to be at their very best to hold onto the yellow jerseys.
All results are online.