Stage Two of the 2022 Cape Epic was a monster, with 123km and almost 2500m to be covered racing from Lourensford to Greyton. Throw in a block headwind, dust and rough trails and it’s enough for murmurs in the camp about this year being ‘the hardest ever.’
BMC MTB Racing soars on Stage 2 at Absa Cape Epic.
If the story of the Men’s race was Matt Beers charging back to life after a wretched Stage 1, then the same could be said for Pauline Ferrand-Prévot in the CM.com Women’s category.
The French superstar – a past World Champion in cyclocross, road, and XCO – was rudely introduced to the realities of the Absa Cape Epic on Stage 1. But on the 123km Stage 2, Ferrand-Prévot bounced back like a champion, riding to victory on the stage alongside BMC MTB Racing teammate, Robyn de Groot. BMC MTB Racing finished almost three minutes ahead of current race leader Sofia Gomez Villafane and Haley Batten (NinetyOne-songo-Specialized) on the stage. Their efforts saw them leapfrogging Faces Rola and Symbtech ZA on the general classification, moving them into second place overall. They now sit just over six minutes off the leaders, with plenty of racing to come.
The CM.com Women’s category race saw the top four teams riding together for much of the first half of Stage 2. Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss of Face Rola swapped places at the front of the bunch with Villafane and Batten all the way up to the 85km mark. From here, though, BMC MTB Racing sparked to life. Ferrand-Prévot attacked on Jacques’ Climb, taking De Groot along for the ride. Ariane Lüthi and Amy Wakefield (Symbtech ZA) and Faces Rola had no answers, while NinetyOne-songo-Specialized were hampered in their response by a malfunctioning dropper post. By the top of the stage’s big climb, BMC MTB Racing had built a commanding near-three-minute lead over the chasing teams.
After the climb, BMC MTB Racing rode home calmly and consistently, with none of the other teams able to eat into the time gap. Robyn de Groot said her partner’s comeback was incredible.
“Yesterday was very tough. Pauline had a bad day out there. It’s incredible how she bounced back today, absolutely amazing in fact. She was so determined.” Ferrand-Prévot admitted that the team tactics on Stage 1 were not quite right, but the tactics for Stage 2 were spot on.
“I made the mistake of going out too fast in the beginning yesterday. I paid the price for that. Today I started slower and rode into the day; it was a much better strategy. I made a small attack on the big climb. Robyn was super strong and I saw that she was coming with me. We made a good gap and after that, we just rode a nice rhythm to the finish.”
Second place finishers on the stage and orange jersey wearers NinetyOne-songo-Specialized know they have a race on their hands now. “It just shows you how unpredictable this race is,” said Haley Batten.
“We really had to adapt and go with the flow today. This not going to be an easy race over the next few days, but we are ready for the challenge. Today I really had to dig deep. Coming from cross-country, I am not used to six hours in the saddle, even though that’s how I trained. Sofia was amazing in the last quarter of the race, she really kicked into gear and helped us get home.”
On Stage 3 the leaders in the CM.com Women’s category will have to keep their eyes on the 101 kilometres of treacherous trail in front of them while looking over their shoulders at the same time.
Schurter and Forster on top
XCO Mountain Bike World Champion Nino Schurter and partner Lars Forster (SCOTT-SRAM) finally came to the party at the 2022 Absa Cape Epic. The Swiss riders endured a third day of punctures, but this time the deflation couldn’t defeat them as they raced home in a sprint finish to claim the 123km Stage 2, from Lourensford Wine Estate to Elandskloof Farm Cottages, Greyton. Schurter and Forster, who lost time on the Prologue and Stage 1 due to punctures, were in control throughout Stage 2, sitting at the front of the men’s bunch or one or two positions back in the field during the demanding transition.
Most of the top contenders were comfortable throughout the stage, with race leaders Andreas Seewald and Martin Stošek (Canyon Northwave MTB) always in the mix, and Hans Becking and Jose Dias (BUFF-MEGAMO) a constant threat. Becking said after the stage that they were happy not to attack on the day. Although SCOTT-SRAM won the stage, the ride of the day in the Men’s category must go to Matt Beers (Toyota-NinetyOne-Specialized) who went from finishing Stage 1 looking like dried seaweed to somehow finding himself in a sprint finish for Stage 2. “I’m still not 100 percent better,” said Beers, “but, obviously, very happy with the ride. To be honest, I struggled to get a line on the finish and couldn’t work out which way to go.”
The leading men remained together up until around 90km into the never-ending 123km stage; that’s where Jacques’ Climb entered the fray and SCOTT-SRAM made their break. Schurter and Forster managed to put just over a minute on the chasers, but near the top of the climb, Schurter realised his rear tyre had an issue, again. This allowed the chasers to catch the Swiss riders and form a lead group of seven teams. Tellingly on the long day, all the leading teams took their time at the final water point, seemingly in no rush for the mad dash to the finish.
At the tech zone, Forster thought about finding a replacement tyre for Schurter but appeared to be dilly-dallying somewhat and was soon back on his bike when Schurter sped off without him. SCOTT-SRAM lead to the finish, with Toyota-NinetyOne-Specialized and BUFF-MEGAMO’s Hans Becking for company – Becking’s partner Jose Dias was slightly off the pace.
Toyota-NinetyOne-Specialized’s Christopher Blevins surged ahead in the finish chute, showing he still had great power left, but Beers was unable to pass Becking, allowing Schurter and Forster to cross the line as the stage winners. “It’s always nice to win,” said Schurter, “but we had bad luck again! I don’t know what it is, for some reason; I am just struggling with my gear this week. The legs feel great though and I felt good throughout today’s stage. The sprint was not really a sprint finish but more just a case of who could hold on the longest. Whoever had the legs at the end was going to win that one. It’s great to take the win, and it gives us motivation for tomorrow.”
The yellow leader jersey wearers Andreas Seewald and Martin Stošek (Canyon Northwave MTB) finished fourth, 10 seconds behind the leaders, so little to no damage was done to their general classification lead. They will start Stage 3 with an almost five-minute gap ahead of second-placed Becking and Dias of BUFF-MEGAMO. Defending champion Beers, alongside Blevins, is now in third in the general classification, eight minutes off the top spot.
Stage 3 of the 2022 Absa Cape Epic is a 101km race around the dry, dusty, and rocky trails of Greyton with punctures being a very real threat. Teams not prepared for that reality could find themselves in trouble.