Stage Four of the 2022 Cape Epic could be seen as offering respite for some. And sure, for riders down the rankings, the shorter stage would offer less time in the saddle. But for those racing for the general classification, it meant another day of hard pressure on the pedals.
BMC back to the front
Robyn de Groot and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (BMC MTB Racing) rode a blemish-free ride on Stage 4 in the CM.com Women’s category at the Absa Cape Epic to win their third stage of the event. De Groot admitted after the 82km stage that the plan was to have a self-imposed rest day, but Ferrand-Prévot’s winning mentality kicked in around 40km into the day; soon after BMC MTB Racing found themselves all alone at the front of the race.
The orange jersey wearers in the CM.com Women’s category, Sofia Gómez Villafane and Haley Batten (NinetyOne-songo-Specialized), hit a slight snag with barbed-wire entangled in a bike. This allowed De Groot and Ferrand-Prévot to break away on one of the early hills. Faces Rola (Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss) also battled with a puncture, meaning BMC MTB Racing rode from halfway to finish all alone. De Groot appeared to be taking strain in the final 2km as Ferrand-Prévot powered home, but she managed to hang in for another victorious stage.
“That was an unintentional solo breakaway,” said De Groot. “I had the PFP-Express in front of me, so I just hung on and made sure I got to the finish. It’s great riding with Pauline as she is a super motivator. She really got me through today!”
Ferrand-Prévot said the team plan was to try and get away from the other teams on the singletrack, an objective they achieved. Thereafter, her racing instincts kicked in. “I don’t know what happened; I was just on fire! I felt so good out there today. I didn’t mean to hurt Robyn; I was just having so much fun.”
General classification leaders in the CM.com Women’s category NinetyOne-songo-Specialized finished second on the stage, with Private Client Holdings (Hayley Preen and Mari Rabie) finishing third. Faces Rola came in fourth.
“That was another close day,” said Haley Batten of NinetyOne-songo-Specialized. “The women’s race has been so tight. I’m really enjoying it. We had a small mishap with the wire; it didn’t take too long to sort out, but it just allowed Robyn and Pauline to get in front. They are such strong riders. We tried, but we just couldn’t catch them. We had a lot of fun out there. The UFO Climb was steep and technical but the singletrack was great.”
Private Client Holdings’ Mari Rabie said she was surprised but happy with another podium after finishing third on Stages 3 and 4. “We didn’t expect this. We had some luck as Candice battled with a puncture, but we had a good ride. I was really surprised how well we rode on the technical trails because that is not our strength. I’m very impressed with our ride today!”
Batten and Gomez Villafane will start the 115km Stage 5 in the orange Ciovita leader jersey and with an 11-minute lead over second-placed BMC MTB Racing in the overall standings. The race from Greyton to Stellenbosch is sure to produce another close finish in the CM.com Women’s category.
Sprint tactics work out in men’s Cape Epic Stage Four
Matt Beers and Christopher Blevins (Toyota-NinetyOne-Specialized) won Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic with an unintentionally brilliant tactical finish to the 82km stage. With 5km to go Beers raced away from his partner Blevins, Speed Company Racing’s Lukas Baum and Georg Egger, and Canyon Northwave MTB’s Martin Stošek. Canyon Northwave MTB’s Andreas Seewald went with Beers and the two rode alone towards the finish. With the finish line in view, Beers slowed to a crawl as he looked back for his partner. Blevins was stuck behind Speed Company Racing, but timed his attack perfectly on the grass and pulled away dramatically with a kilometre to go. He dropped Baum and Egger, with Canyon Northwave MTB’s Martin Stošek also unable to match his power.
Beers crossed the line at a dawdle ahead of Seewald, but Blevins came racing around the final corner to make sure Toyota-NinetyOne-Specialized was the first team home. “That was perfectly executed,” said Blevins. “I wish we could say we planned that but Matt just rode off with Andreas. I was licking my lips though because I knew a sprint was coming and that’s my strength. I timed it well and got away from the guys. I really enjoyed that!”
Beers added that he was slightly worried about the time gap, but had faith in the sprint skills of Blevins. “I was suffering a bit at the start of the stage but Chris then put in a monster effort on the top of the climb and we were able to catch the leaders. From there we knew it was three teams in it to the finish. We just waited and made our move when the time was right.”
Andreas Seewald, still in the yellow leader jerseys with partner Stošek for Stage 5, said that he and Beers did have a discussion on the rules as they both raced to the finish. “Matt and I spoke, and we couldn’t remember if we were allowed a one-minute or two-minute gap from our partners. I was sure it was two minutes so then I was happy to go; Matt and I knew it would be the guys behind who decided the stage. It was a funny and scary finish at the same time!”
From the start of Stage 4, it was tight, tense, and tactical. Speed Company Racing blazed a trail from the off, but around 50km into the day, they were joined by Toyota-NinetyOne-Specialized; soon after, yellow jersey leaders Canyon Northwave MTB joined the front of the race.
The three teams matched each other pedal stroke for pedal stroke until the final 5km where Beers and Seewald raced away. It was a unique end to a stage at an Absa Cape Epic that continues to provide thrilling mountain bike action.
In the general classification, Canyon Northwave MTB still leads, with Speed Company Racing in second. Speed Company Racing’s Georg Egger said they attempted to pull away again, as they did on Stage 3, but just couldn’t get away on the day. “We wanted to lead from the front again, but Lukas had a little crash and that gave the rest a chance. Once the others went in front we just rode together.”
Canyon Northwave MTB’s Martin Stošek said another day in yellow is what matters most. “We didn’t lose any time today. We had no major issues and the ride went smoothly. We start another stage in yellow and that’s a great feeling.”
Stage 5 of the Absa Cape Epic takes the race from Elandskloof in Greyton to Stellenbosch. The route is 115km long and features the infamous Rusty Gate climb straight from the start and then the scenic yet demanding Franschhoek Pass halfway through the day. As riders love to say of the Absa Cape Epic, anything can happen.
Full results are online.