Fabian Rabensteiner and Wout Alleman (Wilier Pirelli Factory) won Stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic in Hermanus on Monday, 20 March. The stage victory puts them in fourth place overall.Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht (SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing) finished second on the 98km stage but moved into the overall lead in the general classification.
Defending champions Lukas Baum and Georg Egger (ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company) finished third on Stage 1 and now sit in second overall, 57 seconds behind SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing.
Matt Beers and Christopher Blevins (Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne), who started Stage 1 in the overall leader jerseys, dropped way back into the field. They finished 12th on the day and now sit in eighth place.
In the CM.com Women’s category, Amy Wakefield and Candice Lill (e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo) claimed Stage 1 while moving into the Women’s orange leader jerseys at the same time.
The CM.com Women’s category Prologue winners Sofia Gomez Villafane and Katerina Nash (NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized) seemed to battle in the latter parts of Stage 1 and eventually finished second, five-and-half minutes behind Lill and Wakefield.
For the first half of the CM.com Women’s race, the three leading teams were all together. Kim le Court and Vera Looser (Efficient Infiniti Insure) dropped off the pace before halfway, while Villafane and Nash opened up a small gap on Lill and Wakefield.
They were able to get away from the all-South African team when Wakefield had a seemingly innocuous collision with a tree. The post-race footage, however, showed that a branch had pierced her upper arm, with Lill looking on in shock. With no medics nearby, Wakefield tended to the wound as best she could with what the pair had available. “I could see muscle and fat in the gash, but didn’t see any blood, so I just taped it up and got back on the bike,” said Wakefield.
“I actually asked Amy if she wanted to abandon the race,” said Lill. “It was really bad, but Amy is so tough. She just took my duct tape, wrapped it around her bicep and carried on.”
Undeterred by the drama, the pair rode on, caught Villafane and Nash at 70km and then surged ahead.
“I can’t actually believe we won,” said a delighted Lill at the finish line. “I said to Amy after the crash, ‘let’s not worry about anything else, let’s just ride our own pace.’ Eventually, we caught Sofia and Kate and we just kept going.”
The Men’s race was less bruising, but still vicious and vibrant from the start, with 2022 Champions ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company launching attack after attack. The pair were relentless, giving the field little chance to catch its collective breath.
Beers and Blevins looked up for it in the first 40km, but Blevins appeared to struggle from 60km onwards and as the stage progressed the yellow jersey pair slipped further back into the chasing bunch.
On a route that offered a little bit of everything, from steep singletrack climbs to wild mountain descents that hadn’t seen motor vehicles in decades, the lead pack was made up of SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing, Wilier Pirelli Factory, ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company and Canyon Northwave MTB’s Andreas Seewald and Martin Stosek. The wind, roaring over the region's mountains at 90km/h and putting the television helicopter on the ground for much of the day, was a factor, but Baum and Egger never let up - until they couldn’t go anymore.
With around 20km of racing left, their early-stage efforts came back to bite them, with Egger suffering cramps. The decisive attack came when SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing and Wilier Pirelli Factory moved into the final singletrack descent ahead of Baum and Egger, leaving Seewald and Stosek behind too.
The final stretch of the race took the riders down a dirt road and then onto the tar before a singletrack section into the finish area. Rabensteiner and Alleman went first into the final trail and raced onto the home stretch; Schurter and Frischknecht wisely held back, knowing that they had taken yellow.
“That was an awesome stage that went really well for us,” said Schurter. “We tried not to go into the red too much and I think we managed that well. The racing was really fast and we just waited until we had an opportunity. I’m happy with the Stage 1 podium and thrilled to be in yellow. I love this race; it’s great when you can start it like this!”
The stage winners, Rabensteiner and Alleman, were also beaming after their efforts. “That was very tough; the wind made it very hard,” said Rabensteiner. “We got dropped two or three times in the wind, but we kept fighting back. In fact, the whole race was a fight today. When we sensed we had a chance we just went full gas all the way to the end. It was a great way to win the stage.”
Alleman added, “there were a lot of attacks from ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company, which made the racing very hard, but we just gave it everything. There’s still a long week ahead. Now we will take it day by day.”
Tune in to Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic live broadcast from 08:30 on Tuesday 21 March on the Absa Cape Epic Facebook page or the Epic Series YouTube channel.
2023 Absa Cape Epic Stage 1 Results:
- Wilier Pirelli Factory: Fabian Rabensteiner, Wout Alleman - 04:01:44.1
- SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing: Nino Schurter, Andri Frischknecht - 04:01:46.2 (+00:00:02.1)
- Orbea X Leatt X Speed Company Racing: Georg Egger, Lukas Baum – 04:02:05.8 (+00:00:21.7)
CM.com Women’s category:
- e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo.: Amy Wakefield, Candice Lill – 04:57:46.4
- NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Katerina Nash – 05:03:41.3 (+00:05:54.9)
- Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 05:08:55.2 (+00:11:08.8)
2023 Absa Cape Epic General Classification After Stage 1:
- SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing: Nino Schurter, Andri Frischknecht – 05:04:55.5
- Orbea X Leatt X Speed Company Racing: Georg Egger, Lukas Baum – 05:05:52.9 (+00:00:57.4)
- Canyon Northwave MTB: Andreas Seewald, Martin Stosek – 05:06:22.6 (+00:01:27.1)
CM.com Women’s category:
- e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo.: Amy Wakefield, Candice Lill – 06:17:14.1
- NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Katerina Nash – 06:22:38.8 (+00:05:24.7)
- Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 06:27:59.7 (+00:10:45.6)