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.Tune in to the Live Broadcast of Stage 3 from 08:30 on www.cape-epic.com/.