Andreas Seewald and Martin Stošek (Canyon Northwave MTB) won the 92km Stage 1 of the Absa Cape Epic with a controlled, well-paced ride from start to finish and claimed the Men's category leader jerseys in the process.
Riding smoothly and serenely throughout the stage, Seewald and Stošek were comfortable winners on a day when all the drama happened behind them.
Living up to their Prologue promise, Speed Company Racing's Georg Egger and Lukas Baum started brightly on the stage, as did SCOTT-SRAM's Nino Schurter and Lars Forster.
Maxine Marotte and Keegan Swenson (Santa Cruz), Hans Becking and Jose Dias (BUFF-MEGAMO), and Fabian Rabensteiner and Wout Alleman (Wilier-Pirelli) were all riding strongly too, slowly pulling away from the leader jersey wearers Matt Beers and Christopher Blevins (Toyota-NinetyOne-Specialized).
The nature of the race changed significantly just before the stage's main climb, where Schurter suffered his second rear tyre puncture in as many days. Once again, the team was unsuccessful with their repairs and eventually swapped out the rear wheel with a backup team. "It's hard to motivate yourself when you fall so far behind. It's very draining mentally," said Schurter, "But we did what we could and we will ride hard on Stage 2."
At the same time, Matt Beers was struggling with stomach issues, unable to keep any food down. The yellow jersey team slowly moved further down the field. "It was a real race out there," said Christopher Blevins. "That climb in the middle made it a tough day. Matt is such a champion for pushing on."
Beers added, "I'm not sure what happened. My stomach was giving me issues all day and I couldn't keep any food down. It was just one of those days. There was no option to quit; I just need to ride my way back into it from tomorrow."
Seewald and Stošek had no such issues, with Seewald, in particular, looking every inch the Mountain Bike Marathon World Champion he is. The eventual winners took the stage by the scruff of the neck going up the Saddle Climb and never relinquished their lead, finishing the stage two-and-a-half minutes ahead of BUFF-MEGAMO.
"We had no real concrete plan to attack the big climb, it just worked out that way," said Seewald. "We wanted to inflict some damage there, but we didn't think we could get away from everyone. We thought we would go hard and then the rest of the riders would catch us later. But things went our way with some of the teams struggling with mechanicals. We got a bit lucky, but once we were in front we just kept pushing on to the finish. It feels good to take the stage."
Martin Stošek said being in yellow is great, but added, "there is a lot of riding to come."
BUFF-MEGAMO finished second on the stage and now sit second in the general classification, just over five minutes off the leaders.
"It was super hot, dry, and dusty out there," said Hans Becking. "We knew we needed to get in front on the descents so we could actually see! It was very technical out there; it was a brutal Absa Cape Epic stage, not like last year where everything felt super smooth. Still, we had a good ride and we are very happy with second on the day and overall."
With 123km to come on Stage 2, marathon man Andreas Seewald will be licking his lips at the prospect of a long ride to inflict further damage on the chasing pack. In turn, the chasers will have to pull out all the stops on the race from Lourensford Wine Estate to Greyton.
Catch all the action during the Live Broadcast of Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic from 08:30 GMT+2 on https://www.cape-epic.com/.