It was a banner day for South African mountain biking on the 100km Hermanus to Oak Valley Stage 3 of the Absa Cape Epic, with local riders claiming stage victories in the Men’s and CM.com Women’s categories on Wednesday, 22 March.
Amy Wakefield and Candice Lill (e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo) won the transition stage in the CM.com Women’s category, while Matt Beers won the Men’s Stage 3 race alongside American partner Christopher Blevins (Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne).
Lill and Beers are the reigning SA Marathon Champions, while Wakefield was the 2022 South African Marathon Champion.
The consecutive stage successes for Wakefield and Lill further cemented their overall lead in the CM.com Women’s category. Sofia Gomez Villafane and Katerina Nash (NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized) now sit eight minutes back in second place overall.
Another tactical ride and explosive finish gave Beers and Blevins their third stage win in four days. They also moved up one place from fifth to fourth in the men’s general classification.
Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne now sit seven minutes and 40 seconds behind GC leaders Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) with Georg Egger and Lukas Baum (ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company) in second overall and Fabian Rabensteiner and Wout Alleman (Wilier Pirelli Factory) in third.
As with every stage of the 2023 Absa Cape Epic so far, Stage 3 started with a bang. Phil Buys and Alex Miller (PYGA Euro Steel) flew out of the start chute, closely followed by the bunch.
For the first 18km, the Men were all together, but from waterpoint one, five teams pulled away. The lead changed hands regularly between PYGA Euro Steel, SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing, ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company, Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne and Wilier Pirelli Factory. PYGA Euro Steel eventually faded and turned the stage into a four-team race.
There was minor drama when Nino Schurter fell at the third waterpoint, followed by a tyre issue for ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company at 75km. This allowed three teams to pull away, but Baum and Egger raced back impressively. With 10km to go it was anyone’s stage.
As with Stage 2, the finish featured singletrack turning into a wider road, this time a farm road instead of tar. Blevins –– proving himself to be the master tactician of this year’s Absa Cape Epic –– positioned himself between the riders in such a way that Matt Beers was able to surge ahead while Blevins controlled the pace of the chasers.
As soon as Beers had a sizeable gap, Blevins put his head down and chased after his partner, convincingly riding away from the pack for the stage victory. The strategy left Lukas Baum unimpressed, with the German rider utilising some fruity language to describe the entirely legitimate and intelligent Blevins move.
“The route made it hard today,” said Blevins. “The climb after Houw Hoek was brutally rough. The chasing group came back at Houw Hoek and everyone was jostling for position. We just made sure we were in the right place at the right time. The tactics are so much fun and a big part of the puzzle when you ride with a partner. I’m really enjoying it.”
Beers was delighted with another stage victory and his Absa Cape Epic progress in general. “It’s crazy to get stage wins at the Absa Cape Epic,” he said.
“Two years ago I wouldn’t think that this was possible. I know the area well from other events, so Chris and I knew when to kick. It’s very satisfying. Stage racing is all about communication and I think Chris and I have nailed that so far this week.”
Schurter and Frischknecht rolled across the line in fourth for the stage. They remain in the yellow leader jerseys and take a considerable three-minute lead over Baum and Egger in second into tomorrow’s Stage 4.
The CM.com Women’s category race followed a similar pattern to Stage 2. At the start, Sofia Gomez Villafane and Katerina Nash (NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized), Amy Wakefield and Candice Lill (e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo) and Kim Le Court and Vera Looser (Efficient Infiniti Insure) immediately pulled away from the rest.
They remained together for almost half the stage until Looser and Le Court started to drop behind after 50km.
NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized and e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo surged ahead, but it was clear that Wakefield and Lill were getting stronger as the day wore on.
Both South African riders know the region intimately and at 70km, on the second last climb of the day, the pair made their move. Villafane and Nash fought back gamely, but on the next climb, Nash had no answer to the local knowledge and power of the South Africans.
“We sensed that they were battling to keep up with us,” said Lill. “So around 70km we attacked. We passed Sofia and Kate and put the hammer down. They caught us at first but then on the next climb, we managed to pull away. Both Amy and I know these trails so well, so we knew exactly what was coming and what we needed to do. We looked at the route this morning and thought today is the day where we can make time if we feel good.”
Wakefield said she took some strain on the stage but praised her partner for her mental and physical fortitude. “I did go through some dark places today," she commented, explaining how Candice was there to help when she needed it. "My arm is actually fine, that’s old news! It was the riding where I struggled in parts today. But we pushed through and we’re happy with the lead and another stage win.”
Tune in to Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic live broadcast from 07:30 on Wednesday 22 March on the Absa Cape Epic Facebook page or the Epic Series YouTube channel.
2023 Absa Cape Epic Stage 3 Results:
1. Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne - Matthew Beers, Christopher Blevins - 04:07:11.1
2. Orbea X Leatt X Speed Company Racing: Georg Egger, Lukas Baum - 04:07:12.6 (+00:00:01.4)
3. Wilier Pirelli Factory: Fabian Rabensteiner, Wout Alleman – 04:07:13.3 (+00:00:02.1)
CM.com Women’s category:
1. e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo.: Amy Wakefield, Candice Lill– 04:59:42.6
2. NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Katerina Nash – 05:02:40 (+00:02:57.4)
3. Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 05:08:24.7 (+00:08:42.1)
2023 Absa Cape Epic General Classification After Stage 3:
1. SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing: Nino Schurter, Andri Frischknecht – 13:32:57.7
2. Orbea X Leatt X Speed Company Racing: Georg Egger, Lukas Baum – 13:36:10.6 (+00:03:12.9)
3. Wilier Pirelli Factory: Fabian Rabensteiner, Wout Alleman – 13:37:55.3 (+00:04:57.3)
CM.com Women’s category:
1. e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo.: Amy Wakefield, Candice Lill – 16:45:44.6
2. NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Katerina Nash – 16:54:06 (+00:08:21.4)
3. Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 17:05:07.1 (+00:19:22.5)
View the full Stage 3 results here.