The first-time Absa Cape Epic entrants moved into first place in the CM.com Women's category on Stage 1 last Monday and never looked back. With perfect stage race tactics throughout the event, they finished 12-and-a-half minutes ahead of second-placed Faces Rola (Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss).
On the final 68km Grand Finale stage from Stellenbosch to Val de Vie Estate, the CM.com Women's category race took on a familiar shape.
Early on in the stage NinetyOne-songo-Specialized and Faces Rola pulled away from the other women's teams, even with BMC MTB Racing's Pauline Ferrand-Prévot looking like she meant business at the start of the stage. BMC MTB Racing dropped away after a strong start, leaving NinetyOne-songo-Specialized and Faces Rola to contest The Trail to Val de Vie alone.
Ahead of the final stage, Candice Lill said she and Mariske Strauss would give everything to win Stage 7 of the 2022 Absa Cape Epic. They lived up to the promise by matching Batten and Villafane pedal stroke for pedal stroke.
Gómez Villafane appeared to struggle up the early climbs, but she and Batten pushed the South African team all the way. Lill dug in on the final climb of the day and eventually Faces Rola could get away. They rode home unbothered for an excellent stage victory.
"That was a dream race today," said Lill. "We fought really hard on that last climb to get an advantage. I could tell Sofia was struggling, although we were struggling too! Mariske and I went all in from the start today and it really paid off."
Strauss said it was an emotional finish. "I started getting really emotional with 10km to go. I knew we had it but was battling the emotions. I just had to keep pedalling."
Despite dropping behind Faces Rola with 10km to go, NinetyOne-songo-Specialized's overall lead was never in danger. Faces Rola crossed the line, and four minutes later Batten and Villafane arrived, waving at the crowd as they cruised down the final Absa Cape Epic finish line for the last time in 2022.
"This is just an un-freaking real feeling," said an overjoyed Haley Batten. "We had a good week. We didn't make too many mistakes and not much went wrong for us. Even on our weaker days, we were strong enough to limit any damage. It was tough out there. This event is so tough. I am so proud of our effort. The whole team was amazing. Everyone played their part to get us over the line in first place. The support at the Absa Cape Epic has been amazing. There is nothing like it anywhere else."
Villafane said the morning started with Batten determined to go for the stage win. "Haley was fired up in the morning. She told me she wanted to go for the win but I said I probably wouldn't have the legs. We kept up well with Candice and Mariske, but on that last climb I just tapped out. I didn't have anymore. But we knew the overall lead was big, so we could just roll on to the finish and enjoy the final few kilometres of what's been a special week of mountain biking."
If the racing over the past eight days has inspired you, entries to the 2023 Absa Cape Epic open on 28 March 2022 at 15:00 GMT+2 on cape-epic.com.
Stage 7 Results:
1) Faces Rola: 03:23:22.4
2) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: 03:27:20.1
3) BMC MTB Racing: 03:36:15.4
1) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: 33:41:11.3
2) Faces Rola: 33:53:43.3
3) BMC MTB Racing: 34:28:17.3
Tag(s): Absa Cape Epic