There were no changes in the overall category leads of the Absa Cape Epic after Stage 2, with both the men’s and women’s leaders holding on to their yellow and orange leader jerseys respectively, after 116km of racing on Tuesday, 21 March.
In the Men’s race, Matt Beers and Christopher Blevins (Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne) won Stage 2, while in the CM.com Women’s Category, Vera Looser and Kim le Court (Efficient Infiniti Insure) took the honours. Orange leader jersey wearers Candice Lill and Amy Wakefield (e-FORT.net | SeattleCoffeeCo) finished third on the stage and retained their five-minute gap overall at the top of the Women’s Category.
Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) remain in yellow in the general classification, now with a handy three-minute lead over second-placed Georg Egger and Lukas Baum (ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company). Thanks to their excellent ride, Beers and Blevins jumped up from eighth to fifth in the overall standings.
In both the Men’s and the CM.com Women’s races, the riding was tense and tactical. The men started at a furious pace, charging towards the village of Stanford. Early pacesetters included Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne, SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing, ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company, Wilier Pirelli Factory, Canyon Northwave MTB, PYGA Euro Steel and Imbuko TypeDev. The lead bunch went through the 42km mark in a time of one hour and 11 minutes, barely noticing the festive Stanford revellers and party boat as they crossed the Thirsti floating bridge ahead of the water point.
The pretenders eventually fell by the wayside, leaving Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne, SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing, ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company, and Wilier Pirelli Factory’s Fabian Rabensteiner and Wout Alleman alone in the front.
With a flat start, a tough middle section punctuated by two big climbs, and an undulating final 30km, there was little margin for error. Blevins, having recovered well from his Stage 1 ailment, pushed the pace, but no one was able to make a clean break for victory as the well-matched teams kept each other in check.
Wilier Pirelli fell back at 92km, and at around 100km, ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company started to struggle. First, they ran out of water, then they had a slight collision in the sand, followed by a stick in the derailleur. The minor incidents stacked up, forcing them to drop off and chase back repeatedly. The mishaps allowed the final 10km to turn into a two-team race between SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing and Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne.
Schurter led into the final singletrack, but as the two teams popped out onto the tar home stretch, Matt Beers mashed his monstrous legs and raced away. Frischknecht attempted to follow, but it was Blevins who had the energy to chase and ultimately rode home comfortably alongside his Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne partner for the Stage 2 win.
“With Andri and Nino you can’t get past them in the singletrack so I knew we had to do it on the tar. I also can’t sprint, so the tar was our best shot,” said Beers. “Chris told me to send a flyer when we hit the road; I did and it worked out really well. You can’t ask for more.”
Blevins added that the stage win was a confidence booster. “It’s very motivating to bounce back with a stage win after a day like yesterday. It’s still a long week and there is a lot of racing to come, but we are happy for now!”
In the CM.com Women’s category, the three top teams raced together all day. They were joined for a short while by a handful of other women’s teams, but their class told as the day wore on.
With Amy Wakefield recovering from late-night surgery to her arm injury and dealing with a lack of sleep, the onus was on Sofia Gomez Villafane and Katerina Nash (NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized) or Efficient Infiniti Insure to attack at some stage. For Wakefield and Lill, the aim was always to ride defensively on the day and make sure no team was able to eat into their overall lead.
On a stage that featured few opportunities for decisive moves, the three women’s teams couldn't be separated. Looser and Le Court eventually made the killer move with 5km to go, though Looser misjudged her attack slightly, thinking she only had a kilometre or two left of the racing.
Le Court, initially stuck behind NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized, was eventually able to chase down her partner and the pair raced away to give the all-African combo a deserved stage victory.
“There was a little step over this bridge,” said Looser. “It could almost have been stairs; I rode over and I saw that Sofia stopped for a second and had to dismount. I thought ‘now is my chance’ and just put my head down knowing that Kim could sprint away from them and catch me. I saw a sign and was hoping that it said 2km or 1km to go, then I saw that it said 5km to go and I thought ‘no, my legs.’ Then I looked back and saw Kim. I was very happy that she was there!”
Le Court added, “I put in the attack and saw they couldn’t catch me. I caught Vera and thought I was going to throw up… but I held on to the end, burning to the finish. We are thrilled to win. It was a great day.”
Wakefield and Lill were satisfied with their ride, happy to not lose any time in the overall lead. “I’m feeling ‘okay’,” said Wakefield, after the injury and surgery on Monday night. “I won’t lie, I felt every bump and I’m pretty sore. But it is what it is and I had to take it to get through the stage.”
Lill was slightly more impressed with her partner, labelling her a superwoman. “Amy is amazing,” she said. “It was a good race today, tight and tactical. We raced hard in parts and took it easier in other parts. It was a long day, but we're still in Orange. That’s where we want to be.”
Tune in to Stage 3 of the Absa Cape Epic live broadcast from 08:30 on Wednesday 22 March on the Absa Cape Epic Facebook page or the Epic Series YouTube channel.
2023 Absa Cape Epic Stage 2 Results:
1. Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne - Matthew Beers, Christopher Blevins - 04:20:31.3.1
2. SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing: Nino Schurter, Andri Frischknecht - 04:20:46.9 (+00:00:15.5)
3. Orbea X Leatt X Speed Company Racing: Georg Egger, Lukas Baum – 04:23:05 (+00:02:33.6)
CM.com Women’s category:
1. Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 05:28:42.6
2. NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Katerina Nash – 05:28:47.1 (+00:00:04.4)
3. e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo.: Amy Wakefield, Candice Lill – 05:28:47.8 (+00:00:05.2)
2023 Absa Cape Epic General Classification After Stage 2:
1. SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing: Nino Schurter, Andri Frischknecht – 09:25:42.4
2. Orbea X Leatt X Speed Company Racing: Georg Egger, Lukas Baum – 09:28:57.9 (+00:03:15.5)
3. Wilier Pirelli Factory: Fabian Rabensteiner, Wout Alleman – 09:30:41.7 (+00:04:59.2)
CM.com Women’s category:
1. e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo.: Amy Wakefield, Candice Lill – 11:46:02.0
2. NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Katerina Nash – 11:51:25.9 (+00:05:24)
3. Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 11:56:42.3 (+00:10:40.4)
View the full Stage 2 results here.