Matt Beers and Christopher Blevins (Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne) won Stage 6 of the Absa Cape Epic - their fifth stage win of the event - and moved into second place on the general classification at the same time on Saturday, 25 March.
Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) moved back into the overall lead after finishing second on the stage. They sit 90 seconds ahead of Beers and Blevins with one day of racing to go. Lukas Baum and Georg Egger (ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company), after a day of wild weather and high drama, sit in third overall, five-and-a-half minutes off the lead.
In the CM.com Women’s category, Kim le Court and Vera Looser (Efficient Infiniti Insure) claimed a hat-trick of stage wins by winning Stage 6, riding into the overall orange leader jerseys in the process. Amy Wakefield and Candice Lill (e-FORT.net | SeattleCoffeeCo) finished fourth on Stage 6, losing more than 30 minutes to the new category leaders.
Both the Men’s and the CM.com Women’s races were heavily impacted by mechanical issues for the leading teams, on a day of racing that many elite riders called one of the toughest ever. Rain fell throughout the 73km stage, turning climbs into sticky streams of clay and singletrack descents into treacherous mud baths.
Around 33km into the CM.com Women’s category race, Wakefield broke the rim on her back wheel after hitting a hole and was forced to ride 8km to the next tech zone without a rear tyre. Up until that point, Wakefield, Lill, Looser and Le Court were riding together comfortably.
The broken rim changed everything and from that moment on, Wakefield and Lill dropped further and further behind, eventually finishing 39 minutes after stage winners Looser and Le Court. The new Orange jersey leaders will start the final stage with a 25-minute lead over Wakefield and Lill.
In the Men’s race, ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company also suffered from a mechanical issue around 40km into the stage, causing them to drop off the lead bunch.
Before their mishap, Baum and Egger had been riding at the front of the Stage 6 race with Blevins and Beers. Those four riders had taken control when Nino Schurter had to drop back to assist the ailing Andri Frischknecht.
Baum and Egger’s setback clearly reignited the fire in Frischknecht, though, and he and Schurter were able to race home for second. The time lost by Baum and Egger allowed Schurter and Frischknecht to leapfrog them into the overall lead once again.
Beers and Blevins looked in control throughout their Stage 6 ride. The American started the day by rising early to watch his beloved LA Lakers play. His team won and Blevins noted on that start line that the Lakers' success was a good omen. That turned out to be the case as he and Beers dominated the day, looking strong even before Baum and Egger were forced to stop for repairs.
“We did see Lukas and Georg stop,” said Blevins. “We heard something but we weren’t entirely sure what happened so we just kept our heads down and carried on racing. That’s just the Cape Epic, though, anything can happen, especially in the conditions we had today.”
Blevins said the key to success in the wet for the team was to stay smooth and stay upright on the bike. “It was just brutal out there. We had the right tyres on but it’s so difficult to race in those conditions. It was so muddy and going down the singletrack was incredibly slow.”
SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing’s Andri Frischknecht echoed Blevins’s comments. “Wow. That was super tough,” he said. “I struggled to keep pace at the start but then started to feel better as the day went on. Once we passed Lukas and Georg, I was motivated to get back into yellow. I just want to say kudos to everyone who finished that stage because it really was tricky out there.”
For Looser and Le Court in the CM.com Women’s category, the emotions of the stage win, moving into the orange leader jerseys and just finishing the stage was almost too much, with Le Court fighting back the tears in the post-ride interview.
“I went through the same ditch as Amy,” said Le Court. “I was just lucky. It’s probably my hardest day on a bike. I just tried to keep safe the whole ride, but I still almost fell a few times. I think the tears might just be the mud coming out of my eyes, but I don’t know.”
Vera Looser said it was a dream come true to start the final day wearing the orange leader jerseys. “To pull it off today was really special. It was muddy, sticky, bouncy, dodgy, windy - we really had to work hard out there.”
With a sizeable lead going into the 80km Stage 7, Looser and Le Court are taking nothing for granted. “It’s still a long 80km,” said Looser. “I won’t get too excited until we cross that finish line,” added Le Court.
2023 Absa Cape Epic Stage 6 Results:
1. Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne: Matthew Beers, Christopher Blevins – 03:26:48.9
2. SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing: Nino Schurter, Andri Frischknecht – 03:30:56.2 (+00:04:07.2)
3. Bulls Mavericks: Alban Lakata, Axel Roudil-Cortinat – 03:33:46.7 (+00:06:57.7)
CM.com Women’s category:
1. Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 04:30:02.9
2. NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Katerina Nash – 04:43:00.7 (+00:12:57.8)
3. Cannondale Vas Arabay: Greete STEINBURG, Monica Yuliana CALDERON MARTINEZ – 04:46:00.2 (+00:15:57.3)
2023 Absa Cape Epic General Classification After Stage 6:
1. SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing: Nino Schurter, Andri Frischknecht – 23:07:54.8
2. Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne: Matthew Beers, Christopher Blevins – 23:09:27.2 (+00:01:32.4)
3. Orbea X Leatt X Speed Company Racing: Georg Egger, Lukas Baum – 23:13:27.0 (+00:05:32.2)
CM.com Women’s category:
1. Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 29:08:28.7
2. e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo.: Amy Wakefield, Candice Lill – 29:33:41.4 (+00:25:12.7)
3. NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Katerina Nash – 29:35:48.7 (+00:27:20.0)
View the full Stage 6 results here.