Matt Beers and Christopher Blevins (Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne) won the 2023 Absa Cape Epic at Val de Vie Estate in Paarl on Sunday, 26 March. In the CM.com Women’s category, Vera Looser and Kim le Court (Efficient Infiniti Insure) are the 2023 Champions.
The Men’s race on Stage 7 of the Absa Cape Epic - the Grand Finale - was won by Lukas Baum and Georg Egger (ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company). In the Cm.com Women’s race, Greete Steinburg and Monica Yuliana Calderon Martinez (Cannondale Vas Arabay) took stage honours.
All eyes, though, were on the overall standings when the final day of racing began at Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West. Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) started Stage 7 in the yellow Ciovita leader jerseys, 90 seconds ahead of the second-placed Blevins and Beers and five-and-a-half minutes ahead of 2022 winners, Egger and Baum.
Frischknecht has had to dig deep all week on the brutal climbs of The Untamed African Mountain Bike Race, so it was no surprise that the early attack from the chasing teams came on the very first “Saddle” climb out of Lourensford. Schurter countered, but SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing had no answer to the power of Beers and Blevins as the South Africa-United States combo powered away. From that moment on, SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing continued to fall back.
Beers and Blevins rode alone for much of the first 20km, with Baum, Egger and Singer Racing (Martin Frey and Simon Stiebjahn) joining the lead bunch before the climb up Botmaskop. Also in attendance was lone Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne 2 rider, Tristan Nortje, riding in support of his A team.
That was the status of the Men’s race until the final 20km, when Baum and Egger made a surprise surge for the finish line. They couldn’t drop the Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne team or Singer Racing and all three teams made it to the Val de Vie Estate finish area together.
Frey and Stiebjahn, content to ride hard but not interfere in the general classification race, looked to have set themselves up for a stage win - until Martin Frey inexplicably went flying over the handlebars on the home stretch.
Stiebjahn powered ahead, not realising his partner was in a heap on the grass. The crash allowed Baum and Egger to take stage honours, with Beers and Blevins calmly rolling over the line, ready for the official timer to kick in.
Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne knew they’d put some time into the lead of SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing, and sensed it was enough for the overall win, but it was only when the time passed a minute-and-a-half, with Schurter and Frischknecht nowhere to be seen, that they knew the 2023 Absa Cape Epic title was theirs.
“We knew from last night that there was only one way to win today, and that was to go for it right from the start,” said Christopher Blevins. “We train so hard for these races and went through so much this week; it’s very special and satisfying when it all comes together like it did today. We heard bits and pieces of news from the route, so we knew we were ahead but you never really know. The only answer is to keep going as hard as you can. We suffered out there from start to finish but it’s worth it and such an honour to win the Absa Cape Epic.”
Matt Beers, now a two-time champion of the Absa Cape Epic, was thrilled with the performance and the crowd support. “That was a great win, not just the ride today, but the entire week. We had to come from a really dark place after battling on Stage 1 and I think that just shows how strong our partnership is and how much we believe in each other. We both really helped each other this week. There was so much crowd support out there for us; I think we rode that last stage on pure adrenalin. I am completely spent now.”
In the CM.com Women’s category, the efforts of the week seemed to finally take their toll on Amy Wakefield and Candice Lill (e-FORT.net | SeattleCoffeeCo). After a freak accident and subsequent surgery for Wakefield, and the drama of the broken rim on Stage 6, the e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo pair dropped off the pace early into the Grand Finale.
Orange jersey wearers Looser and Le Court led the stage throughout the 80km, alongside eventual stage winners Steinburg and Calderon (Cannondale Vas Arabay). There was little incident to speak of in the Women’s race, with the leading two teams seemingly happy to ride together. Once on the Val de Vie Estate finish stretch, Le Court and Looser dropped back slightly, allowing Cannondale Vas Arabay to take the stage.
“This is amazing,” said Steinburg of the team’s stage win. “This is our first season together and to win the Grand Finale of the Absa Cape Epic is something incredibly special. We started well, stuck with the leaders and just kept going.”
The 2023 Absa Cape Epic Champion in the CM.com Women’s category, Kim Le Court, could barely get her words out. “We did it” was all she could muster as champagne sprayed all around her.
“This is such an amazing feeling,” added Looser. “It’s been a long hard week and we had to dig really deep, but we made it. I think we need a week or two to let it sink in!”
Taking a moment to compose herself, Le Court added, “we had a reasonable time gap this morning, so we knew we just had to ride well and stay consistent. We were happy to let Cannondale Vas Arabay do the work at the front. We did say to them ‘if you guys do the work you can have the glory of the stage win and we’ll have the glory of the overall win’.”
For Wakefield and Lill, it was a brutal week of emotions but they still managed to finish the final stage with smiles. “Yesterday I was so bleak,” admitted Wakefield. “But then I looked at all the messages on social media and I was in tears. I was so touched by the support. You couldn’t make up the things that happened to us this week, but we just kept going.”
Lill added succinctly, “It’s been an insane week. We’ve been through all the highs and lows.” Proof, yet again, that anything can happen at the Absa Cape Epic.
2023 Absa Cape Epic Stage 7 Results:
1. Orbea X Leatt X Speed Company: Georg Egger, Lukas Baum – 03:07:26.4
2. Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne: Matthew Beers, Christopher Blevins – 03:07:36.7 (+00:00:10.3)
3. Singer Racing: Simon Stiebjahn, Martin Frey – 03:08:22.7 (+00:00:56.2)
CM.com Women’s category:
1. Cannondale Vas Arabay: Greete Steinburg, Monica Yuliana Calderon Martinez – 04:02:50.5
2. Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 04:03:08.9 (+00:00:18.4)
3. e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo.: Amy Wakefield, Candice Lill – 04:10:20.8 (+00:07:30.3)
2023 Absa Cape Epic General Classification After Stage 7:
1. Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne: Matthew Beers, Christopher Blevins – 26:17:04
2. Orbea X Leatt X Speed Company: Georg Egger, Lukas Baum – 26:20:53.5 (+00:03:49.5)
3. SCOTT-SRAM MTB-Racing: Nino Schurter, Andri Frischknecht – 26:21:15.6 (+00:04:11.5)
CM.com Women’s category:
1. Efficient Infiniti Insure: Kim le Court, Vera Looser – 33:11:37.7
2. e-FORT. net | SeattleCoffeeCo.: Amy Wakefield, Candice Lill – 33:44:02.3 (+00:32:24.6)
3. NinetyOne-songo-Specialized: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Katerina Nash – 33:54:55.4 (+00:43:17.7)
View the full Stage 7 results here.