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Penultimate Stage Proves Pivotal At 2024 Absa Cape Epic

By Absa Cape Epic , 03/23/24, 3:30AM HST


It appears that only major disasters can prevent Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne (Matt Beers and Howard Grotts) and GHOST Factory Racing (Anne Terpstra and Nicole Koller) from winning the Men’s and Aramex Women’s Category respectively at the 2024 Absa Cape Epic.

On the 87km Stage 6 in Stellenbosch, the event’s penultimate day of racing, Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne and GHOST Factory racing once again dominated their categories, winning the stage and extending their leads in the overall general classification at the same time.

Beers and Grotts go into Sunday’s Stage 7, known as the Grand Finale, nine minutes clear of second-placed World Bicycle Relief (Nino Schurter and Sebastian Fini) in the general classification, while in the Aramex Women’s Category, Terpstra and Koller hold a lead of just under four minutes over Cannondale Factory Racing (Candice Lill and Mona Mitterwallner) with the final day of racing to come.

In the men’s race on Stage 6, the gig was up for World Bicycle Relief after an early crash for multiple World Champion Nino Schurter. No damage was done, but Schurter decided soon after that he and Fini were out of the running for the overall title. Instead, they rode the stage as hard as possible to focus on second place.

With World Bicycle Relief dropping down the field, a few new contenders for the stage emerged, with Beers and Grotts always cool and calm at or near the front.

Scott Calabandida | Mazowsze (Sergio Gutierrez and Pawel Bernas) had a turn as leaders of the pack, as did BUFF - MEGAMO (Hans Becking and Wout Alleman), Wilier Vittoria Factory (Fabian Rabensteiner and Samuele Porro) and Canyon SIDI (Andreas Seewald and Marc Stutzmann).

Scott Calabandida | Mazowsze dropped off the pace, while the Canyon SIDI challenge faded towards the end of the stage, leaving Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne, BUFF - MEGAMO and Wilier Vittoria Factory alone at the front for the final third of the race.

Becking and Alleman then fell back after a puncture at the 75km point, leaving Beers, Grotts, Rabensteiner and Porro with a clear run to the Stellenbosch race village with 11km to go.

It looked like Wilier Vittoria Factory would take the win, but Beers noticed Samuele Porro struggling on the trails. Knowing there was only a short but steep climb to come, Beers alerted Grotts to the situation, and the pair powered past Rabensteiner and Porro on the final climb to race home comfortably in front of an enthusiastic crowd.

“The day just worked out perfectly,” said Grotts. “We wanted to play it safe, minimise the risks and just ride a steady race today. The plan worked and towards the end, we were able to pull away for another stage win. This race is far from over though and we have to stay focussed going into the last day.”

Beers added, “Today was so good. It was quite an ‘easy’ ride for much of the stage. I think everyone is quite tired so the pace was not as hot as it had been at the start of the stage. But I knew we could do something today if we just kept it steady; the climbs on today’s route suit Howard. I just had to hang on while he climbed. I could see Samuele was struggling on the switchbacks so we knew he was on the edge. We just attacked on that last hill and moved past nicely.”

While anything can happen on the last day of racing, Schurter all but conceded defeat. “We don’t really have a chance to win this Cape Epic now so we will fight for second on the last day. Although today was a hard day for us, so we will need to see how we recover tonight.”

Sensational seven

In the Aramex Women’s Category, Anne Terpstra and Nicole Koller continued their 2024 Cape Epic dominance and claimed their seventh stage with a commanding performance. They are now one stage victory away from matching the eight stage wins of Sina Frei and Laura Stigger in 2021.

Stage 6 started with everything to play for in the women’s race. Cannondale Factory Racing sat just two minutes and 50 seconds off the overall lead on Saturday morning and would have fancied their chances on the trails of Stellenbosch. As has been the case all week, GHOST Factory Racing, Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne and Cannondale Factory Racing set the early pace.

Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne (Sofia Gomez Villafane and Samara Sheppard) launched an early attack in an effort to pull away, but this appeared to do more harm than good, as Villafane was soon spotted giving Sheppard a push on one of the route’s less industrious climbs. By the 50km point of the race, Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne found themselves a minute behind GHOST Factory Racing and Cannondale Factory Racing.

It remained that way for the rest of the race until the final 6km when Terpstra and Koller decided to put the hammer down and race home to the finish. Lill and Mitterwallner, who have given everything all week, just couldn’t go with the Orange Jersey leaders.

“Today was so cool,” said Koller. “It was really, really tough but we stuck to our plan and it worked. Every time we have tried something this week, it has worked. It’s been an unbelievable experience. Anything can happen though and we just try to make the best out of every day. The racing is to the finish line and that is only tomorrow. We take nothing for granted!”

Terpstra added, “We’d like to go for eight wins but we will see how we feel tomorrow. We know the trails out here well and we love riding in Stellenbosch, so we are looking forward to a good, tough day again.”

Cannondale Factory Racing’s Mona Mitterwallner knows that the best-laid plans can fall apart in a flash at the Absa Cape Epic, so she and Lill will chase hard to the finish.

“Today was another day of trying,” said Mitterwallner. “It was just not enough. Candice was super strong but I just didn’t have enough. The GHOST team has an answer to everything we try, but when we look back at Absa Cape Epics, we know the Orange Jersey can change on the last day. We are not giving up and everything is to play for; it's not over.”

Lill echoed her partner’s sentiments. “We have given it our all every day. We have nothing to lose on the Grand Finale so will give everything we have from start to finish tomorrow.”

The Grand Finale is a 67km race on some of Stellenbosch's most iconic trails, taking riders into Jonkershoek, through Eden and down G-Spot, finishing at the Coetzenberg Sports Fields. Expect raucous racing and a surprise or two as teams jostle for their final position of the 2024 Absa Cape Epic.

*Early bird entries for the 2025 Absa Cape Epic open on 25 March 2024 at 15:00 (GMT+2) and are sold on a first come first served basis. Early Bird Entries are highly limited with only 150 available. For those not successful with an early bird entry, The Lottery is already open and the first draw will take place on the 28th of March 2024.