Wednesday was a banner day for South African mountain biking on the 100-kilometer Stage 3 of the Absa Cape Epic, from Hermanus to Oak Valley, with local riders claiming stage victories in bot the men’s and women’s categories.
Matt Beers won the men’s stage alongside American partner, Durangoan Christopher Blevins (Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne), while Amy Wakefield and Candice Lill (e-FORT.net/SeattleCoffeeCo) won the transition stage in the CM.com women’s category.
Beers and Lill are the reigning SA Marathon Champions, while Wakefield was the 2022 South African Marathon Champion.
Another tactical ride and explosive finish gave Beers and Blevins their third stage win in four days. They also moved up one place from fifth to fourth in the men’s general classification and now sit seven minutes and 40 seconds behind GC leaders Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing). Georg Egger and Lukas Baum (ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company) are in second overall and Fabian Rabensteiner and Wout Alleman (Wilier Pirelli Factory) are in third.
For the first 18 kilometers, the men were all together, but from waterpoint one, five teams pulled away. The lead changed hands regularly among PYGA Euro Steel, SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing, ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company, Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne and Wilier Pirelli Factory. PYGA Euro Steel eventually faded.
There was minor drama when Schurter fell at the third waterpoint, followed by a tire issue for ORBEA x Leatt x Speed Company at the 75K mark. This allowed three teams to pull away, but Baum and Egger raced back impressively and with 10K to go, it was still anyone’s stage.
The finish featured singletrack turning into a wider road, this time a farm road instead of tar. Blevins – proving himself to be the master tactician of this year’s Absa Cape Epic – positioned himself among the riders in such a way that Matt Beers was able to surge ahead while Blevins controlled the pace of the chasers.
As soon as Beers had a sizable gap, Blevins put his head down and chased after his partner, convincingly riding away from the pack for the stage victory.
“The route made it hard today,” Blevins said. “The climb after Houw Hoek was brutally rough. The chasing group came back at Houw Hoek and everyone was jostling for position. We just made sure we were in the right place at the right time. The tactics are so much fun and a big part of the puzzle when you ride with a partner. I’m really enjoying it.”
“It’s crazy to get stage wins at the Absa Cape Epic,” Beers said. “Two years ago, I wouldn’t think that this was possible. I know the area well from other events, so Chris and I knew when to kick. It’s very satisfying. Stage racing is all about communication, and I think Chris and I have nailed that so far this week.”
The consecutive stage successes for Wakefield and Lill, meanwhile, cemented their overall lead in the CM.com women’s category. Sofia Gomez Villafane and Katerina Nash (NinetyOne-Songo-Specialized) finished second on the stage and now sit eight minutes back in second place overall.
The two teams immediately pulled away from the rest on Stage 3. At 70 kilometers, on the second last climb of the day, the South African pair made their move. Villafane and Nash fought back gamely, but on the next climb, Nash had no answer to the local knowledge and power of the South Africans.
“We sensed that they were battling to keep up with us,” Lill said. “So around 70 (kilometers) we attacked. We passed Sofia and Kate and put the hammer down. They caught us at first but then on the next climb, we managed to pull away. Both Amy and I know these trails so well, so we knew exactly what was coming and what we needed to do. We looked at the route this morning and thought today is the day where we can make time if we feel good.”