Friday was 110-km Queen stage of the Absa Cape Epic and, as promised, it delivered a royally entertaining race. Stage 5 saw two new stage winning teams, the first time Anna van der Breggen and Annika Langvad didn’t finish first in the women’s race, and another lead change in the hotly contested men’s race.
Local’s ascend to the throne in men’s on Queen Stage
Matthys Beukes and Philip Buys rebounded from a disappointing run at the GC standings by taking the stage win on Friday in Stellenbosch. The pair is the first fully South African team to win a Cape Epic stage since 2015, when Buys and Beukes last won a stage in the grueling mountain bike stage race.
The South African pair finished just in front of Scott-SRAM’s Nino Schurter and Lars Forster to win the Epic’s Queen stage. It was an especially emotional victory, with Beukes’ wife and daughter waiting for them at the finish line in Stellenbosch.
“This is really special after quite a disappointing race so far,” he said. “We came here with an overall podium as a goal, but it didn’t quite work out.”
When that goal was out of reach, the team switched tactics to take aim at a stage win.
To do it on the Queen Stage is amazing,” Beukes confirmed, though the feat was far from easy. “To be honest I didn’t feel that great today with dead legs from the start this morning. I had to dig so deep and it was just a mental thing to keep suffering and not give up and I’m really proud that we won that battle.”
Reversal of fortunes reverses men’s GC lead
With eight days of remote racing, far from assistance, crashes mechanical misfortune arent just a constant threat to racers. Dealing with those inevitable obstacles is part of every team’s race strategy. Cannondale Factory Racing were able to push Shurter and Forster to the brink in Stage 3 to assume the race lead when Forster flatted. Today, it was Fumic and Avancini on the defense. A couple digs in the dirt left the Cannondale team chasing, as Scott-SRAM went off the front with eventual stage-winners, PYGA Euro Steel.
“The plan was to make it hard from the beginning and put the pressure on Cannondale,” Nino Schurter said afterward. That plan faltered when Forster flatted, but the pair were able to recover and push their lead again. “We lost some time, but managed well and then we had the perfect situation in the front with Pyga.”
Early offensives from Avancini switched to defensive riding, with Fumic suffering from the effects of crashing combined with the previous days efforts. The pair would eventually finish fourth on the stage, but retain their second overall placing. They are now 5:13 behind Schurter and Forster with two stages of racing remaining.
Summit-Fin deliver first defeat to van der Breggen and Langvad
Annika Langvad, four time Cape Epic winner and five time marathon world champion, and her teammate, road world champion Anna van der Breggen, have been untouchable so far in the Cape Epic. That changed on Friday, when the German-South African Summit-Fin team handed the dominant Songo-Investec-Specialized team their first defeat.
Candice Lill and her German partner Adelheid Morath have been gaining strength all week, moving from third into second overall. On Friday’s Queen stage, they were the strongest and take their first win of the 2019 Cape Epic.
“We did not expect to win the stage,” Lill said after the race. “We knew the climbing suited us, but Annika and Anna are a pretty formidable pair, so to pull off this win is pretty special.”
The pair matched pace with van der Breggen and Langvad to form an early lead over the chasing field. Then van der Breggen crashed, puncturing in the process.
“Anna had a crash in front of me on an early descent and we got a gap and then just kept it steady until the end,” said Lill after the finish. “It was very hard out there today, those little bumps on the route profile never seemed to end. It just felt like non-stop climbing today.”
What started as a two minute lead half way through the stage turned into an advantage of 4:05 by the stages end, as van der Breggen struggled to regain rhythm after her crash.
“The beginning was fine,” said the Olympic Road Race Champion at the days end. “But after my crash I just felt really bad. Then when we fixed the tire we stood still for a while. All of that and then after the portage, I just felt really bad.”
Silverback-Fairtree’s Jennie Stenerhag and Mariske Strauss finished third on the stage, even after Strauss was taken down in a large crash when a rider when down in front of her. The result brings them within eight minutes of a podium position, as the third place Kross-Spur team continued to struggle on Friday. Maja Wloszczowska is battling a stomach bug, while Lüthi had a flat tire which would not hold air, forcing them to ride to the aid station on a slow leak.
Kelowna resident Sonya Looney remains in seventh with her FreakShow Scott teammate Catherine Williamson.