The pendulum in the Hansgrohe Women’s category at the Absa Cape Epic swung a little more toward a victory for Esther Suss and Jennie Stenerhag (Meerendal CBC) on Thursday with the duo adding another three minutes 40 seconds to their lead after the 112km Stage 4 from Greyton to Elgin.
The Meerendal CBC pair were able to take advantage of some bad luck at a crucial point in Thursday’s race when Sabine Spitz sliced the sidewall of her front tyre and she and partner Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health) were forced to let the race leaders ride off into the distance.
Ascendis Health’s problems also allowed the young Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro team of Mariske Strauss and Annie Last to claim second position on the stage, three minutes behind the race leaders, and consolidate their third position overall.
The disaster happened about 85km into the stage near the beginning of the long 15km Botrivier Pass, the main climb of the day just as the leading teams were starting to make their push for victory.
“We had a really bad sidewall cut pretty much on the pressure point on the day,” said Spitz’s partner, South African Robyn de Groot. “It was just really bad luck and our day changed from a matter of trying to gain anything we could on the leaders, to rather trying to limit our losses.
“The first portion of the climb was quite sandy with some sharp rocks and Sabine must have hit one at just the wrong angle. Her tyre was cut badly and went flat straight away.
“I don’t know how much time we lost. We were just too busy trying to get it right so we did not have to stop again.”
Stenerhag was content to take the win and even more pleased to have extended their overall lead to a solid 12 minutes 40 seconds with just three stages remaining.
“Obviously we are happy with the win,” said Stenerhag. “It is not that nice to win because of somebody else’s bad luck, but it is all racing and we have to be happy with the win and extend our lead a little bit.
“The stage wasn’t as hard as I expected. Almost all the ladies teams were together for the first 70km or something so it wasn’t that fast. But then obviously at the end with all the climbing that was hard.”
Although in a strong position with just three days of racing left, the Swede, who was forced to withdraw last year with health problems, is all too aware that things can still go wrong.
“We always want to win the stages and extend the lead as much as we can so we will keep riding hard tomorrow and not ride conservatively. It is mountain biking and you saw what happened to the others today – you are never safe.”
2017 Stage 4 Women
1. Meerendal CBC 52-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 52-2 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 5:05.58,2
2. Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro 54-1 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 54-2 Annie Last (England) 5:09.00,7 +3.02,5
3. Ascendis Health 51-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 51-2 Robyn de Groot (South Africa) 5:09.40,5 +3.42,3
1. Meerendal CBC 52-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 52-2 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 18:19.21,2
2. Ascendis Health 51-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 51-2 Robyn de Groot (South Africa) 18:32.01,3 +12.40,1
3. Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro 54-1 Mariske Strauss (South Africa) 54-2 Annie Last (England) 18:46.45,8 +27.24,6
4. Spur 50-1 Ariane Lüthi (Switzerland) 50-2 Adelheid Morath (Germany) 19:10.10,0 +50.48,8
5. DormaKaba SA 55-1 Candice Lill (South Africa) 55-2 Vera Adrian (Namibia) 19:15.33,6 +56.12,4
6. Hollard-Velocity Sports Lab 138-1 Carmen Buchacher (South Africa) 138-2 Michelle Vorster (Namibia) 19:29.05,8 +1:09.44,6
7. Meerendal CBC 2 53-1 Hielke Elferink (Netherlands) 53-2 Cornelia Hug (Switzerland) 19:33.35,4 +1:14.14,2
8. Merchants 438-1 Jeannie Bomford (South Africa) 438-2 Samantha Sanders (South Africa) 19:42.21,8 +1:23.00,6
9. LIVBeyond 667-1 Fienie Barnard (South Africa) 667-2 Dalene van der Leek (South Africa) 20:38.35,2 +2:19.14,0
10. Spur Foundation 57-1 Alice Pirard (Belgium) 57-2 Sabrina Enaux (France) 20:39.23,6 +2:20.02,4
* The 2017 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race is taking place until Sunday 26 March. Watch the action live on our website www.cape-epic.com