After a dominant and textbook marathon mountain biking display yesterday, disaster struck for Canyon Northwave MTB as Martin Stosek woke up ill with gastroenteritis ruling the team out of the race. Andreas Seewald would still continue as a solo rider but start a few batches later so as not to have any effect on the racing dynamics. That's the nature of the Absa Cape Epic - and the cumulative effects of the previous day's racing has a tendency to weaken the immune system and gradually break down the body.
Stage 4's 'shorter distance' of 73km/1750m was nothing to be scoffed at and the expected intensity would force major fractures in the general classification, both in the men's and women's race. The Slanghoek Valley in the Western Cape is known for its incredible singletrack which features technical features and unforgiving surfaces but also scorching ambient temperatures - the latter of which is going to become a veritable factor in the coming days as both rain and heat is predicted to play out over the final three stages.
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Buff Scott MTB's Hans Becking and Jose Diaz started the day with the mission of winning the stage, and they made their move early in the morning - the tempo was ferocious and the splits started almost immediately. With the news of Canyon Northwave MTB's withdrawal, Bulls 1 and Bulls 2 would jump a position each and inherit second and third position respectively on the GC.
The shorter nature of stage 4 would only mean a faster pace, and subsequently, show up any weaknesses very quickly - no hiding today. Leaders NinetyOne-songo-Specialized would feel no threat from Buff Scott's attack (down 16 minutes on the GC) but would need to keep a close eye on the two Bulls teams and Trek-Pirelli. For Jordan Sarrou and Matthew Beers it would be a day of consolidation with no real threats coming their way.
In fact, they'd gain even more time on the general classification as Team Bulls' Urs Huber and Simon Schneller were jettisoned early on in the stage. It seemed Schneller was taking serious strain, and battling the effects of a stomach bug himself. The Bulls team would ultimately lose a massive 21 minutes, dropping them to 6th on the GC with their backup team - Bulls 2 - coming home in third position on the day.
"We are happy to be second in GC. I feel sorry for the Canyon Northwave MTB guys and our guys (Team Bulls) and I hope they get well soon," said Simon Stiebjahn. "We'd like to step up by ourselves and not this way but we will continue."
After a superb stage win, Buff Scott MTB now find themselves just five minutes off third position on the overall - and will no doubt try another attack tomorrow to try claw back further time on their rivals. A new-look general classification sees NinetyOne-songo-Specialized increase their lead to over six minutes over Simon Stiebjann and Martin Frey of Bulls 2 and nearly 11 minutes over Trek-Pirelli's Fabian Rabensteiner and Samuele Porro.
There's a lot of rain expected to fall overnight which might bring another dynamic and animate things even further on Stage 5's 84km and 2900m roller-coaster around Wellington.
For 91-songo-Specialized's Sina Frei and Laura Stigger it was business as usual as the cross-country specialists continued their dominance in the women’s race. Team Salusmed would make their mark early showing their intentions of winning back some time on the GC. This, however, was a short lived move and the Swiss/South African combination began to fall back after the 40km time check.
This gave Team Faces CST's Mariske Strauss and Candice Lill the opportunity to excel after starting the day a little slower than usual. The South Africans managed to get into their groove and would eventually claw back two minutes from Team Salusmed, finishing second on the day.
"I think today was not the perfect day for us and we had some struggles early on, said Lill. "On days like these teamwork shows, and we did a good job to come home in second."
Barring incident, the women's GC looks cemented with 91-songo-Specialized now a respective 17- and 28 minutes ahead of Team Salusmed and Faces CST on the GC. Team Fairtree's Jennie Stenerhag and Amy McDougall find themselves over an hour adrift in fourth place overall.