With the final step of the overall podium still on offer, it was open season for the Buff Scott MTB combination of Hans Becking and Jose Dias on the final stage of the 2021 Absa Cape Epic. With no real technical sections or singletrack on offer, the wide open gravel roads would mean high speeds and the possibility of a breakaway.
Stage 7 of the Cape Epic is traditionally shorter than the previous stages but not any easier - today's menu would feature 68km and 1850m of climbing over some of the Western Cape's most prestigious wine farms. Riders would need to be aware of the increased likelihood of ruts and trail erosion from the rain that fell two days ago but, compared to some of the earlier stages, the Grand Finale would represent a fairly straightforward affair.
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As expected, the stage got off to a super-fast start and a leading group was quickly established. There were no surprises as to who comprised this group with Buff Scott MTB, NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, the two Bulls teams, Trek-Pirelli and the Absa African jersey leaders, Pyga Euro Steel 2 making up the numbers. Gaps quickly formed as the group negotiated a trinity of steep ascents - Patatskloof, Beulah and the Hawequa climb. It was on the Hawequa climb where Hans Becking and Jose Dias tightened the screw with overall leaders NinetyOne-songo-Specialized the only team able to go with them.
Hans Becking and Jose Dias would continue to keep the throttle pinned and after losing the sprint over the top of the Dimension Data hotspot to NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, found themselves in a virtual third position on the overall podium. Trek-Pirelli were haemorrhaging time and were over five minutes down on Buff Scott MTB at the 33km marker. At the sharp end, Becking and Dias were doing the lion's share of the work with Sarrou and Beers feeling no pressure to contribute owing to their sizeable lead on the general classification.
The big concern however, lay squarely with the Bulls 2 team who started the day comfortably ahead of Buff Scott MTB on the overall podium. A possible affect of yesterday's stage win, Simon Stiebjahn and Martin Frey would need to keep their heads down if they wanted to keep second position on the overall podium. Having lost the Bulls 1 team early on in the stage, Bulls 2 would find themselves in no man's land equally distanced between the leaders and chasing Pyga Euro Steel 2. At the 45km marker Trek-Pirelli, who started the day in third position on the GC, were now 8 minutes off the pace being set by Buff Scott MTB.
A further 20km later and nothing would change up front - Becking and Dias were still leading the charge and doing the majority of the work. As the teams entered the gates of Val de Vie estate, a conversation was had between NinetyOne-songo-Specialized and Buff Scott MTB with Sarrou and Beers agreeing not to sprint Becking and Dias for the stage win. In the end, Buff Scott MTB took their third stage win of the race, securing the bottom step of the overall podium in process.
Matthew Beers became the first South African since the late Burry Stander to win the Absa Cape Epic while Jordan Sarrou made history as the first Frenchman to stand on the top step of the podium.
"Its an incredible feeling. He (Burry Stander) obviously set the standard very high and I didn't ever think I'd ever be able to achieve this," said Matthew Beers.
General classification: Men's race
- 1. NinetyOne-songo-Specialized - Jordan Sarrou and Matthew Beers (25:17:28.2)
- 2. Bulls 2 - Simon Stiebjahn and Martin Frey (25:26:27.8)
- 3. Buff Scott MTB - Hans Becking and Jose Dias (25:32:02.3)
A similar affair played out in the women's race where Sina Frei and Laura Stigger made a move on the Hawequa climb, distancing both the Faces CST and Salusmed teams. They'd keep the pace high and game plan precise. In fact, by the time the 91-songo-Specialized team passed the 52km marker, they'd have increased their stage lead to nearly six minutes on Faces CST. Team Salusmed's Ariane Lüthi and Robyn de Groot would continue to lose time on Faces CST but consolidate their position on the overall podium.
It was a clean sweep for 91-songo-Specialized who would make it eight from eight in what can be described as a textbook performance.
"It's unbelievable and we had super-good teamwork," said Sina Frei. "We never expected to win this race and to podium is unbelievable and, to win, we are super happy."
General classification: Women's race
- 1. 91-songo-Specialized - Sina Frei and Laura Stigger (30:39:52.8)
- 2. Faces CST - Mariske Strauss and Candice Lill (31:20:51.6)
- 3. Team Salusmed - Ariane Lüthi and Robyn de Groot (31:32:38.0)