Cape Town - Sina Frei and Laura Stigger (NinetyOne-songo-Specialized) won their fifth consecutive Absa Cape Epic stage in the Slanghoek Valley on Thursday.
It means they now hold a near-unassailable 17 minute lead over Robyn de Groot and Ariane Luthi (Salusmed) with three stages to go.
Early on the stage, it looked like their 2021 Cape Epic domination might be broken. The Computer Mania MTB duo of Cherie Redecker and Adelheid Morath burst into life right from the start. Seemingly startled by the early pace-setters, Salusmed responded, as did the overall leaders NinetyOne-songo-Specialized. The three teams formed the lead bunch, with Luthi and De Groot looking in great form.
After a sluggish start, Faces CST’s Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss then hauled in the leading riders - not long after the racing led to a bad crash for Luthi. At the finish, she made her way straight to the medics.
“We were going well and feeling good,” said Luthi. “Candice and Mariske were putting the pressure on - then I am not sure what happened. I hit something, went down, and landed on a rock. It was incredibly painful. I gathered my bottle, but I think I was in a bit of shock from the crash and it took me a while to get going again.”
By now, Frei and Stigger had pulled away but Faces CST was able to claim second place on the day. “After four crashes on four stages of the race my body was kind of in survival mode today,” said Mariske Strauss. “But we pushed through to the end and were glad to take second.”
Lill added, “It wasn’t the perfect day for us and we had some struggles early on but we came back strongly and had a solid finish.”
For Stigger and Frei, the comfortable lead meant they could take the time to enjoy the trails - even if the toll of five days of racing is starting to tell. “Every day is a little bit tougher,” said Stigger. “The body is feeling it. But there were amazing trails today and we enjoyed riding them; that makes it easy to get up in the morning when you know you are going to ride good trails.”
Stigger added that teamwork has been crucial to their successful ride so far. “We’ve had good teamwork. We race together in Europe, we are friends, so that makes it easier to ride and race together.”
Stage 5 of the Absa Cape Epic will take riders on a route that embraces Wellington's trail network. Pre-ride homework and teamwork will be crucial.
Tune in to the Live Broadcast of Stage 5 from 08:30 on the Absa Cape Epic Facebook page, YouTube account, and/or Absa Cape Epic website.
Stage 4 Results:
1) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, Sina Frei, Laura Stigger 03:19:44.7
2) Faces CST, Candice Lill, Mariske Strauss 03:23:54.4 | +00:04:09.7
3) Salusmed, Ariane Lüthi, Robyn de Groot 03:25:53.0 | +00:06:08.3
General classification after Stage 4:
1) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, Sina Frei, Laura Stigger 18:12:32.2 | 21.9 km/h ave.
2) Salusmed, Ariane Lüthi, Robyn de Groot 18:29:56.1 | +00:17:23.9 | 21.3 km/h ave.
3) Faces CST, Candice Lill, Mariske Strauss 18:41:01.1 | +00:28:28.9 | 21.5 km/h ave.