Cape Town – Swiss rider Sina Frei and Austria's Laura Stigger (NinetyOne-songo-Specialized) won Stage 3 of the Absa Cape Epic in Tulbagh on Wednesday, continuing their commanding march towards overall glory.
They won everything Stage 3 could throw at them - the Dimension Data Hotspot Sprint on Tulbagh’s 300-year-old Church Street, the race to the top of the climbs, and the race to the bottom of the descents. They finished the stage nearly four minutes ahead of their nearest rivals, Robyn de Groot and Ariane Lüthi (Salusmed), giving themselves a mammoth 11-minute lead in the women’s race general classification.
“It was a super hard stage because it was really hot,” said Frei. “We managed to get a gap on the steep, long Fanties Pass climb. Then on the technical downhill, we could extend it, and in the end, we just went all out to the finish.”
Stigger was thankful that her partner was on song throughout the day. “I couldn’t have done that stage without Sina,” she said. “I really struggled. Sina was really patient and waited for me, I have to thank her for being my teammate. She was so good today - on the climbs, on the trails, on the flats, everywhere.”
The women’s race only kicked into gear around the 20km mark, where the teams raced full-throttle through the Tulbagh-based Hotspot. From there, NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, Salusmed, Fairtree (Amy McDougall and Jennie Stenerhag), Faces CST (Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss), and Land Rover Ladies (Mari Rabie and Hayley Preen) all kept together.
A break formed, with Land Rover Ladies leading the way. South African National road race Champion Preen looked up for the fight today, but a crash that resulted in a suspected wrist fracture ended her race participation. The scene played out with Rabie sitting on the floor, comforting her injured partner.
Mariske Strauss was the next rider to crash, her fourth in four days of racing. It meant Faces CST dropped off the front and had to race hard to close the three-minute gap.
As Fanties Pass approached, Lüthi said she felt good and managed to pull away, but partner Robyn De Groot was taking strain. “On that climb, I was not feeling well,” said De Groot. “I had a bad patch, a really bad patch. I just tried to keep moving forward, trying not to look too far ahead. I was struggling, taking it metre by metre.”
Frei and Stigger sensed their opportunity and made their move, turning the race screws in the process. “We were hoping for a bigger gap,” said Frei. “But we are happy with what we got because by the end we were suffering.”
Stage 3 Results:
1) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, Sina FREI, Laura STIGGER | 04:34:33.3
2) Salusmed, Ariane LÜTHI, Robyn DE GROOT 04:38:17.0 | +00:03:43.6
3) Faces CST, Candice LILL, Mariske STRAUSS 04:40:41.7 | +00:06:08.3
General classification after Stage 3:
1) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, Sina FREI, Laura STIGGER 14:52:47.4 | 19.9 km/h ave.
2) Salusmed, Ariane LÜTHI, Robyn DE GROOT 15:04:03.1 | +00:11:15.6 | 19.6 km/h ave.
3) Faces CST, Candice LILL, Mariske STRAUSS 15:17:06.7 | +00:24:19.2 | 19.5 km/h ave.