Elite foreign teams looked set to secure victory in the men’s and women’s races at the Cape Epic, after cementing their leads on Saturday’s sixth stage, while three SA riders were poised to grab podium places.
Competing in cooler conditions, after temperatures had soared earlier in the week during the annual mountain bike contest in the Western Cape, Olympic champion Nino Schurter of Switzerland and countryman Matthias Stirnemann (Scott-SRAM Racing) won the 103km penultimate leg.
They crossed the line 16 seconds ahead of local favourite Max Knox and Colombian partner Hector Paez (Kansai Plascon) who produced a gutsy performance to grab second spot.
“It feels good to get another stage, but it is also good to get through the stage without any major mechanical issues,” Schurter told the race website.
The leaders stretched their overall advantage to nearly seven minutes ahead of compatriot Christoph Sauser and Czech partner Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo Specialized) who lost further ground in the general classification after picking up a flat wheel.
“I just had no energy on the bike, especially after the puncture,” said Sauser, who admitted his chances of a a record sixth victory were all but over.
“It will be hard, but I will have to get up and race again in the morning.
“I think now, unless there is a major catastrophe, our chances of winning are over.
“Nino and Matthias are too strong. I don’t think we can catch them now.”
Knox and Paez were another eight minutes back, climbing to third position overall.
“It’s amazing to be on the podium at last and great to come second,” Knox said.
“This is such an amazing field this year, and it’s been great to ride alongside world and Olympic champions.
“We’d obviously like to stay in the top three overall, but it’s not over yet.
“Tomorrow is another shorter day and the cross country guys will be firing again.”
In the women’s race, South African rider Mariske Strauss and English partner Anni Last (Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro) won the stage, holding off Switzerland’s Esther Strauss and Sweden’s Jennie Stenerhag (Meerendal CBC) by half a minute.
Suss and Stenerhag extended their overall lead, however, and they were more than 35 minutes clear of their nearest challengers.
Strauss and Last moved into second place in the GC ahead of another South African, Robyn de Groot, and Ascendis Health teammate Sabine Spitz of Germany.
De Groot and Spitz, who had been within striking distance of the leaders overnight, saw their title hopes slip away after Spitz broke a handlebar and was forced to ride using a stick as a replacement.
“I have no words for today… it is a disaster,” De Groot said.
Sunday’s final stage of the annual race will take riders 85km from Elgin to Val de Vie Estate.