Absa Cape Epic 2017 Stage 6 - Victory at last for Mariske and Annie

By Absa Cape Epic

After six days of intense battle at the Absa Cape Epic, the Hansgrohe Women’s race seems to have finally been settled, with experienced 40-somethings, Esther Süss and Jennie Stenerhag (Team Meerendal CBC) almost certain to take the 2017 title.

Mariske Strauss and Annie Last from Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro may have won the battle for the 103km Queen Stage on Saturday, but the crash and resultant broken handlebar to Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) means Süss and Stenerhag have all but won the war for the Hansgrohe Women’s category.

The crash, about 75km into the stage, was the final devastating blow to a tough campaign for De Groot and Spitz and after another big crash and mechanicals on Stage 1 it means any meagre hope of victory for them has finally been snuffed out.

The massive amount of time it took to firstly make a series of temporary repairs to Spitz’s handlebar with sticks, and then a more permanent one to get them to the finish at the technical repair zone, meant the Ascendis Health pair finished way down in seventh, 35 minutes behind Strauss and Last.

The time gap also means the stage winners moved up to second overall, 35 minutes behind Suss and Stenerhag and 12 minutes ahead of De Groot and Spitz.

As De Groot and Spitz crossed the line, Spitz summed up the feelings of the team when she said with resignation that she “had about all the (trouble) I can take on this race”.

A massively disappointed De Groot simply said she “had no words today … it was a disaster” before going and crying on the shoulders of her parents near the finish line.

Stenerhag had mixed feelings about the day’s result. “It is never nice to hear that someone else has crashed, but when I was so tired it did mean I could slow down a bit because we knew they were not coming back at us.
Photo courtesy of Absa Cape Epic

“At about 14km to go Mariske and Annie came and we rode with them for a while, but I did not have the extra edge today and they have also been riding so well this week that we felt they were worth a win.

“But taking nothing for granted, this race is not over until it is over. Nothing is finalised until it is finished.”

Suss added another word of warning.

“I am extremely happy and it is nice that we have the bigger gap but we know with their handlebar that broke that it can happen to us as well. We still have to be safe until the finish line.”

Strauss and Last seemed a bit overwhelmed by their victory.

“We just kept it consistent,” said Strauss. “Annie was an amazing teammate today and it is really, really cool to have taken the win and the stage – this is a really special feeling.

“The plan was to just not lose time to Spur and then on the way up Groenlandberg we thought OK lets just crack on and keep it consistent. And then we caught Robyn and Sabine on the climb up Die Nek and so powered it a bit and never saw them again.

“My dad was on course and he was giving up splits so we knew we were catching Esther and Jennie.

“When we caught them we just kind of wound our way up to them. We have got seven days of riding in our legs so the fire to race is not as potent.

“After we passed them, I tried to just take it a metre at a time and not think about winning the stage, and with about a kilometre to go I finally thought ‘OK we can do this’.

“This is stunning. It is one of the biggest wins I have had.”

In the Virgin Active Mixed category, Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds and Thomas Frischknecht (Scott Sram Nextlevel) won their seventh stage in a row and are now a massive 54 minutes ahead of Grant Usher and Amy Beth McDougall (joBerg2c-Valencia) with Johan Labuschagne and Catherine Williamson (RBI Tech-Mitas) 37 minutes further back.

* The 2017 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race is taking place until Sunday 26 March. Watch the action live on our website
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