• Nino Schurter (L) and Matthias Stirnemann (R) will defend the race lead after a Stage 5 victory. (AAP)Source: AAP
Olympic cross-country champion Nino Schurter and teammate Matthias Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) claimed their first stage win of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic to move into the overall race lead after the 84km fifth stage.
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Cycling Central

Source:
Absa Cape Epic
25 Mar 2017 - 7:59 AM 

Second on the day was previous stage winners Michiel van der Heidjen and Andri Frischknecht (SCOTT-SRAM Young Guns), third went to Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized).

Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC) relinquished the yellow zebra jersey after a puncture and bad day on the bike handed the overall race lead to Schurter and Stirneman.

The pair finished in ninth-place on the day dropping to third overall, while Sauser and Kulhavy lurk in second, just 50 seconds off the front in the overall race.

“It’s absolutely amazing to win the stage,” Schurter said. “On the first big climb of the day I noticed that Christoph was struggling, that’s when we decided to go for it. Both the SCOTT teams were feeling good, so it’s great that we have now taken two stages for the team.”

Earlier in the day, the pace was set by Matthys Beukes and Philip Buys (PYGA Euro Steel). Eager for a stage win, Beukes and Buys bolted out of the start chute, setting a high tempo from the word go. Unfortunately, they suffered a torn sidewall, which put paid to their stage chances.

Sauser meanwhile was struggling with an ailment and made an effort to conserve his energy. With the SCOTT teams slowing slightly after their efforts today and yesterday, he and Kulhavy were able to chase them down.

Stage 6 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic is billed as the Queen Stage, the toughest of all seven. It features the daunting Groenlandberg climb and a number of vicious up and downs and perhaps a day for the marathon experts to exert some control.

After moving into yellow, Schurter expects an exciting finish to the Absa Cape Epic.

“The yellow zebra jersey is obviously a bonus,” he said. “The cross-country guys have really been doing well at the Absa Cape Epic this year; we’re happy to continue the form. Tomorrow, though, anything can happen. We look forward to it.”

SUSS SURVIVES TO HANG ON TO THE LEAD

In the women’s elite race a late crash put leaders Ester Suss and Jennie Stenerhag race ambitions momentarily in doubt but the pair dug deep to save their Cape Epic.

Suss was left lying on the ground just seven kilometres from the Stage 5 finish. Untangling herself from the melee she was able to get up and rejoin the fight for a stage victory.

Suss and Stenerhag eventually caught up with Robyn de Groot and partner Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) and the race ended in a sprint for the line.

Time is running out for De Groot and Spitz to challenge for the title after doing everything they could to cut into Meerendal’s almost 13-minute lead.

“It was quite tough out there today,” Stenerhag said. “Sabine and Robyn really put some pressure on us from the start, but we still managed to get the hotspot. After that, it was very up and down. Sometimes they went super hard and then they eased off.

“We were all together near the end with about seven kilometres to go and we passed a group of men who had started ahead of us. They had stopped on the side to let us pass but the last guy, after Robyn had gone through, decided he was going to get back onto the single track and he got on right in front of Esther.

“She had no chance and tumbled with her bike on top of her. I thought it was the end of our race. We had to stop there and try to tangle her out of her bike first of all, and then get going. She is a little bit sore on her chest.

“We then had to go really hard and I put down everything I had to try and get back. We got back on with two kilometres to go and I am just really happy we came in together and did not lose any time after that crash.”

The 103km Queen Stage, with a brutal 2 750m of vertical climbing, will be Ascendis Health’s last chance to haul themselves back into contention, but with just one short stage after that it seems likely Meerendal CBC will be crowned as champions at the finish on Sunday.