Seewald has been threatening to show his World Champion credentials all week, and today that finally proved the case as he and Stošek powered to an important stage win.
The Canyon Northwave MTB pair remain in second overall, but they have cut the lead of NinetyOne-songo-Specialized’s Matt Beers and Jordan Sarrou down to 1:43.
“Our plan worked perfectly today,” said Seewald. “We controlled the pace on the long singletrack section from the front and could afford to take it a little bit easy – this was good because we didn’t know the trail that well. Then on the steep climb, we attacked, which was our plan all along. It was brutally hard – I didn’t believe that we could actually get a gap – but we managed to get one and we held on to it.”
Samuele Porro and Fabian Rabensteiner (Trek-Pirelli) managed to stick with Seewald and Stošek on the climb, with all four riders racing towards the finish on the final, flattish last 10km. “We had worked hard on the climb,” said Seewald. “Towards the finish, we had Trek-Pirelli with us so we could all work together and get over the line as quickly as possible.”
Czech rider Stošek, battered from his efforts on the stage, was thrilled with the team’s first win. “The Trek-Pirelli guys worked well with us over the last few kilometres so that we could get to the finish line in good time. In the end, I was confident we could win the sprint because Andreas had good legs today, he almost killed me on the climb. I am very happy with our first Absa Cape Epic stage win.”
The stage provided plenty of drama, with crashes and snapped chains occurring at high frequency. Initial Stage 3 pace-setters Phil Buys and Pieter du Toit, who won the Dimension Data Hotspot Sprint on Tulbagh’s 300-year-old Church Street, were leading when they took a tumble on the Bone Trail singletrack. The fall broke Du Toit’s handlebar.
Peeter Pruus of Team Pure Encapsulation somehow destroyed his rear wheel early in the day. Australian professional Lachlan Morton (EF Education-Nippo) snapped a chain early on, with Buff Scott MTB (Hans Becking and Jose Diaz) suffering a similar fate.
For much of the men’s Stage 3 race, the leading teams remained together throughout – indeed, the real racing would only start on the blockbuster Fanties Pass, arguably the toughest climb in the 2021 event. Canyon Northwave MTB made their move halfway up the climb and it was only Trek-Pirelli that could respond.
Urs Huber and Simon Schneller of BULLS were able to finish third on the day, with BULLS 2’s Martin Frey and Simon Stiebjahn (fourth) riding home just ahead of yellow jersey wearers, Beers and Sarrou.
At the finish, Sarrou lay in a crumpled heap. “I’m feeling so exhausted,” he said. “It was a hard day. We had to climb that huge hill in the heat. It was so steep; just incredibly hard, but we managed to bring the gap back a little bit after they broke away. We combined nicely with BULLS 2 on the flat sections to keep the gap down. There are still some stages to go. We worked as hard as we could today, so we are happy with the result.”
Sporting a hydration pack for the first time at an event, Sarrou’s partner Beers was happy with his foresight. “I don’t even have a hydration pack,” said Beers. Alan Hatherly organised it for me last night; he took it to my dad at around 9pm, then my dad brought it through to me this morning. I’m glad I did it. I didn’t cramp, so it obviously worked well. It was a super hard stage, especially in that heat. We worked well as a team, though, and I thought we finished well.”
Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic will take the riders from Saronsberg (Tulbagh) to a rearranged finish at Goudini Spa in the Slanghoek Valley. At 73km-long, the ride may seem short, but with punchy climbs and rocky terrain on the route, the race will certainly take a few more twists and turns.
General classification after Stage 3:
1) NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, Jordan SARROU, Matthew BEERS 12:19:26.4 | 24.6 km/h ave.
2) Canyon Northwave MTB, Andreas SEEWALD, Martin STOŠEK 12:21:09.7 | +00:01:43.3 | 24.6 km/h ave.
3) BULLS 2, Martin FREY, Simon STIEBJAHN 12:23:20.1| +00:03:53.7 | 24.6 km/h ave.