One of the enduring images of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic, was Sabine Spitz crossing the line with a stick and tape holding her broken handlebars together.
The German star crashed hard 15km from the end of Stage 6, snapping her handlebars which resulted in a significant amount of time being used to fix her bike. It meant that any hope she and Team Ascendis Health partner Robyn de Groot had of winning the Absa Cape Epic were gone. The two eventually won four stages together, but luck deserted them.
“It does feel a little surreal to have won four stages and still finish third overall,” said De Groot. “When we were able to ride without lady luck falling out of favour with us, we made a formidable team and we really raced well together. That’s why Lange Sports have paired us up together again for 2018.”
De Groot was full of admiration for the courage shown by Sabine, the former Olympic gold medallist, in finishing the race after her second big crash of the race, the first happening during Stage 1.
“We both couldn’t believe what had happened in that crash,” said De Groot. “There was no time to waste. It was amazing how we started looking at options to make the bars rideable. We knew we lost a lot of time, but giving up was not an option.”
“We lost our second place that day and the gap between us and Meerendal CBC was impossible to close. We could not dwell on what could have been. We just had bad luck and dealt best with what the race threw at us. In a way, the hardships we endured made our other stage victories that much sweeter, and also helped us realise what a great team we made. Winning the Grand Finale after the handlebar stage was a great feeling.”
While De Groot has had to take some time off to overcome an injury in the build-up to the Absa Cape Epic, she is back on track and has been training with Sabine in South Africa. “She has been paramount to helping me through this injury mentally and physically. Her preparation is going well and she has really enjoyed exploring more of South Africa on her bicycle.”
The South African Marathon Champion has enjoyed much success in Prologues at the Absa Cape Epic, having won it twice and taken a second place in her three races. “I’ve enjoyed the Prologues and really just focussed on enjoying starting a race you prepare so hard for… it always feels great to finally start. It’s a small part of the race, but, none the less, they are hard stages where we push our limits, so winning them is just as big a win as the longer more endurance based stages.
“I wouldn’t say you can jump to conclusions based on the Prologue performances. So much can happen in eight days. Last year was certainly a testament to this for us.”
De Groot does not like to over-analyse the route of the race too much. She knows the stages will be tough, the drought in the Western Cape will make the trails more challenging, and feels the time trial on Stage 5 will bring a new dynamic to those racing at the sharp end.
*The 2018 Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race takes place from 18 to 25 March and the much anticipated route can be viewed here.
Source: Cape Epic Media