“We saw the helicopter, then we saw Ariane [Kleinhans] and thought maybe we can go for a stage win,” said De Groot of their passing manoeuvre on the Spur-Specialised pair of Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad.
Up until that dramatic moment, in the final 2km of Monday’s 108km stage, the South African-Swedish pair of De Groot and Stenerhag feared for their Sasol Women’s category leader’s jersey.
“We thought we had lost it,” said De Groot. “We didn’t expect to catch up to them after we all split.”
Stage 1 was the first time in Absa Cape Epic history where the UCI-registered women’s teams started in their own batch, taking off five minutes after the UCI men on Monday morning. De Groot believes that it added an interesting element to the racing among the women.
“It was very nice and gave us all a fair chance to leverage off the start. Once we were caught by the men who started behind us we then rode tempo,” said De Groot, the reigning South African Marathon champion.
Langvad and Kleinhans came home in second place, losing 39.9 seconds on the day, and the pain was etched on the Swiss rider’s face.
“It was actually a very good day,” recalled Langvad, speaking for the pair while Kleinhans struggled through the day’s exertions.
“We got away on the first climb when the Grand Masters caught up with us. Up until that stage it was actually very slow. When the men caught us I think they expected us to do the work but it didn’t really happen. We knew today would be interesting with the new start and nobody had an idea how it would go.”
Langvad, provided insight to where the the tide turned for her and her teammate – their lead at one stage had grown to over four minutes.
“It was a little bit of a shame. Suddenly, in the last 20km Ariane started struggling and her pace dropped. She said she was quite tired.”
Despite now being 58 seconds behind overall, Langvad remained positive of Kleinhans recovering sufficiently for Stage 2 and beyond…
“Obviously we feel the pressure of being caught today, especially because we rode a very strong race up until that point, but there is a long race ahead…”
The podium today was rounded off by Sally Bigham and Adel Morath of Topeak Ergon, who arrived home 5:50.4 behind the stage winners.
“It was very dusty today but there was nice singletrack. We knew it was going to be hot today so we weren’t surprised by that,” said Bigham of today’s conditions.
The Brit called the new women’s batch “better, for sure” adding that the racing became a little different when the Grand Masters caught up with the UCI Women.
“When they came past, the women’s race opened up and from then on we were by ourselves.”
Tuesday’s Stage 2, 93km out and back at Saronsberg, is the 100th of the Absa Cape Epic. Will the leader’s make it three-from-three or will the prestige of the stage see another team take it?