Sadly, Stenerhag fell ill on Stage 3 and had to pull out of the event.
Later in the event German mountain biking legend Sabine Spitz, racing with Ukranian Yana Belomoina, stormed home over the closing passages, winning Stage 5, 6 and 7 and ultimately finishing second in the Hansgrohe Women's category.
Now De Groot and Spitz have joined forces (Team Ascendis Health) and the formidable combination will be aiming to win the whole thing.
“After finishing second in my first Cape Epic in 2016, I wouldn't be going for third place,” Spitz laughs. “So of course the overall win will be the goal for this year … but it is a long race and a lot of things can happen.”
To get there they will have to topple Ariane Lüthi of Switzerland, who has won the category for the past three years with Dane Annika Langvad (the team that won Stages 2, 3 and 4 last year). Significantly though, Langvad has study commitments at the time of the 2017 Cape Epic and Lüthi will be riding with German Adelheid Morath (Team Spur).
The Ascendis Health and Spur combinations will start as category favourites with the Swiss/Swedish combination of Esther Süss and Jennie Stenerhag (Meerendal CBC).
“The ladies field for 2017 offers great depth, riders of class, and some really strong partnerships, so I have no doubt the race is going to be very exciting,” says De Groot.
Among her many achievements, Spitz has won gold, silver and bronze medals at the Olympic Games and world championships in the cross country and marathon disciplines.
After retiring from a distinguished road career in 2012 De Groot has won the national mountain biking marathon championship for four consecutive years.
So how did the partnership come about?
“Last November (Team Ascendis Health manager) Malcolm Lange asked me if I'm interested in racing with Robyn. So that was a great opportunity for me,” Spitz says.
The pair only met last year at the Cape Epic: “But we are in touch and I think we are a very good match,” adds Spitz. “We have both been professional riders for a long time and I'm sure we can work great together.”
De Groot says: “I have to thank my management team from Lange Sports, who run Team Ascendis Health. Malcolm really went out of his way to source and secure a world class partner for this year’s Epic. I couldn’t have wished for better.”
“I don’t know Sabine all that well: we are in touch and slowly getting to know one another as time goes by. Based on my interactions with her last year at the 2016 Epic and so far to date, she has a wonderful personality and I have a feeling we will get along really well. I like the outlook she has on life and racing as well as the energy she carries,” says De Groot.
“On the bike Sabine brings so much experience with her. She is an incredible technical rider and a well-rounded cyclist … I think her palmarés (the list of races a rider has won) speaks for itself.”
Asked about her impressions of the Cape Epic, Spitz said: “If you do a race like the Epic for the first time, you can't ride like in a cross country race. I always tried not to go over the limit, so maybe that was the secret. I really enjoyed competing in the Epic, not only because of the routes but also because it was well organised.”
“It's good to have Robyn - a local - as my teammate. I'm sure she can help me with information about the stages,” says Spitz. “I had a look at the route, and it seems to be harder then last year.”
“The Cape Epic is a total different challenge compared to European Stage Races. The percentage of technical riding is very high,” Spitz says. “In Europe it’s the opposite: we have a lot of tarmac, forest and dirt roads … sometimes boring mountain biking. So I'm sure there will be a lot of very challenging parts on the Cape Epic route in 2017.”
In April last year the German ruptured a cruciate ligament but she seems to be well over that now: “So far everything is okay and I'm fully into my training schedule. My knee is so far okay … I did the whole season last year and it worked well and it is also no problem at the moment.”
De Groot says her training is going according to schedule: “Fortunately summer has allowed me the opportunity to start my preparation well. I’ve been enjoying the process and I guess that is what it is all about.”