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Consecutive Cape Epic stage wins have Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann (SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing) on the cusp of overall victory. The duo moved into the lead following stage 5 victory but it was stage 6 where Schurter and Stirnemann stamped their authority on the race.
With one stage to come, 85km from Oak Valley to Val de Vie in Paarl, the duo lead former winners Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) by 6:49 minutes. In third place overall are Hector Leonardo Paez Leon and Max Knox (Kansai Plascon) at 14:46 minutes.
"The plan was basically to stay with Sauser and Kulhavy the whole day and make sure they didn't get away from us," said Schurter. "We thought they might make a move today, but after Christoph got a flat on the first major downhill, we were able to attack and get away. From there we just went like it was another cross-country race. For us, it's been eight days of cross-country riding.
"It feels good to get another stage, but it is also good to get through the stage without any major mechanical issues. I actually felt better today than I did yesterday, so we really had no problems on the bike today."
Schurter, the current world and Olympic cross-country champion, isn't resting on his laurels though and is well aware the lead can quickly disappear. As the puncture for Sauser demonstrated.
"Tomorrow's final stage will be a short, fast rolling course. But the Absa Cape Epic is a stage race, held in a rough terrain, so everything can happen anytime. The race is over, when we cross the finish line," he added.
Aiding Schurter and Stirnemann's case for the victory were the words of a disappointed Sauser who admitted post-stage his bid for a sixth Cape Epic victory is all but extinguished.
"I have been in these situations before, so I can deal with it, but I am obviously very disappointed. I just had no energy on the bike, especially after the puncture. It will be hard, but I will have to get up to race again in the morning. I think now, unless there is a major catastrophe, our chances of winning are over. Nino and Matthias are too strong. I don't think we can catch them now," said Sauser, who has been blogging from the race exclusively for Cyclingnews.
Along with his five world championships wins, Schurter has also won the world cup series on four occasions but Cape Epic victory would be his first at the stage race.