3/15/24 Canyon.com
3/15/24 Canyon.com

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report

Find out how our Canyon teams fare in the 2024 Absa Cape Epic.

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report

Follow the riders at the 20th anniversary Cape Epic

The 20th anniversary edition of the Absa Cape Epic begins on 17th March 2024 with a field of 1,200 riders racing in teams of two. Among them are two Canyon Sidi MTB teams who will be racing the Canyon Lux World Cup CFR made up of:

• Andreas Seewald (DE) and Marc Stutzmann (CH)
• Petr Vakoč (CZ) and Martin Stošek (CZ)

This extremely challenging race through Stellenbosch, Wellington, and Saronsberg will include:

Total distance: 613 km
Total elevation: 16,850 m

Throughout 7 stages, plus a short prologue, riders and spectators are expecting an extremely challenging race packed full of steep, technical climbs and blazing fast descents. This is the most prestigious event in the Marathon racing calendar and the starting line will see some of the most talented riders in the world go head to head.

Follow each stage in the race reports below.


Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Andreas Seewald (DE) and Marc Stutzmann (CH)

Meet the Team

Representing Canyon Sidi MTB at the starting line are four incredibly talented and determined riders.

The experienced Andreas Seewald (DE) is hoping to improve on his second place finish in 2022 and fifth place finish in 2023. The former XCM marathon world champion is in fine form having taken the win in Roc d'Azur and became the German XCM champion last year.

Likewise, Marc Stutzmann (CH) brings valuable experience to the race this year as the current Swiss XCM champion and finished in seventh place in the Absa Cape Epic in 2023.

Petr Vakoč (CZ) is an all-round rider, showcasing his skills on mountain bikes, gravel bikes, and road bikes on the World Tour. He’s the current Czech elite road champion, won De Brabantse Pijl in Flanders, and finished second at Unbound Gravel last year.

Martin Stošek (CZ) had a year to remember in 2023, where he finished fifth in this race alongside Andreas Seewald. He also counts his silver medal at the UCI XCM World Championships as one of his many highlights.

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Petr Vakoč (CZ) and Martin Stošek (CZ)

Ready to Race

Marc Stutzmann moves into Team 1 for this year’s edition after his impressive winter training schedule and his performance to become the Swiss XCM champion. Marc replaces Martin Stošek in Team 1 whose preparation for the race was interrupted by health issues.

“We’re sure that this change to the combination will work really well. All four guys are extremely motivated to give it their very best in South Africa and are ready to fight for victory.” – Kristian Hynek, Team Manager.

The competition in South Africa will be fierce with the Canyon Sidi MTB teams set to face off against some of the fastest racers in the world. The other riders to watch out for are Nino Schurter and Sebastian Fini who are racing for World Bicycle Relief, local favourite Mattew Beers and Howard Grotts for Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne, and the Italian duo of Fabian Rabensteiner and Samuele Porro for Willier Vittoria Factory.

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Prologue

Prologue

The prologue of the 20th anniversary Absa Cape Epic got off to a sweltering start on tough trails in the South African midday sun. The 26km long route packed in 700 metres of climbing with sharp, steep sections and super technical descents separating the wheat from the chaff and giving riders a taste of what’s to come.

The two Canyon Sidi MTB teams had a successful day and ultimately took 7th place (Seewald/ Stutzmann) and 15th place (Vakoč/ Stošek). “We’re three minutes behind the lead, but we are completely satisfied,” says team manager Kristian Hynek.

The route through the Lourensford wine vineyards, which was more like an XC course than a marathon in terms of length and design, was peppered with everything that awaits the Cape Epic riders over the next week of racing: incredibly steep hills, dusty flow trails and rocky slopes dotted with boulders. It was like a mini Cape Epic in one ride.

The Canyon Sidi MTB managed to navigate the tricky course without any issues, so the team mechanics Gio and Honza will have little to do on the brand-new team bike this evening other than cleaning it. “It’s super efficient going uphill and really inspiring on the descents. Everything works perfectly,” says downhill specialist and Swiss champion Marc Stutzmann who is very happy with his new bike. The team is riding the limited edition Canyon Lux World Cup CFR Untamed with a special design and build that celebrates the Absa Cape Epic 2024.

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Stage 1

Stage 1

Stage one of the Absa Cape Epic was made up of a total of 88 kilometers and 2,450 meters of altitude. The remote, former border town of Tulbagh played host to today's race and is known for endless, dusty trails. Four difficult passes were on the agenda, but between the peaks there were sections of extremely fun singletrack - some of which are brand new and specially made for the race.

Unfortunately, a small incident had a huge effect on the Canyon Sidi MTB teams. Shortly after the start, both teams raced down a wide gravel road that suddenly turned into a narrow singletrack trail with a sharp turn causing a bottleneck that cost both teams vital seconds, if not minutes.

Marc and Petr had a small lead and managed to navigate the traffic jam better than most, but the pairing of Andi and Martin were substantially held up. “Many of the riders behind us pushed past us through the bushes,” reports Andi, annoyed after the race. “Although we later overtook a few teams, we were unable to make up the time.”

Before the riders reached the finish there was a serious challenge: “Fanti's Pass”, a steep gravel monster, that saw riders battle up the hill while fighting the lactate build up in their legs. The Canyon Sidi MTB team were prepared for this though. “We felt great,” sums up Martin Stošek. “And if the bad luck hadn’t happened at the beginning, both teams could have finished in the top five.”

Ultimately, Andi Seewald and Marc Stutzmann ended up in 8th place, while Petr Vakoč and Martin Stošek followed a few seconds later and took 9th place.

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Stage 2

Stage 2

Even though Andi Seewald came into today's stage dissatisfied with his form, the 2021 marathon world champion lit up the day with his performance. Andi and his team partner Marc Stutzmann were able to gain three places from yesterday to today - and catapulted themselves to 5th place after today's stage.

The first climb of over 800 metres, in one very challenging section, boosted their spirits as both are mountain specialists - the longer and steeper the climb, the better. That's exactly what the climb from Tulbagh up into the Wizenberg Valley had to offer. And on top of that, this technical single trail is peppered with large rock gardens which suited the riders. “You can forget about pedalling easily here, you have to constantly get out of the saddle to compensate,” Andi describes the course they faced.

The next 60 kilometres of this, the longest stage of the Absa Cape Epic, was no picnic. Riding Ouplaas, Wakkerstroon, Slagboom, Welgemeen, and the trails that lead through the Wizenberg plateau are all well-known names. One thing is certain though, there are no easy days here. Sometimes the sandy trails cause the tires to wash out, sometimes you have to bunny hop over sharp rocks, and sometimes the punchy uphills force the pilots out of the saddle. “The DT Swiss Dropper Post is worth its weight in gold,” says Andi. “I've been using it all day today”.

With all this racing already in the legs, at the 70km mark the riders started the last long climb: out of Wizenberg and on the same route as before back to the finish in Tulbagh. This part of the race was also incredibly tough as a descent and required the full 100 mm of suspension travel of the Lux World Cup CFR Untamed.

The second duo from the Canyon Sidi Team with Petr Vakoč and Martin Stošek followed just a short time later in sixth place. “It was a great race,” says a delighted Marc Stutzmann with a smile on his face, who seems to be in the form of his life right on time for the Absa Cape Epic. “Today we definitely moved a long way towards the podium,” said team boss Kristian Hynek happily. “It’s still very early days though and a lot can still happen in the next five days.”

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Stage 3

Stage 3

Andi Seewald and Marc Stutzmann delivered a real feat on what was probably the hottest stage in the history of this race and celebrated their first stage victory. The clock stopped at the finish line in Wellington at 3 hours, 40 minutes and 24 seconds. A full 1 minute and 13 seconds faster than their nearest competitor.

Few single tracks, but lots of flat, wide, coarse gravel slopes and even a good amount of asphalt - typical for a transfer stage that is primarily about the destination rather than the journey. The two climbing specialists from the Canyon Sidi MTB team were all the more amazed that they excelled here. “I would never have thought that we would win this stage of all things,” Andi was surprised but delighted.

The German and Swiss pairing made sure everything went right from the very beginning. The first 10 kilometres were mainly downhill on asphalt where the leading teams fought fierce battles for position at breakneck speeds. The course then took a sharp right turn from the main road onto the usual dusty Cape Epic terrain. A leading group had already formed around the two Canyon Sidi riders, which didn't break until the last third of the stage. But the wide paths didn't make it easy for the riders. “There were always attempts to break away because there was just enough space on the side,” explains Marc Stutzmann. As a result, the ranking changed constantly. “A real washing machine, as we say among racing drivers.”

At the 68 kilometre mark, Andi had had enough of this gruelling game of changing positions. So he started sprinting on the climb just before the Full Monty Downhill, where he passed three teams and took the lead. “It just grabbed me and I didn’t want to have anyone in front of me on the descent,” Seewald later remembers. On the next climb, partner Marc was able to take advantage of some gaps and followed suit. “We didn’t see anyone else for the last 20 kilometres,” they both grinned together.

The gap to the overall leaders has shrunk today, but our riders still have a lot to do: they have to catch up to the overall lead in 13.07 minutes over the next four stages, and it will take 11.15 minutes to reach the podium. Andi Seewald sums it up: “It won’t be easy, but we’ll reach for the stars.”

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Stage 4

Stage 4

'Full attack' was the motto for Andi Seewald and his partner Marc Stutzmann today. The course seemed perfect, motivation was high after yesterday's success and the signs were pointing to victory. Unfortunately, another win wasn't to be, but the pair did earn a very respectable third place finish.

Stage 4 was an 88 kilometre course with 3,000 metres of altitude and three gruelling climbs. This made the stage the longest and most strenuous in the history of the Cape Epic. Andi and Marc were already rubbing their hands together after yesterday's victory, "This course is just as we like our races, we're hoping that we can score points". A late change came in the afternoon however, due to extreme heat, the course was shortened to 73 kilometres and 2,550 metres of climbing – not the best news for a pair who love climbing so much.

The course change didn't change the tactics of race though. "It was like a horse race," laughs Marc later. "The gates opened and Andi went full throttle". For around 45 kilometres, the Canyon Sidi Team was in the lead ahead of Team World Bicycle Relief (Schurter/Fini) and Team Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne (Beers/Grotts).

But shortly before the last long climb, the two other teams took advantage of a small gap and were able to overtake Andi and Marc. What followed was a chase up the infamous switchbacks of 'Aap Duez'. This is an almost never-ending climb of 700 metres in elevation with 29 hairpin bends that make overtaking manoeuvres impossible. In the middle, where the trail is a little wider, the two leading teams picked up the pace so much that catching was impossible. "Marc was waiting for me at the front, but I briefly lost the connection here," says Andi, annoyed. The other teams were unrelenting, making sure the Canyon Sidi MTB couldn't attempt an attack, even when it came to the downhill section on Cliffhanger which brought the teams into Wellington. In the following sprint towards the finish, the two teams in the bunch extended their lead even further and won by one minute and ten seconds.

The second Canyon Sidi team with Petr Vakoč and Martin Stošek finished in 13th place today. "We were able to ride at the front for 20 kilometres, but then our legs didn't keep up," reports Martin. "Overall, we weren't really in form today."

The team is satisfied with third place. "We set a tremendous pace today and some people suffered a lot because of us," grins Marc later on the massage bench. "Let's see how tomorrow's stage will go".

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Stage 5

Stage 5

70 kilometres and 1,750 metres of climbing had to be mastered on today’s stage. Team Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne and Team World Bicycle Relief fought a relentless duel and set a killer pace. Andi and Marc kept a low profile and stayed in the slipstream of the leading group without attacking.

As expected, some of the teams that had been part of the leading group the day before were no longer at the front of the race. Only the Bulls Mavericks team, which had fallen back quite a bit in the last few days, tried to push forward today.

So while Andi and Marc had conserved their energy behind the two leading teams, it was all to play for on the last climb. Sebastian Fini from Team World Bicycle Relief was unable to keep up with team partner Schurter's pace as he broke away. Andi seized the opportunity and was able to overtake him. "Sebastian simply ran out of energy. Nino Schurter waved Marc past, it was a nice move," says Andi later. And so the two of them crossed the finish line just 12 seconds behind, with Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne taking the stage win.

Andi and Marc are now in fourth place in the overall standings. The gap to the current third-placed team, Team Buff Megamo, has shrunk to three minutes. "Third place overall should be possible. And if Schurter and Fini falter in the next few days, maybe even second place," hopes Andi. "In any case, we’re feeling good and I wish there were a few more stages. Tomorrow will be ultra-tough. That plays into your cards. Everyone who had difficulties today will be exhausted tomorrow." Let's see if he's right.

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Stage 6

Stage 6

Bad luck and breakdowns led to a somewhat thankless fourth place. Yet despite that, it was a good race. This is the result of the sixth and penultimate stage on the trails around Stellenbosch.

Today the 87 kilometres and 2,400 meters of altitude were spread across so many small ramps, winding singletrack and high-speed descents that the altitude profile looked like a heart rate curve.

Andi Seewald and Marc Stutzmann are less suited to this route profile than other days - but there isn't much time left and the fight for the podium in the overall standings has truly begun.

The signs were once again clearly pointing to attack. A large leading group formed early on, of course with the usual suspects from Toyota-Specialized and World Bicycle Relief. But also back today: Buff Megamo and Willier Torpado, who had lost ground in the last few days and had now recovered. Team Bicycle Relief, on the other hand, had problems. Schurter fell on a slippery section - it had rained heavily that night and partner Sebastian Fidi simply seemed to lack the power after the strenuous last few days.

Both Canyon Sidi MTB teams, on the other hand, were in top shape. Team number two, the Czechs Petr Vakoč and Martin Stošek, initially even took a brilliant lead. “The two of them cleared the way for us in the first few kilometres. It helps a lot to have such a strong team to support us,” says Andi Seewald later.

The race started to move at half-time in the “Toyota Tough” trail section. Andi was able to break away from the group with an attack and Marc followed. But then Andi’s mishap happened: “Somehow a sign wasn’t clearly placed. Anyway, I turned instead of going straight and had to turn around. Of course, this meant that the small gap that I had previously created was gone.”

The second incident followed in the last third. Andi had fallen back a little on the winding route and no longer had visual contact with his partner. He overtook Team Buff Megamo, who were patching up a flat tyre on the side of the road. But just a few meters later there was Marc, also with a flat tyre. “We patched two holes in no time, but of course that also took time,” says the Swiss angrily.

For the last few kilometres to the finish, Andi and Marc fought for third place with Team Buff Megamo and ultimately lost, 19 seconds behind. So the grand finale remains a thriller. The Cape Epic holds so many surprises and uncertainties. “Realistic for the overall placement is anything between second and fourth place,” says Andi. We keep our fingers crossed.

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report Stage 7

Stage 7

It was an emotional rollercoaster between hope, fear, euphoria and disappointment. Eight days of struggle, eight days of peak physical and mental performance. Eight days of precise teamwork. Mechanics, physios, trainers, team boss - each individual is a small but irreplaceable cog in the wheel.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough for the hoped for podium finish. Andi Seewald and Marc Stutzmann finished in fourth place overall. Andi, who had already had problems in the first two days, but was then in top form for the next few days, was unable to keep up the pace in the last stage until the end. But that's the special thing about this race and the spirit of the team classification. Every chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The art is to precisely define two riders with the same level as possible. The Canyon Sidi MTB team trains for months for this most important race of the season. Only shortly before the race is it decided who will start with whom. This year, team boss Kristian Hynek considered Andi and Marc to be the best combination to ride to victory as Team 1. The supposedly "weaker" riders started as Team 2 and had the task of supporting their colleagues.

On the trails in the Jonkershoek Valley near Stellenbosch, this support team with the Czechs Petr Vakoč and Martin Stošek did a great job. "They stepped on the gas and we were able to hang on to them. It was textbook," says Andi.

Cape Epic 2024: stage-by-stage race report
Canyon Lux World Cup CFR Untamed
Epically agile
Lux World Cup CFR Untamed
Designed to take the Cape Epic win across endless, lush valleys and brutal mountain passes.

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