The 26km Prologue was a gusty and dusty race for the elite women.
In an exciting race, Ascendis Health’s South African/Swedish duo beat the 2014 and 2015 women’s winners and 2016 favourites Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad into second place by 18 seconds.
Having to navigate the windy, dry conditions meant that neither De Groot nor Stenerhag were aware they were riding into first spot. “To be honest, I didn’t think we were doing a fantastic time, we just rode within ourselves,” said De Groot minutes after they crossed the finish line.
Stenerhag, equally as surprised, said: “We didn’t plan anything, we just wanted to do our best. We both had some patches of suffering and some patches of feeling really good, and they didn’t happen at the same time which was a really good thing.”
Both were elated to win the Prologue. “A win is a win, and last year we won a stage under circumstances we didn’t really want to win, so this fair and square win is what we want,” said De Groot.
The gusting wind affected all riders, making it especially tough for the women, who are generally lighter than the men.
“The wind was really strong, it was pushing hard. On the climbs you almost fell off the bike. It was hard work just to keep on the bike,” said fourth place finisher, Adel Morath – Topeak Ergon.
Team Spur-Specialized, the 2015 winners, were satisfied with their second place, and complimentary of the winning team, Ascendis Health.
“I felt very good, I had a good race today, unfortunately not good enough for first place, but a really big congrats to Jennie and Robyn,” said Kleinhans.
“I like Meerendal as a prologue venue because there is much more singletrack and it’s much more technical – I really enjoy it,” said Ariane. “It’s so much fun riding here especially coming into the finish with a lot of berms and table tops. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Swiss/Danish duo were relaxed, but with the Prologue out of the way, they are ready to focus on the race for the Women’s Leader Jersey.
“The week is still long and anything can happen so we are really going to fight for that jersey now.”
De Groot and Stenerhag, meanwhile, know that their 18-second lead doesn’t give them space to relax. “18 seconds is nothing in a mountain bike race, so we start on a fresh slate tomorrow,” said De Groot.
Third place finishers, Team Sport for Good’s Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina were unavailable for comment, and finished a minute behind Kleinhans and Langvad.
Further down the field, teams crossed the finish line smiling and high fiving, albeit dusty and windswept.
“We’re here to have the experience, ride the race and ride it as well as we can. We’re just going out with a smile and seeing where we end up,” said Elizabeth Reeder of all-American team Epic Everyday.
Nicky Webb of CANSA Mother & Daughter, was all smiles, happy to be sharing the experience with her daughter Mikayla and raising awareness and money for CANSA screening. “Its unbelievable riding with my daughter. She is such a beast, she is just so strong -I’m just maxed all the time, but she is very kind as well,” said Nicky.