Esther Suss and Jennie Stenerhag of team Meerendal CBC on their way to winning Stage 2 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Hermanus High School in Hermanus to Elandskloof in Greyton, South Africa. Photo by Greg Beadle/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Their nearest rivals for the Hansgrohe Women’s category, Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) were right behind them in second, but Meerendal CBC’s overall lead sits at a comfortable eight minutes and 58 seconds.

Third on the day went to defending champion Ariane Lüthi and her new partner Adelheid Morath (Spur), who finished just over five minutes after the first two teams. Barring a major mishap for the leaders or the intervention of a minor miracle for Spur, it would appear that a new women’s champion will be crowned in 2017.

On a day that was shortened from 102km to 62km due to the extreme heat of the previous day and the potential for more hot weather and humid conditions on Stage 2, it was always going to be tough for De Groot and Spitz to cut into the lead of Stenerhag and Suss; and so it proved.

Sabine Spitz (L) and Robyn de Groot ® on their way to second place during Stage 2 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

The four riders spent the entire stage riding together, with neither team being able to make a break. De Groot, though, was in high spirits and finished the stage all smiles. “It was a good ride; in fact it was very nice to ride together with Jennie and Esther,” she said. “Sabine and I were comfortable. We wanted a risk-free day, so we just took it easy. On a day like this there is not much you can do, so we kept it nice and tight and just enjoyed the ride.”

Stenerhag, who’s 2016 Absa Cape Epic, where she partnered De Groot, ended prematurely due to ill-health, is enjoying her moment in the orange leaders jersey. “I am very happy with the way the week is going,” she said. “It’s great to be in the lead, and Esther and I are having a great time. I must admit, though, that today was quite strange.”

Like the men’s race, the shorter distance didn’t mean an easier ride for those chasing titles. “Shorter often equals harder,” said Stenerhag. “The pace was really up from the minute we started. But we didn’t mind. As we’ve done every day, Esther and I just took it kilometre by kilometre; our only real strategy is to see how each day unfolds. Today Robyn and Sabine were really strong, so our plan was just to stay with them and let them do all the work. In the days to come, the pressure is really on them to make a move.”

Ariane Luthi & Adelheid Morath of Super work their way along the route during Stage 2 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Suss is also enjoying her time in orange again. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium at the Absa Cape Epic, so to be able to ride like this with Jennie and be in the lead is fantastic,” she said. “I am very happy with my form and just enjoying the experience of being in front again!”