The dominant mixed category leaders were once again matched by the other main racing classes: The leading solo rider, Matthys Beukes (PYGA Eurosteel) claiming his fifth stage win as he won the stage overall and also added another six minutes to his 30-minute lead over teammate Phillimon Sebona; the top men’s team, NAD Pro’s Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell, extended their lead over Tim Hammond and Alan Gordon to 26 minutes with their fifth win; and Sarah Hill and Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk) are now three hours ahead of Adele Ambrose and Lauren Walker (Nix and Del).
After Wednesday’s 98km stage from Nottingham Road to Underberg there are just two more racing days before the neutral final ride into Scottburgh on Saturday, and it is clear the respective category winners are a step above their opposition with only illness, a crash or a major mechanical likely to change the leaderboards.
The closest racing has been among the Amabokkebokkie Global Mixed Champs riders with Du Toit and McDougall edging ahead each day, but on Wednesday they took a giant leap toward confirming the category win over Team Summit’s husband and wife team of Candice and Darren Lill.
Candice Lill suffered a puncture in the technical Rock and Roll section of downhill riding midway through the stage. That allowed dormakaba to ride away from their rivals early and extended their lead to cross the line a daunting 10 minutes clear.
“We were with Candice and Darren up Gumtree and down Harrison’s Pass and then at the Rock and Roll section they unfortunately got a puncture,” said a tired McDougall at the finish. “We just carried on at our own steady pace, but that last 15 kilometres is a killer – it seems never ending, but luckily I have such a supportive partner.”
Du Toit said their strategy after taking the lead on the stage was to plan ahead to the remaining stages on Thursday and Friday.
“After Candice had the puncture we were by ourselves and we could just keep it steady, which is what we wanted to do. There was no need to push too deep today and Amy was taking some shots after the long climb so we just kept it steady and did what was necessary.
“Up to now it is all going to plan and we are very happy with where we are going into the final two racing days.”
On the very steep Gumtree Climb, just 22km from the start, the NAD Pro duo and their constant companion, top solo rider Matthys Beukes, rode away from the pack and from there the leading solo and leading team was settled.
Beukes, who is using this event as a big training block in his preparation for the World Marathon Champs later this year, tested his legs on the long Slow Poison climb and opened a gap which he held over the final 15km to claim the stage win, 82 seconds ahead of Bell and Combrinck.
“I got away from the NAD guys with about 25km to go. I wanted to test the legs at the end of the last big climb out the valley and put myself in a difficult situation against the NAD guys over the last 15 kays,” said Beukes.
“This is good training. It is easier to push hard here than when training at home. And there is good altitude, some awesome trails and awesome views, so it is very good as another step in a training block.”
In the race for second in the men’s category, Hammond and Gordon (Insect Science) increased their tight two-minute lead over Shaun-Nick Bester and Declan Sidey (Silverback Best4Sports) to a daunting 11 minutes and it seems the podium is pretty much finalised there as well.
The Insect Science pair had already built a decent lead on the day but they were helped when Bester broke a spoke and was forced to stop to make a temporary repair near the finish.
Thursday’s stage takes riders from Underberg to MacKenzie Club in Ixopo and sees riders tackle long stretches of forest single track. After the searing heat of Tuesday and Wednesday as they rode the long district road sections, the riders will be looking forward to the cool forest tracks for both relief from the weather and some added enjoyment.
AMABOKKEBOKKIE GLOBAL MIXED CHAMPS:1 Amy McDougall, Arno Du Toit (Dormakaba Mixed) 4:14:25, 2 Darren Lill, Candice Lill (Team Summit) 4:24:39, 3 Johan Labuschagne, Catherine Williamson (Sugeons for Little Lives / Mitas) 4:31:00, 4 Yolandi Du Toit, Ben Melt Swanepoel (Team Garmin) 4:38:35, 5 Frederic Gombert, Sophie Giovane (Chiru Magura) 4:40:28.
MEN'S TEAMS: 1 Nico Bell, Gawie Combrinck (NAD PRO MTB) 3:51:21, 2 Alan Gordon, Timothy Hammond (Insect Science) 3:56:30, 3 Shaun-nick Bester, Declan Sidey (Silverback Best4Sports Mad Macs) 4:10:57, 4 Andrejus Dolgovas, Elijus Civilis (Top Team) 4:22:14, 5 Jaco Cronje, Alex Pavlov (Old Mutual Insure / Norco) 4:37:26.
INDIVIDUAL: 1 Matthys Beukes (PYGA Eurosteel) 3:49:59, 2 Phillimon Sebona (PYGA Eurosteel 2) 3:56:32, 3 Tobias Flath 4:17:08, 4 David Cooke 4:22:03, 5 Craig Woods 4:28:03.
WOMEN'S TEAMS: 1 Theresa Ralph, Sarah Hill (Galileo Risk) 5:03:59, 2 Adele Ambrose, Lauren Walker (Nix and Del) 5:58:08, 3 Tania Rossouw, Christine Van Der Walt (Ts and Cs Apply) 6:02:47, 4 Wilmien Chamberlain, Johanita De Waal (2 nam bred Moms) 6:12:31.
AMABOKKEBOKKIE GLOBAL MIXED CHAMPS: 1 Amy Mcdougall, Arno Du Toit (Dormakaba Mixed) 23:56:47, 2 Darren Lill, Candice Lill (Team Summit) 24:22:25, 3 Johan Labuschagne, Catherine Williamson (Sugeons for Little Lives / Mitas) 24:47:04.
MEN'S TEAMS: 1 Nico Bell, Gawie Combrinck (NAD Pro MTB) 22:30:56, 2 Alan Gordon, Timothy Hammond (Insect Science) 22:56:04; 3 Shaun-Nick Bester, Declan Sidey (Silverback Best4Sports Mad Macs) 23:12:47.
INDIVIDUAL: 1 Matthys Beukes (PYGA Eurosteel) 22:26:22, 2 Phillimon Sebona (PYGA Eurosteel 2) 23:02:50, 3 Tobias Flath 24:20:56.
WOMEN'S TEAMS: 1 Sarah Hill, Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk) 26:38:56, 2 Adele Ambrose, Lauren Walker (Nix and Del) 29:46:24, 3 Johanita De Waal, Wilmien Chamberlain (2 nam bred Moms) 31:11:06.