Overall leaders Kevin Evans and David George (Nedbank 360Life) safely saw off another stage of the seven-day Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike stage race on Thursday, with another second place finish. Only this time, they were second to Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (Westvaal Columbia) who claimed their first stage win in an international stage race and moved to within striking distance of second place on the General Classification.
At 63km, Stage 4 was short on distance, but high on difficulty, taking the riders up and down very steep, rocky terrain through the Kamanassie Mountains between the Karoo towns of De Rust and Herold, with a total of 1894 metres of vertical ascent.
The battle for the women’s title intensified as Yolande Speedy and Yolande de Villiers (Klein Karoo Chicks) claimed their second successive stage victory and narrowed the lead held by Ischen Stopforth and Catherine Williamson (Bridge bizhub Ladies) from 12 minutes to just over five minutes with two stages remaining.
“Nico and I have wanted to win a stage in a major race for a while now. It’s a good feeling to finally get it,” grinned Combrinck. “We had some mechanical issues earlier in the tour and yesterday we had more hassles and really spent a lot of pennies to reduce the time gap from around four minutes to 30 seconds by the finish line.”
Stage 3 winners; Melt Swanepoel and Matthys Beukes finished third on Thursday, losing time and almost second place overall to Bell and Combrinck, who are now just 29 seconds back. Evans and George still hold a solid 13-minute lead.
“It was a beautiful, but very tough route today. We were spinning out on many of the steep climbs and had to get off and walk. And the downhills were damn steep and scary in places! We came into this tour aiming for at least second place overall and now that’s looking possible,” added Combrinck.
Swiss pair Kathrin Stirnemann and Sandro Soncin (BH – Halbike – Tigers) won the stage and extended their lead in the Mixed category over early leaders Max Fridrich and Nadine Rieder (Ergon 24H Racing Team) from Germany, while Barti Bucher and Ernst Engeli (Bix-Sherpa Tensing Pedalerie) secured a fifth consecutive stage win to increase their grip on the Master’s division lead.
The Veteran’s category saw Germany’s Nico Pfitzenmaier and his South African teammate, Robert Sim (Robert Daniel Momsen) capture stage honours and open up their lead from less than a minute to a slightly more comfortable 19 minutes over the Dutch pair of Micha de Vries and Willem van Heerdt (Cube Nutswerk 1).
Pfitzenmaier and Sim have had to deal with mechanical challenges almost daily, but on Thursday were unhindered and secured an impressive third overall on the stage and moved into fifth in the overall rankings.
In the Solo men’s race, Austrian Heinz Zoerweb had a storming stage to claim the victory well ahead of category leader, Timo Cooper, who still holds a substantial overall lead, while Diana Carolin captured another stage win and closed the gap to Solo women’s category leader Desiree Loubser to just over three minutes.
Friday’s Stage 5 is the penultimate leg of the race and takes the riders from Herold to George over a distance of 75km over the Outeniqua Mountains with a total of 1693 metres of ascent.