Overnight race leaders and defending champions, Kevin Evans and David George (Nedbank 360Life) claimed the biggest stage prize purse of any mountain bike stage race in the world when they won Stage 2 of the Bridge Cape Pioneer on top of the Swartberg Pass in South Africa’s Western Cape province on Tuesday.
The top South African duo earned R100 000 (US$ 12 000) for reaching the finish line of the gruelling stage first, recording a time of 03 hours 54 minutes 15 seconds. Second place went to Melt Swanepoel and Matthys Beukes (Cango MTB.com) with Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (Westvaal Columbia) rounding out the top three places overall after having to deal with a broken rear derailleur hanger.
The scenario on the cool, partly cloudy day was similar in the women’s category with 2011 winners and overnight leaders, Ischen Stopforth and Catherine Williamson (Bridge bizhub Ladies) finishing first ahead of – and extending their overall lead over – Yolande Speedy and Yolande de Villiers (Klein Karoo Chicks).
The riders, who hail from Europe, Great Britain, Australia and Southern Africa, tackled the event’s queen stage with a sense of caution. Just 85km in distance, the third day of racing required they climb a total of 2 760 vertical metres, mostly over the rough terrain characteristic of the semi-arid Karoo region.
The final climb to the mountain top finish took in the 12km long Swartberg Pass, a dramatic twisty gravel road that climbs at a relentless gradient for a total of 1 100 metres.
“Obviously the prizemoney was a good motivator today, but we’re always going to give our best in every stage we race. Frustratingly, what we earned today was a fraction of what professional golfers earn but kudos to the organisers and sponsors for upping the ante in mountain bike stage racing,” said George.
George and Evans must finish the event and score a minimum number of points (awarded to the top five teams on each stage) in order to qualify for the handover of the generous stage prizemoney put up by title sponsor Bridge, a financial solutions company, when the event ends on Saturday.
A lead group of 15 riders developed early on but at 30km into the 85km stage, Evans and George began to increase the pressure and moved into the lead on their own. They extended their lead by the finish to almost nine minutes and will go into the remainder of the seven-day tour with a margin of 10:39 over Swanepoel and Beukes.
“We wanted a buffer just in case of mishaps so pushed from far out for the win. It was a challenging stage for sure with some technical ascents and descents and a lot of climbing. We are one of the few top teams in the race on full-suspension bikes which really has been to our advantage,” added George.
Germans Max Fridrich and Nadine Rieder (Ergon 24H Racing Team) claimed victory in the Mixed category, while the Swiss team of Barti Bucher and Ernst Engeli (Bix-Sherpa Tensing Pedalerie) won the stage and extended their lead in the Masters division.
The South African-German pairing of Robert Sim and Nico Pfitzenmaier made up for time lost on Stage 1 with an impressive fifth place overall on Tuesday to reclaim their lead in the very competitive Veteran category. Timo Cooper and Desiree Loubser claimed the stage honours in the Solo men and women’s categories respectively and lead those divisions overall.
Wednesday’s Stage 3 takes in a 109km route from Prince Albert, through the Karoo to De Rust, climbing a total of 1 555 metres and ending with the famous 8km singletrack descent into Meiringspoort.