They’ve been working hard from the very first pedal stroke on Sunday to make their mark on the 2012 Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike stage race and on Wednesday their relentless efforts paid off when Melt Swanepoel and Matthys Beukes (Cango MTB.com) captured the overall win on Stage 3. They weren’t the only new winners though, as a number of new faces graced the top of the podium in various categories following a drama-filled day’s racing.
It was a stage of turnarounds as driving rain during the latter half of the stage made for treacherous conditions as the riders made their way over 109km across the Great Karoo region from Prince Albert to De Rust with the fast, twisty singletrack descent into Meiringspoort a dominant feature.
Swanepoel and Beukes clocked a winning time of 04 hours 06 minutes 07 seconds pushing overall leaders, Kevin Evans and David George (Nedbank 360Life) into a rare second place, following three consecutive stage wins. Third place went to the Westvaal Columbia team of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck. Evans and George still have a firm grasp on their race leaders’ Bridge Yellow Jerseys.
“It felt great to win a stage. It’s especially great for Matthys as he’s been the stronger rider most of the time and this is essentially his back yard we are racing in. He pushed the pace hard through Meiringspoort near the end today and I was just hoping I could have enough left for a sprint to the line. Luckily I did,” said Swanepoel.
“Kevin and David are in superb form and have a good lead, but mountain bike racing is so unpredictable. We won’t take any unnecessary risks but will keep the pressure high for the rest of the tour,” added Swanepoel.
Between Swanepoel and Beukes, they won five of the six stages at the 2012 Breck Epic, one of the USA’s most prestigious mountain bike stage races.
Yolande Speedy and Yolande de Villiers (Klein Karoo Chicks) upstaged overall women’s leaders Ischen Stopforth and Catherine Williamson (Bridge bizhub Ladies) to grab their first stage win of the tour. Stopforth and Williamson, the 2011 champions, still hold a 12-minute overall lead, but showed a vulnerability that has inspired their main rivals.
“It was great to win today,” said Speedy, a Beijing Olympian and multiple South African women’s marathon champion. “Yolande and I have never raced together before so the first few days we were discovering each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We seem to be getting stronger as the race goes on and are now around 12 minutes behind Ischen and Catherine, which is encouraging. We’re excited for the rest of the race.
“This race is amazing – it’s real mountain biking. The trails are tough at times, but always enjoyable. You’re not just charging through the bush to make up distance like some other races,” added Speedy.
The biggest shift of the day was in the Mixed division, where Swiss riders Kathrin Stirnemann and Sandro Soncin (BH – Halbike – Tigers) raced to their first stage win. Second placed finishers were South African Craig Gerber and his Swedish teammate Jennie Stenerhag (Newlinesport), with German overnight leaders, Max Fridrich and Nadine Rieder (Ergon 24H Racing Team) struggling home in third after having to deal with tyre problems. Stirnemann and Soncin now lead the category into Stage 4.
And in the Veteran men’s race, Nico Pfitzenmaier and Robert Sim (Robert Daniel Momsen) fell victim to more mechanical problems, which allowed the Dutch pairing of Micha de Vries and Willem van Heerdt (Cube Nutswerk 1) to win the stage and move to just over a minute behind Pfitzenmaier and Sim in the General Classification.
The Swiss team of Barti Bucher and Ernst Engeli (Bix-Sherpa Tensing Pedalerie) continued their domination of the Master’s category (50-years plus), winning a fourth stage in succession and extending their overall lead. They finished an impressive sixth overall on the stage and are in sixth overall on the General Classification.
At just 63km, Thursday’s Stage 4 is relatively short, but expected to be considerably tough with a total of 1 894 metres of vertical ascent. It takes the riders from De Rust to Herold over the rugged Kamanassie Mountains.