David George and Kevin Evans turned in another commanding performance in near-perfect mountain biking conditions to claim the second stage of the sani2c, presented by BoE Private Clients, in southern KwaZulu-Natal on Friday.
The Nedbank 360Life pair, from Cape Town and Plettenberg Bay respectively, powered through the 99km queen stage from McKenzie Club near Ixopo to Jolivet Farm in the Highflats region in a time of 3:34:41.
They were followed home by James Reid and Charles Keey of Nedbank 360Life-Blend Properties, who clocked 3:37:33. Darren Lill and Brandon Stewart of FedGroup-Itec Connect-Bonitas recovered from a puncture to place third in 3:39:59.
Evans and George now head the overall standings with a total time of 6:10:25. They are followed by Reid and Keey in 6:15:22 and Lill and Stewart in 6:20:32.
The top five teams, which included Bell Cycling-Columbia’s Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck as well as Louis Bresler-Knipe and Andrew Hill of ITB, made an early break from the main bunch to lead the way into the Umkomaas River Valley.
“We didn’t have too much pressure to make any big gaps on the descent,” said George. “So we just rode down on the wheel.”
The leaders were still together when they crossed the floating bridge after 30km.
George and Evans started to come to the fore in the rough technical sections leading up to the first waterpoint, which came after 40km.
They gapped their breakaway companions on the single track known as Steve’s Spruit and put their heads down on the 5km district road ascent that followed to open up a minute and a half on Reid and Keey by the second waterpoint at 65km.
Stewart and Lill were a further 45 seconds back, while Bresler-Knipe and Hill had fallen off the pace along with Bell and Combrinck.
The leaders extended the gap on the next big climb, baptised Push of a Climb, to build a two-minute advantage over Reid and Keey by the final waterpoint at 83km. Stewart and Lill were a minute further adrift.
“From there it’s fairly fast to the finish,” said Evans. “So if you’ve got the gap and you can keep the legs turning, it’s pretty much over bar any mishaps.”
Evans said their plan had been to ride hard for the first two days and take it easier on the final stage.
“We wanted some time in the bag in case something goes wrong tomorrow,” the four-time winner said, referring to last year’s race when they missed a turn on the final day that cost them the title.
The leading ladies, Theresa Ralph and Karien van Jaarsveld of DisChem-Britehouse-MTN, were not so lucky after the latter suffered a broken derailleur early on.
Ischen Stopforth and Catherine Williamson of bizhub-FCF capitalised to ride to an easy stage victory in 4:20:23. Leana de Jager and Nicci Grobler, also riding under the bizhub-FCF banner, followed them in 4:38:33.
Ralph and Van Jaarsveld limped home third in 5:13:16 to slip to third in the overall standings behind new leaders Stopforth and Williamson and second-placed De Jager and Grobler.
In the mixed category, Erik and Ariane Kleinhans of Contego-28E took their second stage win in 4:18:36 to increase their lead atop the overall standings.
Next to finish, in 4:28:05, was the privateer pairing of Cherise Taylor and Dwane Stander. Ivor Jones and Bridgette Stewart of Crusader Logistics were third in 4:35:12.
The race ends with a fast-paced third and final stage over 72km from Jolivet to Scottburgh High School on Saturday.