The Fairbairn Capital/Old Mutual joBerg2c is fast becoming a two-horse race after another dominant performance by Waylon Woolcock and Neil MacDonald of Team RE:CM and Brandon Stewart and Darren Lill of FedGroup Berg and Bush on Wednesday.
Woolcock and MacDonald once again got the better of Stewart and Lill in the sprint to register a time of 3:38:00 for the undulating 93-kilometre journey between Kamberg and Hazeldene farm in the vicinity of Underberg in the Southern Drakensberg.
David Morison and Stuart Marais of Blend Properties captured their second podium in as many days by crossing the line in a competitive 3:44:23.
With MTN-DoItNow’s Rwandan star Adrien Niyonshuti clearly hampered by a knee injury sustained during a crash on day four, he and partner Max Knox, many’s pre-race favourites, continued to lose big chunks of time.
The pair however managed to hang on to fourth with a time of 3:53:09, holding off the chasing Shaun Peschl and Brett Dickson of Marshall World of Sport, who completed the stage in 3:54:15.
Stewart and Lill now lead the overall standings on 25:09:59 ahead of MacDonald and Woolcock, who have amassed a total time of 25:11:08. Knox and Niyonshuti’s 25:39:13 sees them retain third.
“Although we’ve won today, they seemed very comfortable,” said a tired but happy MacDonald. “We attacked as much as possible over the last 10 kilometres, but didn’t make much impact.
“We really thought today was going to be the day with all the climbing, but I think the previous stages have taken their toll on everyone. After 700 kilometres of racing the mind is willing, but the body not so eager.”
Team RE:CM took the early initiative and applied pressure on the seven-kilometre Vergelegen ascent heading towards the first waterpoint, but to no avail.
On the technical climb after the day’s big river crossing around the 50-kilometre mark, it was Stewart and Lill who were able to establish a 20-second lead, but all came together as soon as they hit the district roads.
“The distances between the technical sections and district roads were too big to make it count,” said Stewart. “That climb was the last real opportunity.”
MacDonald said Stewart had been climbing strongly. “I marked him, while Waylon did the same with Darren. So it was all pretty much neutralised.”
“Although we don’t have the lead, we can’t ask for anything more. It’s been great for our sponsors.”
According to MacDonald, they were gaining in confidence as the days passed and felt they were still in with a chance.
His team-mate said the race was now becoming a balancing act.
“Although we must attack, it’s all about pacing yourself over nine days. We can’t afford to make stupid mistakes.”
In the women’s section, Team bizhub’s Ischen Stopforth (4:25:55; 29:14:09) and her British partner Catherine Williamson continued to stretch their lead over Team Develop’s Yolandi du Toit and her Mauritian partner Aurélie Halbwachs (4:45:35; 30:41:14).
Erik and Ariane Kleinhans of Fairbairn Capital (4:08:37; 27:53:16) also continued their dominance in the mixed by getting the better of Johan Labuschagne and Yolande de Villiers of Cycle Lab KTM (4:16:03; 28:57:37).
The race finishes on the beach in Scottburgh on Saturday.
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