Max Knox and Nico Bell held onto their overnight lead to claim overall victory in the three-day Nedbank sani2c mountain bike race that finished on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast on Saturday.
Riding in the colours of EAI-Westvaal, the pair finished fourth on the 80km final stage from Highflats to Scottburgh to claim the victors’ laurels in an aggregate time of 9:44:50.
It was Knox’s second win in the world’s largest fully serviced stage race, which is presented by Nedbank Private Wealth.
Defending champion Kevin Evans won the final stage alongside FedGroup-Itec team-mate Gawie Combrinck in 2:45:16.
They were followed home by RE:CM’s Waylon Woolcock and Lourens Luus in 2:47:59, with Brandon Stewart and Neil MacDonald rounding out the podium for FedGroup-Itec a further second back.
In the overall standings, Stewart and MacDonald claimed the runners-up spot in 9:46:19, with Contego-Giant’s Louis-Bresler Knipe and Gert Heyns third in 9:49:02.
Bell, who currently leads the MTN marathon series ahead of Knox, said he and his sometime adversary were currently both on good form and riding well together.
“We weren’t really going for the stage win today, we just wanted to take the win overall. But we wanted to make it hard from the start, so we rode away slightly in the beginning.”
The Mpumalanga-based riders kept a steady pace but by the first waterpoint, 23km in, all the main contenders were back together.
“And then FedGroup-Itec put in a lot of work because they wanted to set it up for their second team (Evans and Combrinck),” said Bell.
“We just had to make sure that Brandon and Neil didn’t ride away so we just sat on their wheel all day. We were happy for the other guys to go up the road because they were still 12 or so minutes behind us.”
The top teams worked together through Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve and past the second waterpoint at 58km.
Then, with 20km to go, Evans and Combrinck made their break along the railway track.
“I said this morning I would really like to win this stage,” said Evans. “The guys were all super competitive but we managed to get away.”
The win has special significance for the five-time champion, who has endured a long road to full recovery following abdominal surgery earlier this year.
“I’m super chuffed, it’s been a long time coming for me.”
In the women’s race, Ischen Stopforth added a second title to her name, this time alongside Olympic road rider Robyn de Groot.
The Biogen team clocked 3:14:58 for the stage victory en route to a convincing category win in a combined time of 11:32:52.
Britain’s Catherine Williamson, who won with Stopforth last year, took second on the stage with bizhub team-mate Yolandi du Toit in 3:25:40. FedGroup-Itec’s Bridgette Stewart and Jackie Moore completed the day’s podium in 3:33:17.
These teams occupy the same positions in the general classification with overall times of 11:54:16 and 12:51:48 respectively.
De Groot, riding in her first Nedbank sani2c, said she had thoroughly enjoyed the different discipline.
“I love mountain biking. I loved the trails and single track.
“Obviously I have some room for improvement but it’s great to learn from someone with Ischen’s experience.”
She said the 360Life floating bridge over Scottburgh lagoon and into the sea had proved challenging.
“It was a little bit more unstable than I expected. There were some wobbly moments, especially in the corners!”
Erik and Ariane Kleinhans of RE:CM stamped their authority on the race by taking a third consecutive overall victory in the mixed category in 11:00:43.
They finished more than 27 minutes clear of stage three winners Kendall Ryan and Patrick Belton of Jeep-Felt, who claimed second on the standings in 11:28:28.
Ryan and Belton took the stage into Scottburgh in 3:06:04, just 26 seconds ahead of the Kleinhans couple, with Educos’s Taygan Robson and Samantha Saunders two minutes back in 3:08:10.
The final step of the overall podium however belonged to RMB Change a Life Academy’s John Ntuli and Jeannie Dreyer in 11:38:09.