Podium battle intensifies at Cape Pioneer Trek

    Overall leaders, David George (left) and Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life) were content with second place on Stage 5 of the Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek international mountain bike stage race on Friday. Photo: Karin Schermbrucker/Slingshot Media

    The battle for the final podium places at the 2012 Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek international mountain bike stage race in South Africa’s Western Cape Province intensified further on Friday when Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (Westvaal Columbia) and Yolande Speedy and Yolande de Villiers (Klein Karoo International Ostrich Chicks) raced to victories on Stage 5.

    Although shortened and rerouted due to rain damage on the original 75km route, the penultimate stage of the seven-day race saw continued high levels of tension among the General Classification podium contenders. Bell and Combrinck won the stage overall, just ahead of overall leaders, Kevin Evans and David George (Nedbank 360Life), who confirmed they’re riding defensively and cautiously and minimising any need to take risks.

    The big losers on the day were Melt Swanepoel and Matthys Beukes (Cango MTB.com), who finished 11 minutes back and lost second place on General Classification to Bell and Combrinck.

    The women’s race was equally dynamic, with Stage 4 winners Speedy and De Villiers finishing six minutes ahead of Stopforth and Williamson (Bridge bizhub Ladies) to take the lead for the first time. Stopforth has been ill for two days and was on the brink of withdrawing overnight, but decided to start the stage on Friday, managing to get the finish with a shot a finishing the tour and, depending on her recovery, the overall title.

    “There was a big climb early on today, so our strategy was to start hard and try and get away from Melt and Matthys,” said Bell. “David George actually pushed the pace hard up there and we followed. Matthys was able stay with us, but had to drop back to Melt after a while.

    “We really gave it our all today. We wanted second place on GC and we wanted another stage win. We also wanted a big enough cushion for the last day so that we can take fewer risks and hopefully challenge for another stage win. We have a 10-minute margin, but that’s not much in mountain biking. We lost more than that on Stage 2 when my derailleur hanger broke,” added Bell.

    For Speedy and De Villiers, claiming the race lead was a significant motivation while the stage win was a bonus.

    Riders enjoy the forest singletrack descent into George on Stage 5 of the 2012 Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek international mountain bike stage race. Photo: Karin Schermbrucker/Slingshot Media.

    “We went into a lead from the first climb and then just focussed on keeping out of trouble while going as hard as we could. Our lead is less than a minute over Ischen and Catherine, which makes the women’s race exciting right until the end. It’s good for women’s racing and for the Cape Pioneer Trek. It’s been more of a race than a survival test.”

    With two stages of mechanical nightmares behind them, the top Veteran pairing of Nico Pfitzenmaier and Robert Sim (Robert Daniel Momsen) were once again racing at the front of the race, finishing the stage third overall and extending the lead in their category.

    “On Stage 1 we cut a tyre and had to tube it. Then we hit thorns and eventually ran out of spare tubes and inflator bombs. It was soul destroying. Then on Stage 3, Robert dented his rim, which again forced us to tube and again we had to deal with punctures. Riding without problems for the last two days has been a huge relief,” explained Pfitzenmaier, a German who lives in Cape Town.

    “I’ve done a lot of stage races around the world and this year’s Cape Pioneer Trek is by far the best. It sets a new standard. The route has been challenging, but fun and the organisers really care about every single rider. Nothing is left to chance. Everything is just so well executed. Everything,” added Pfitzenmaier.

    The Swiss team of Barti Bucher and Ernst Engeli (Bix-Sherpa Tensing Pedalerie), put in another impressive performance to finish the stage in eighth place overall, extending their Masters category lead further, while Mixed category leaders, Kathrin Stirnemann and Sandro Soncin (BH – Halbike – Tigers) of Switzerland won a third consecutive stage and tightened their grip on the lead in that division.

    Timo Cooper secured another stage win in the Solo men’s race, while Diana Carolin’s stage win saw her move into the lead in the Solo women’s race after gradually closing the gap each day on previous leader, Desiree Loubser.

    Saturday’s final stage was originally planned to be an 84km leg from George to Oudtshoorn, but may be shortened and rerouted to avoid areas affected by heavy overnight rain. No matter what the final route, it’s unlikely to beregarded as a procession with a number of podium places still up for finalisation.