Team RE:CM Waylon Woolcock and Neil MacDonald sent a strong message to the overall leaders when they sprinted to their third stage win in this year’s Fairbairn Capital/Old Mutual joBerg2c.
After 95 kilometres of intense racing, they crossed the line at the picturesque Glengarry Park in the Kamberg region of KwaZulu-Natal in 3:44:13 to edge out Fedgroup Berg and Bush’s overnight leaders, Brandon Stewart and Darren Lill.
Blend Properties’ David Morison and Stuart Marais showed that they were getting stronger as the event progressed, finishing third in 3:45:35 after a creditable fifth the previous day.
Stewart and Lill still have a comfortable lead in the overall standings after 21:31:58 of racing. Woolcock and MacDonald are second with a combined time of 21:33:08 and MTN-DoItKnow’s Max Knox and Adrien Niyonshuti third on 21:46:04.
It was a super defensive effort by the RE:CM pair, who had to fight back from two mechanical problems and a fall each early on. They managed to rejoin the leading pack after about 30km, just before the first waterpoint.
Four teams – RE:CM, Fedgroup Berg and Bush, MTN-DoItNow and Marshalls World of Sport’s Brett Dickson and Shaun Peschel – were together when the race hit the district roads after the first sections of single track.
“Things sort of settled down at that point,” said Woolcock. “Then we hit the three climbs and they were absolutely true to their nicknames of Hard, Harder and Hardest.”
The group kept a steady pace on the first two climbs, but on the final one RE:CM and Fedgroup Berg and Bush applied the pressure to get rid of Knox and Niyonshuti and Dickson and Peschel.
“From then on in we pretty much worked together. Both teams seemed quite tired after yesterday,” said Woolcock.
“They obviously didn’t need to attack us and our tactics were to conserve as much energy as possible after the big day we had.”
Woolcock said they were confident of taking the sprint based on their performances earlier in the tour. MacDonald led the quartet over the line, followed by Stewart, Woolcock and Lill – equating to a win for RE:CM.
“We tried not to be too hard on ourselves after losing the lead yesterday,” said Woolcock, referring to their credentials as road riders. “We’re still pretty much in a learning phase.”
He admitted to being sore all over. “Yesterday was very hard on the body – we’re not as used to the jarring as some of the others.”
Being novices at the event, Woolcock felt they would be at a slight disadvantage on Wednesday’s stage between Kamberg and Underberg. “Not knowing the route makes it difficult to plan ahead.”
He felt Stewart and Lill would be their major opposition going into the “business end” of the race.
“Sooner or later it will be crunch time and then we’ll have to attack. They’re certainly not going to hand it to us on a plate.”
Even though few expected them to be real contenders, the pair made it clear that they had come to the race to give it their best shot and that they certainly wouldn’t be “going away”.
MacDonald – who was forced to withdraw on stage one last year after his riding partner Nic White crashed and broke his leg – couldn’t have been happier with the result. “Today was a great defensive effort by us – it is fantastic to be in contention despite our problems.”
Team bizhub’s Ischen Stopforth and British team-mate Catherine Williamson continued their clean-sweep in this year’s race by winning in 4:23:14 and further extending their sizeable overall lead.
Erik and Ariane Kleinhans of Fairbairn Capital remained on the winning path in the mixed category, finishing in 4:14:46.
The nine-day, 900km race finishes in Scottburgh on Saturday.
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