Former national road champion Christoff van Heerden completed a hat trick of early season wins when he claimed victory in the 106km Classic at The Herald VW Cycle Tour in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
The Bonitas rider capitalised on a lead-out by team-mate HB Kruger to come out on top in a six-man sprint.
Van Heerden tussled with Tasol-GT strongman Johann Rabie all the way to the line to place a split-second ahead in 2:34:48, with Kruger a further second back.
British road champion Sharon Laws and last year’s winner Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio attempted a dead heat for Toyota but the women’s race was awarded to Laws in a time of 3:03:53.
Sweden’s Jennie Stenerhag, riding in the colours of Focus, completed the podium in 3:11:11.
An early break by NuWater’s local rider Clinton Barrow and Bonitas’s Pieter Seyffert saw the two get away within the first 10 kilometres and Seyffert take the first sprint prime on Buffelsfontein Road.
With the bunch chasing hard to close the one-minute gap, Seyffert and Barrow were finally hauled in after 35km on the newly-introduced 5K Hill climb, where Rabie claimed the first king of the mountains hotspot at the summit.
Splintering off the front, a breakaway of eight – featuring NuWater, Bonitas, Tasol-GT and Cannondale-Blend – now set the pace.
NuWater’s Theuns van der Bank took the second sprint at Altona Primary School after 42km and Barrow, a former South African U-23 champion, showed his endurance by claiming the final KOM prize on Maitlands at the 60km mark.
The leaders had opened a two-minute gap inside the final 10km, with NuWater – who had four riders present – controlling the group. The men in blue sent James Tennant up the road but he was quickly hauled in.
Kruger’s attack in the final 3km was also thwarted, but he recovered quickly to give Van Heerden the lead-out he needed.
The latter said it was a great day’s racing, despite a strong wind, on a challenging course.
“NuWater must have been one of the strongest teams on the day. They put pressure on the whole time. They always had numbers, which made it hard for us.”
The win marks the 28-year-old’s third victory of the season. His other titles came at the Gauteng champs and The Fast One.
In the women’s event, Laws made a daring solo escape after just 20km. She was joined by Moolman-Pasio on 5K Hill and the team-mates worked together to extend their lead all the way to the finish.
“This race was more challenging than any I’ve done in South Africa so far,” said the 94.7 Cycle Challenge winner.
“I was on my own for a long time, so it was really nice when Ashleigh came across and then we just rode together. It was perfect.”
The road race marked the culmination of the weekend festival of cycling and also cemented James Reid’s status as Ultimate Quest winner.
Reid, who placed third in the 80km Extreme mountain bike challenge at Addo on Saturday, finished the road race in 2:36:32 to claim the “double” crown for Team Trek in an aggregate time of 5:39:28.
Cannondale-Blend’s former national road champion, Darren Lill, was second in 5:43:58, with mountain bike winner Matthys Beukes, of Contego-Giant, third in 5:46:09.
“It feels really good,” said Reid, who will compete in cross-country racing in Europe this season.
“It’s a fantastic concept that gives mountain bikers something to work for; not just another hard day coming up against these fresh roadies. The race within a race makes it tricky but cool.”
Two-time mountain bike champion Candice Neethling (BMC-SA) took the women’s title in 6:37:50, followed by Stenerhag in 6:45:29 and Mariske Strauss (Contego-Giant) in 6:51:51.