Two seconds split top two teams at Great Zuurberg Trek
The Fairtree-Imperial team of Luyanda Thobigunya and Khusaselihle Ngidi relied on their climbing legs to win the second stage of the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek ahead of overnight leaders Rossouw Bekker and Matt Keyser today.
The frontrunners in the tough mountain bike race will take a meagre two-second lead into the third and final stage, which starts and finishes at the Zuurberg Mountain Village near Addo, just outside Gqeberha.
Thobigunya and Ngidi, who finished in 3:15.59, clawed their way back after starting the day one second behind the Valley Electrical Titan Racing team.
The Fairtree-Imperial pair, both from Stellenbosch, now head the general classification with an overall time of 5:48.09. They are followed by Bekker and Keyser (5:48.11) and Derek Venter and Gert Janse van Rensburg (6:03.43), who placed third for the second day running.
Keyser, from Somerset West, said he and Bekker, who hails from Stellenbosch, would have to produce a strong ride from the outset tomorrow to have a chance of regaining the top spot on the podium.
Today’s stage over 82km with 1 400m of ascent revolved around the final climb of Zuurberg Pass about 10km before the end when Fairtree-Imperial took advantage of the gradient to open what would prove to be a telling gap of around 0:01:30.
“Our plan going into this stage was to try to open a gap on the Titan Racing team and we had to use the last climb to do that because we rode together for most of the stage,” said Ngidi.
“We decided to attack on that climb and we managed to build up a lead, and then we had to keep the tempo up because we knew they would chase us.
“Like all the hills on this stage, it was a really tough climb and we were going flat out for that gap.
“Luyanda is very strong and we are feeling fine physically after two stages, so tomorrow will be about not letting them get away and to try to attack again on the last climb.”
Even if they failed to distance their rivals, he said they only needed to finish on their back wheels to secure overall victory.
In their first race together, Keyser said he and Bekker were managing the situation well but acknowledged the challenge which they faced.
“The Fairtree-Imperial team are super strong and also they are equal in ability, so we have to communicate a lot and be very smart about our riding, otherwise we will be in trouble,” he said.
He added that they started the stage with the intention of attacking early on after noticing that their rivals had struggled in the corresponding part of the first stage.
“We tried to see if we could get a bit of a gap in the beginning and that did happen because one of them dropped off,” said Keyser. “But, when we went downhill and climbed again, he was back on our wheels so that made us a bit nervous for the upcoming climbs.
“From then it was a case of trying to manage it well to stay with them until the finish.”
Keyser said their second plan was for Bekker to attack at the bottom of the pass and then for him to bridge over later.
“But it was quite steep before we could get to the singletrack and they saw we were struggling a bit, so they kept their pace up and took advantage of that.
“When we hit the open road, I said to Rossouw we have to limit our losses and go all out to try to catch them. That type of gradual climb suits us better and we almost managed to close the gap.
“But, tomorrow, we will have to go all out from the start because if we don’t get a gap by the time we get to the pass, it’s going to be difficult to overtake them.”
The mixed race also saw a change in GC with Craig Munton and Nicola Freitas building a considerable lead over Wesley and Mandi Augustyn.
They won the stage in 3:53.46, nearly nine minutes ahead of the Augustyns (4:02.21), and will start the final day just more than five minutes ahead.
In the women’s category, Tracey Campbell and Juanita Mackenzie enjoyed another good day in the saddle to consolidate their overnight lead after finishing the stage in 4:03.27.
Their combined time of 7:41.38 puts them well ahead of Alexa Terblanche and Brigitte Joubert (9:04.26) and Vicki Laing and Leana Cooper (9:40:08).
“It was an awesome stage with nice, flowing gravel roads and lots of singletrack and impressive downhills. Absolutely amazing,” said Campbell.
“Going into tomorrow, we will just be aiming to survive, keep our lead and battle through.”
The final stage is a short and sharp 40km with 1 200m of ascent that takes in the renowned Hayterdale Trails before finishing atop Zuurberg Pass.
Stage 2, 82km
1 Luyanda Thobigunya, Khusaselihle Ngidi 3:15.59
2 Rossouw Bekker, Matt Keyser 3:16.02
3 Derek Venter, Gert Janse van Rensburg 3:22.42
1 Tracey Campbell, Juanita Mackenzie 4:03.27
2 Alexa Terblanche, Brigitte Joubert 5:15.42
3 Vicki Laing, Leana Cooper 5:24.44
1 Craig Munton, Nicola Freitas 3:53.46
2 Wesley and Mandi Augustyn 4:02.21
3 Christo and Tanya Roos 4:20.43
1 Luyanda Thobigunya, Khusaselihle Ngidi 5:48.09
2 Rossouw Bekker, Matt Keyser 5:48.11
3 Derek Venter, Gert Janse van Rensburg 6:03.43
1 Tracey Campbell, Juanita Mackenzie 7:41.38
2 Alexa Terblanche, Brigitte Joubert 9:04.26
3 Vicki Laing, Leana Cooper 9:40.08
1 Craig Munton, Nicola Freitas 7:03.57
2 Wesley and Mandi Augustyn 7:09.15
3 Christo and Tanya Roos 7:35.47