Woolcock, Kruger secure Zuurberg title at first attempt
Overnight leaders Waylon Woolcock and HB Kruger completed a clean sweep of stage wins to claim overall honours in the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek mountain bike race outside Port Elizabeth today.
The BCX duo had a keen tussle with their rivals on the third and final day to emerge victorious by 20 seconds at the Zuurberg Mountain Village, which is perched above the Addo Elephant National Park.
Riding in the event for the first time, the Western Cape pair finished the 50km stage in 2:11:40 for a combined race time of 8:08:01.
They were followed home by the Ascendis-LCB outfit of Gert Heyns and Arno du Toit, who finished in 2:12:00 to consolidate their runner-up spot in the overall standings in 8:12:30.
Defending champion Andrew Hill, who teamed up with Marco Joubert for TIB Insurance-Momsen, finished third on the day in 2:12:16 as well as in the general classification in 8:15:49.
With a four-minute buffer going into the technically challenging final stage, Woolcock said their strategy was based on defence rather than attack.
“If you look at the route we were probably at a slight disadvantage today against some of the more technical riders.
“But something seriously would have to go wrong to lose a four-minute advantage in 50km, so we just tried to make sure that did not happen.”
The top three teams rode together for nearly the whole stage until BCX spotted an opportunity with about a kilometre to go.
“It wasn’t really planned, but we saw Arno taking a bit of strain coming up the last drag to the finish so we just put the hammer down for the stage win,” said Woolcock.
Reflecting on the event, he said they were very happy with their decision to compete.
“The hospitality and organisation have been top-notch and it is one of the best events I have been to,” he said.
“Besides that, the terrain is amazing, with lots of variety and it can be quite gnarly and rough in some places.
“As a climber, I enjoyed the fact that the stages finished at the top of a mountain every day.”
Having added the Zuurberg title to the Winelands Encounter they won last month, Woolcock said it was important for them to show their credentials.
“At the end of the day it’s all about giving back to our sponsors and getting as much coverage as we can so this win fits in with our team objectives.
“It’s important for us to aim high and doing well gives us and our sponsors great exposure and that’s always an incentive to go for the win.”
Knowing they needed to force the pace for a shot at the overall victory, Heyns and Du Toit said their mindset was to be aggressive from the start.
“But the BCX guys rode very well defensively and kept getting onto the single-track in front and we couldn’t really get away,” said Du Toit.
“Still, it was an awesome experience with some great trails and we really enjoyed the vibe on and off the bike.”
Hill, who won in 2014 and last year, said he and Joubert also tried to go hard from the start, but always felt it would come down to the final climb.
“We knew BCX would try to put the hammer down there and that’s what happened. We almost got second, but didn’t quite make it, and that’s how racing goes.”
The mixed title went to Neill Ungerer and Yolande de Villiers of Dryland-Ultimate Cycling, who dominated all three stages for a decisive victory.
Ungerer said the race was memorable, even though the last climb “is always a little killer”.
“But when you have a partner like Yolande you couldn’t ask for better. Everything went well, with awesome trails and a great vibe off the bike.”
De Villiers paid tribute to the organisers for their efforts.
“Today was more like a play day with great single-track and full marks to the organisers.
“From the trails to the route marking and waterpoints, everything was spot on. This is an event that everyone should do.”
GZT-Pedigree’s Siska van der Bijl, who won the women’s category alongside Annie Davids, said the event had a bright future.
“Trevor and Rob Hayter (the race founders) and their team did a wonderful job and the amount of work they put in was amazing.”
CAPTION: Waylon Woolcock (left) and HB Kruger of BCX negotiate a technical section en route to winning the final stage and overall title at the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek mountain bike race outside Port Elizabeth today. Photo: Full Stop Communications