David George and Kevin Evans threw down the gauntlet in their first appearance at the nine-day Old Mutual joBerg2c as the serious mountain bike racing got underway on Saturday.
The Nedbank 360Life duo set a blistering pace on the 93km second stage from Frankfort to Reitz in the Free State to cross the line first in 3:01:32 and scoop the R10 000 daily prize as well as the overall lead.
They were followed home by Brandon Stewart and Jacques Rossouw (FedGroup Itec-Connect) in 3:02:15, who bested defending champions Waylon Woolcock and Neil MacDonald (RE-CM) by five seconds in a sprint finish.
George and Evans’ overall time of 7:23:24 puts them just short of a minute ahead of Stewart and Rossouw (7:24:07) going into tomorrow’s 125km third stage between Reitz and Sterkfontein Dam. Woolcock and MacDonald (7:24:12) lurk in third.
After the neutral zone out of Frankfort, the top names rode closely together along the banks of the Wilge River. The action started at the 15km mark when Stewart made an early break on the first technical section.
Capetonian George followed quickly while Evans, from Plettenberg Bay, shadowed Stewart’s partner Jacques Rossouw, who was third on the road.
“I was waiting for Jacques to close the gap but he didn’t have the legs,” said Evans. “So I went across and when Dave saw me he just put the hammer down.”
The two opened a gap on the chasing group that also included David Morison and Louis Bresler Knipe (Itec Connect-Vodacom) as well as stage one winners Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck (Transact).
By the first water point at around 32km, the Absa Cape Epic runners-up had a minute’s lead, which shrank by 20 seconds as the chasers turned up the heat on the farm roads.
“We turned off into a cross wind and Dave pulled really hard there when we noticed the group starting to battle, so it opened up again to about a minute and 10 seconds.”
On the next stretch of single track, the pursuers had them in sight but were unable to close the gap.
Evans said they decided not to stop at the final water point to gain an extra few seconds in an effort to avoid a sprint finish on the final drag towards the Reitz showgrounds.
“It’s always a risk to go hard early on but it’s better than gambling on the sprint. It was a good day but we made it hard for ourselves.”
Epic champions Erik and Ariane Kleinhans (GMAC) stamped their authority on a strong mixed field with an impressive time of 3:22:38, which saw them place seventh overall.
Johan Labuschagne and Yolande de Villiers (Cycle Lab KTM) finished 10 minutes off the pace in 3:32:11, with Carel Bosman and Leana de Jager (PeptoPro-bizhub) claiming third in 3:42:17.
The Kleinhans pair’s overall time of 7:44:29 gives them the lead in the mixed section, followed by Labuschagne and De Villiers in 7:54:03. Bosman and De Jager are third on 8:04:09.
In the women’s race, reigning champions Ischen Stopforth and Catherine Williamson (bizhub-FCF) took line honours in 3:41:47. Sarah van Heerden and Jackie Church (Itec-Connect Vodacom) were second in 3:58:10.
Stopforth and Williamson’s combined time of 8:03:39 puts them an impressive 16 minutes ahead of Van Heerden and Church in the women’s overall standings.