Cape Town - Overall leaders Brandon Stewart and Darren Lill were made to work hard again to maintain their lead after stage seven of the Fairbairn Capital/Old Mutual joBerg2c mountain bike race in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday.
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"This bike race is like getting into the ring with Mike Tyson," Stewart said after he and Lill finished second on the 87-kilometre trek from Underberg.
Although Stewart, a former national cross country champion, and Lill, the current title holder on the road, lost out to contenders Waylon Woolcock and Neil MacDonald for the third day in succession in the final sprint, their overall lead remained intact.
"Whichever team wins on Saturday will be worthy and deserved champions," said Stewart.
"There is definitely respect from both sides."
Woolcock and MacDonald snatched their fifth stage win in 2:55.30, one second ahead of the overall leaders.
David Morison and Stuart Marais secured their third podium finish in succession in 3:02.02.
In the general classification, Stewart and Lill's combined time of 28:05.30 gave them a lead of one minute, eight seconds over Woolcock and MacDonald.
Max Knox and Adrien Niyonshuti, who had struggled since stage four when the latter took a tumble and injured his knee, were still gutsing it out in third overall at 28:49.10.
The women's section saw a reversal of roles for the first time as Yolandi du Toit and Mauritian teammate Aurlie Halbwachs won the stage in 3:54.23.
Overall leaders Ischen Stopforth and Catherine Williamson of Great Britain crossed the line in 3:54:27.
Mixed category leaders Erik and Ariane Kleinhans were put under pressure for the first time as well, but managed to hold off Johan Labuschagne and Yolande de Villiers by one second in a time of 3:31.59.
The nine-day, 900km race finishes in Scottburgh on Saturday.