Johannesburg - A thrilling finish on day four of the Old Mutual joBerg2c mountain bike race saw Louis-Bresler Knipe and Kevin van Hoovels take advantage of a wrong turn by the lead group to snatch victory on the first of the climbing stages on Monday.
The Contego riders were eventually chased down, but held their nerve in a dramatic four-team sprint to the finish on the 122km stage from Sterkfontein Dam in the Free State, to Winterton in KwaZulu-Natal.
Knipe and Van Hoovels took the win in four hours, 46 minutes and 32 seconds (4:46:32), a second ahead of race leaders Waylon Woolcock and Lourens Luus of RE:CM.
Brandon Stewart and Neil MacDonald of FedGroup-Itec were a further four seconds back.
Woolcock and Luus retain their overnight lead with their aggregate time of 17 hours, nine minutes and 55 seconds (17:09:55), putting them 26 seconds ahead of second-placed Stewart and MacDonald.
Charles Keey and Darren Lill remain third with a combined time of 17:10:45.
After struggling with a nagging knee problem, which saw him hanging off the back of the lead bunch for most of the stage, Knipe said he was thrilled with his team’s performance.
“The racing started really hard and I was just struggling at the back the whole time," Knipe said.
"My partner’s super-strong, so he was helping me.”
After an early breakaway high in the mountains, the top five teams - with Bridge riders Nico Pfitzenmaier and Timo Cooper also in the mix - rode together all the way down the escarpment into Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Shortly after the second waterpoint at the 77km mark, the top four teams missed a left-hand deviation into a section of track and went straight down a cattle path instead.
“We shouted to them,” said Knipe, who was 20 seconds off the lead at the time.
“But they were in racing mode and didn’t hear.
“So going up Spioenkop, we just gassed it and rode as hard as we could.”
By the third waterpoint at 90km, Knipe and Van Hoovels had opened a two-minute gap, which the chasing teams worked hard to close down.
They finally caught them on Puffadder Pass, 16 kilometres later.
“They got us going over the last hill and we just stayed together until the finish.”
The stage win puts the 23-year-old Knipe and his 27-year-old Belgian partner in fourth position overall, just over six minutes behind Woolcock and Luus.
“We’re quite far off on the general classification, so unless something like this happens again, we’d need a lot of luck.”
In the mixed category, there was another epic battle, as RE:CM’s Erik and Ariane Kleinhans fought to maintain their lead over Catherine Williamson and Jarryd Haley of bizhub-Rocky Mountain.
The RE:CM duo managed to open a lead on the technical descent, which they extended on Puffadder Pass en route to the finish for a time of five hours, eight minutes and 45 seconds (5:08:45).
Williamson and Haley finished second in 5:10:36, with the Fischer-BMC pairing of Jane Nessli and Yves Corminboeuf taking a distant third in 5:21:20.
The 102km fifth stage takes place from Winterton Country Club to the Glengarry Resort in Kamberg on Tuesday.