Cape Town - Former champion Neil MacDonald, riding with new partner Brandon Stewart, notched up his second overall victory in the nine-day Old Mutual joBerg2c mountain bike race at Scottburgh on Saturday.
The FedGroup-Itec riders completed the 910km journey from Heidelberg in Gauteng to the KwaZulu-Natal south coast in 34:11:05, taking four stage wins in the process.
They finished 11 minutes clear of MacDonald’s former team-mate Waylon Woolcock, with whom he won the 2011 event, and Lourens Luus of RE:CM (34:22:21).
Woolcock and Luus, who had been trailing by four-and-a-half minutes at the start of the 86km final stage, suffered mechanical problems that put paid to their title chances.
Bridge duo Timo Cooper and Nico Pfitzenmaier, who completed the final stage sixth in 3:12:29, rounded out the podium with an aggregate time of 35:02:57.
First on the final day was the Contego pairing of Louis-Bresler Knipe and Belgian teammate Kevin van Hoovels, who powered their way along the edge of the Indian Ocean to claim their third stage win in 3:02:09.
They finished a respectable seventh overall in 36:33:50 after dropping out of contention in the earlier stages due to illness.
MacDonald and Stewart finished the ninth stage second in 3:02:44, with Woolcock and Luus following them home in 3:09:37.
The leaders, driven by Van Hoovels, had set a blistering pace throughout the stage that descended through the sugarcane fields towards the beach.
Despite this, the top contenders were all together at the first waterpoint around 39km after the start at Jolivet in the Highflats region.
Then, 6km further on, Woolcock suffered a chain break, which forced RE:CM to chase hard as Contego, FedGroup-Itec and Bridge forged ahead.
On the steep Work to be Done climb in the Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve, Contego and FedGroup-Itec pulled clear and stayed away to the finish.
MacDonald, who was also runner-up last year alongside Woolcock, said the race held a very special place in his heart.
“Coming into a new team and getting the results that I have this season, you don’t get that often. So I’m very happy with the way things have turned out.”
An emotional Stewart said it was one of the biggest wins of his career. “I don’t think people realise how much you have to fight in your everyday life for this, but I’m very chuffed.”
Erik Kleinhans received a fitting birthday present when he and his Swiss wife Ariane finished the trek in 36:38:55 to take the mixed category win for a third year in a row and eighth overall.
The on-form RE:CM duo crossed the line first in 3:17:08 to put the seal on an unbroken series of stage wins en route to victory.
British rider Catherine Williamson and partner Jarryd Haley of bizhub-Rocky Mountain finished second in 3:20:37 to take the overall runner-up spot in 37:08:54.
Fischer-BMC’s Jane Nüssli and Yves Corminboeuf followed them home in 3:24:42 to complete the mixed podium in 37:36:26.
Two-time Absa Cape Epic mixed champion Erik said the competition had been fantastic.
“I can’t believe the mixed racing has been so close. Our bodies were quite tired, so we had to dig a little deeper than we’re used to.”
Two-time women’s race champion Ischen Stopforth, riding with former mixed category winner Yolande de Villiers, added another title in 39:12:56. Riding in the colours of joBerg2c, they took their fifth stage win in 3:32:48.
They were followed home by the Burry Stander Foundation team of Cherise Stander and Lise Olivier in 3:49:01 (40:04:46) and USN-bizhub’s Yolandi du Toit and Nicci Grobler in 4:05:00 (40:57:03).
Stopforth said the race was getting tougher every year. “It’s really nice to see the ladies upping their game.”
1. Louis-Bresler Knipe & Kevin van Hoovels (Contego) 3:02:09
2. Brandon Stewart & Neil MacDonald (FedGroup-Itec) 3:09:37
3. Waylon Woolcock & J3
1. Ischen Stopforth & Yolande de Villiers (joBerg2c Ladies) 3:32:48
2. Cherise Stander & Lise Olivier (Burry Stander Foundation) 3:49:01
3. Yolandi du Toit & Nicci Grobler (USN-bizhub) 4:05:00
1. Ariane Kleinhans & Erik Kleinhans (RE:CM) 3:17:08
2. Catherine Williamson & Jarryd Haley (bizhub-Rocky Mountain) 3:20:37
3. Jane Nüssli & Yves Corminboeuf (Fischer-BMC) 3:24:42
1. Brandon Stewart & Neil MacDonald (FedGroup-Itec) 34:11:05
2. Waylon Woolcock & Lourens Luus (RE:CM) 34:22:21
3. Nico Pfitzenmaier & Timo Cooper (Bridge) 35:02:57
1. Ischen Stopforth & Yolande de Villiers (joBerg2c Ladies) 39:12:56
2. Cherise Stander & Lise Olivier (Burry Stander Foundation) 40:04:46
3. Yolandi du Toit & Nicci Grobler (USN-bizhub) 40:57:03
1. Ariane Kleinhans & Erik Kleinhans (RE:CM) 36:38:55
2. Catherine Williamson & Jarryd Haley (bizhub-Rocky Mountain) 37:08:54
3. Jane Nüssli & Yves Corminboeuf (Fischer-BMC) 37:36:26