Cape Town - The Queen Stage of the 2017 Cape Pioneer Trek saw Alan Hatherly and Matt Beers distance themselves from Nico Bell and Gawie Combrink in the final meters to claim a potentially decisive stage win.
The sixth stage of the race on Friday featured a mammoth 2 700 metres of climbing and was won by the duo of Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz in the UCI women's competition.
The Swartberg Pass is an iconic feature of the Cape Pioneer Trek and after its absence in 2016, Dryland Event Management took the decision to reinclude the grand old dame in the 2017 event.
The 95 kilometre long stage might have ended on the Swarberg Pass, but the National Monument's roads - which date back to 1886 - only accounted for 800 metres of the total elevation gain, making the stage exceptionally brutal.
Once again the team of Bell and Combrink did their best to drive up the pace in the early phases of the race, but without a second equally strong general classification team to counter punch and put Hatherly and Beers under pressure they could not force a split from the yellow jersey wearers.
Despite crossing some typically technical Klein Karoo terrain, which shook off the other UCI men's teams Hatherly/Beers and Bell/Combrink started the final climb together.
"I tried to set a tough pace in the hope of dropping Alan (Hatherly)," Bell explained at the top of the Swartberg Pass.
"It is impossible to set the pace and attack so Gawie (Combrink) tried to attack a few times, with the idea of me riding across to him if he got away. But Alan (Hatherly) and Matt (Beers) were too strong and could follow every move," he concluded.
"My legs felt terrible on the final climb, but somehow I hung in there. Then in the last 500 metres they started to feel better, miraculously, so I thought we might as well go for it and see if we could gain a few seconds," Beers said.
"Alan (Hatherly) is like a little rat, he climbs so fast," he laughed. "And I'm like an ogre, so I just have to hang in there."
The sixth stage win of 2017 Cape Pioneer Trek for Hatherly/Beers saw them cross the line eight seconds ahead of Bell/Combrink and extend their general classification lead to 1 minute and 43 seconds.
The third placed team on the general classification, Bram Rood and Gerben Mos, crossed the finish line on the summit of the pass 6 minutes and 41 seconds behind the stage winners.
The result sees Rood and Mos slip to 17 minutes and 31 seconds down on the overall time sheets.
In the women's race Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz made the going brutally tough for Ariane Luthi and Amy-Beth McDougall. By the 45 kilometre mark De Groot and Spitz had established a lead of 2 minutes and 45 seconds. It looked for all money as if Luthi and McDougall would falter, allowing the pink jerseys to slip from their shoulders.
After three stages of struggling to match her partner's pace McDougall put in a race saving ride on stage 6. The Valencia rider was the dominant partner in the team on the stage and rescued Luthi/McDougall Cape Pioneer Trek title hopes.
"Amy (McDougall) was so strong today, she really helped me so much," a grateful Lüthi said.
"We gave it our all today," a visibly spent De Groot accounted from the top of the Swartberg Pass. "But it was not to be. That is racing," her partner Spitz concluded.
Both the men's and women's races are far from decided however; the final stage, which takes in 1 150 metres of climbing in its 64 kilometre distance, dished up drama in last year’s edition of the Cape Pioneer Trek.
The lose shale surfaces of Chandelier Game Farm provide for exhilarating mountain biking, but they can lead to serious mechanicals and spectacular implosions too.
In 2016 both the Ariane Luthi/McDougall duo and squads of Ila Stow and Marianne Bergli lose their podium positions - after a side wall puncture for Julian Jessop - and a complete draining of his energy reserves for Daniel Gathof saw both teams lose massive chunks of time.
It remains all to race for then, with Bell/Combrinck and De Groot/Spitz afforded one final opportunity to topple Hatherly/Beers and Luthi/McDougall from the top of the men's and women's general classifications.
Results: 2017 Cape Pioneer Trek:
UCI Men | Stage 6
1. Team Spur/RedE, Alan Hatherly & Matthew Beers (4:07:08)
2. NAD Pro MTB, Nico Bell & Gawie Combrink (4:07:17 | +00:08)
3. KMC Fruit to Go, Bram Rood & Gerben Mos (4:13:50 | +06:41)
4. Kelly's Bikeranch Team, Jiri Krivanek & Marek Rauchfuss (4:14:09 | +07:00)
5. KTM Pro Team, Moritz Bscherer & Manuel Pliem (4:22:57 | +15:48)
UCI Women | Stage 6
1. Team Ascendis Health, Robyn de Groot & Sabine Spitz (4:33:12)
2. Team Spur/Valencia, Ariane Luthi & Amy-Beth McDougall (4:35:50 | +02:38)
3. Junto Ladies, Nicky Giliomee & Frankie du Toit (5:41:41 | +1:08:29)
4. Team Cape Brewing Company, Ila Stow & Marianne Bergli (5:44:29 | +1:11:17)
5. Team Bicycling, Jenna Borrill & Tandy Kitching (6:02:16 | +1:29:04)
UCI Men | General Classification after Stage 6
1. Team Spur/RedE, Alan Hatherly & Matthew Beers (19:27:51)
2. NAD Pro MTB, Nico Bell & Gawie Combrink (19:29:35 | +01:43)
3. KMC Fruit to Go, Bram Rood & Gerben Mos (19:45:23 | +17:31)
4. Kelly's Bikeranch Team, Jiri Krivanek & Marek Rauchfuss (20:01:56 | +34:04)
5. SPOT Africa, Derrin Smith & Timothy Hammond (20:13:33 | +45:41)
UCI Women | General Classification after Stage 6
1. Team Spur/Valencia, Ariane Luthi & Amy-Beth McDougall (21:42:30)
2. Team Ascendis Health, Robyn de Groot & Sabine Spitz (21:45:00 | +02:29)
3. Junto Ladies, Nicky Giliomee & Frankie du Toit (25:09:30 | +3:27:00)
4. Team Cape Brewing Company, Ila Stow & Marianne Bergli (26:18:35 | +4:36:05)
5. Team Bicycling, Jenna Borrill & Tandy Kitching (27:57:59 | +8:30:08)