The Queen Stage of the Momentum Health Tankwa Trek, presented by Biogen, saw dormakaba extend their general classification lead while Spur Specialized struck on the Mautivator descent – which is named after the stage director Mauritz ‘Mauti’ Walters. The day was drama filled throughout; with crashes, injuries and mechanicals all shaping the stage outcome.
The 87 kilometre long second stage featured 2 200 meters of climbing. The short, 15 kilometre, run-in to the day’s first significant obstacle – the DUTOIT Drop, a 3 kilometre singletrack descent which drops from the Koue Bokkeveld plateau to the Ceres Valley – ensured that both the men’s and women’s races got off to fast starts. Cannondale Factory Racing’s Manuel Fumic was the first victim of the day, as he decided to withdraw in the first 5 kilometres with an injured back. The women’s race was then marred by a horror crash by Esther Süss. The defending champion hit a rut in the road as the leading women approached the DUTOIT Drop and crashed at high speed. The quick reactions of her Swiss compatriot, Ariane Lüthi, saw the medical team alerted and the Meerendal CBC rider was taken to hospital for stitches. Fortunately the doctor’s report is positive and despite the apparent initial severity of her wound Süss should be back on the bike within a week.
The men’s race settled into a rhythm as the riders made their way along the northern reaches of the Ceres Valley. The pace remained relatively high throughout this phase of the race, but not so high as to prevent first Maxime Marotte (broken rear derailleur) and then Alban Lakata (puncture) from chasing back to the front group. Despite PYGA Euro Steel ratcheting up the pace on the old wagon trail climb from the Ceres Valley back into the Koue Bokkeveld a massive leading group of 20 riders started the Merino Monster climb together.
Nicola Rohrbach and Daniel Geismayr, of Centurion Vaude by Goldwurst Power, proved to be the team with the best climbing legs and the Swiss/Austrian combination soon shattered the group. In the devastation yellow jersey wearers Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek, of Canyon Topeak, were able to ride the climb tactically. “Nicola (Rohrbach) and Daniel (Geismayr) were seven or so minutes behind on general classification so they were no threat to our lead” Lakata explained. “We followed PYGA (Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes), as they were our closest rivals in the lead group”.
Rohrbach and Geismayr were the first team over the summit, in so doing claiming the King of the Mountain hot spot prize. They were followed by Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes, of PYGA Euro Steel and the race leaders, Lakata and Hynek. The fourth team to the top of the Merino Monster was the Spur Specialized team of Alan Hatherly and Simon Andreassen.
The young pair had proved to be in good form on Stage One; but a crash, which broke Andreassen’s brake lever, put pay to any chances of stage victory. Descending from the highest point in the race, at 1 600 meters above sea level, Hatherly and Andreassen rode the Mautivator without the previous day’s misfortune weighing on their minds. By the time they reached the bottom of the mountain they were leading the stage, having overtaken Canyon Topeak, PYGA Euro Steel and Centurion Vaude by Goldwurst Power – who had punctured near the bottom of the descent.
Rohrbach and Geismayr’s puncture induced misfortune was not over yet. After receiving a C02 canister from Markus Bauer, which helped them fix the initial issue, the pair suffered a second puncture in the final kilometres. The resultant flat destroyed Geismayr’s rear wheel and the pair finished the stage on foot.
Hatherly and Andreassen meanwhile time trialled to the finish maintaining their lead over their pursuers. Even a herd of cattle, which ran into their path in the final kilometres and forced them to stop, could not prevent them from claiming stage honours.
“We had planned to attack on the descent” Hatherly confessed. “Simon (Andreassen) had a bad patch on the climb and we reached the summit in fourth place. So we had to take a few risks to catch the other teams” the South African cross-country champion recounted.
The stage victory for Spur Specialized moves them up to fourth place overall, four minutes and forty seconds behind the race leaders, Canyon Topeak. Despite only finishing fifth on the stage Cannondale Factory Racing 2’s Marotte and Marcel Guerrini moved into second on the general classification standings, while PYGA Euro Steel moved up from fourth to third overall; following their fourth place stage finish.
Once the women had navigated the DUTOIT Drop the pattern of the opening stage was repeated with dormakaba’s Candice Lill and Helen Grobert doing much of the pace making duties. The pair were especially keen to take the lead on the descents. “It’s cool to see how fast you can go when you’re just riding and having fun” Grobert said post-stage. “I’m really enjoying the Tankwa Trek and racing with Candice (Lill)”.
Despite a puncture for Sabine Spitz, of Ascendis Health she and Robyn de Groot, joined the other leading women’s teams in a formidable group which contained dormakaba, Silverback Volvo OMX and Team joBerg2c, at the base of the Merino Monster. Spitz and De Groot then made their move, which only Lill and Grobert were able to follow. The Ascendis Health women claimed the Queen of the Mountain prize but the dormakaba women were once again willing to take more risks on the descent and raced to a 2 minute lead on the 10 kilometre long descent.
The pair then time trialled to the finish, extending their lead to 2 minutes and 51 seconds. “Those final 12 kilometres from the bottom of the descent were really tough, but fortunately there was a tail wind” Lill smiled.
Lill and Grobert were joined on the stage and women’s general classification podium by Ascendis Health’s De Groot and Spitz, and Silverback Volvo OMX’s Yolande de Villiers and Mariske Strauss.
Photo by Zoon Cronje