A thrilling sprint finish to the fourth day of the Liberty TransCape MTB Encounter saw South Africans HB Kruger and Stuart Marais narrowly edge out Norwegian rivals Eirik Fiskvik and Thomas Engelsgjerd for stage honours.
At the end of the 106km leg from Riversdale to Swellendam just two seconds separated the leading teams in a desperate dash for the line, which saw the ASG-Ellsworth outfit take their fourth stage victory.
Engelsgjerd, riding for Team Happysalmon, was in fact the first rider home in 4:09:58, but was followed across the line a second later by Kruger and Marais.
The Norwegian’s teammate, Eirik Fiskvik, was a further two seconds off the pace, giving the European outfit a time of 4:10:01.
Kruger and Marais maintained their overall lead, stretching it to 11 minutes after Antonin Marecaille and Julian Biefang (Chiru-Magura-Canyon) fell off the pace slightly to come home third, seven minutes behind the front-runners.
The stage’s outcome means the Norwegians have moved into second place in the general classification, overtaking the French-German combination of Marecaille and Biefang.
Fiskvik, who said racing the TransCape was a dream come true, acknowledged that the South Africans remained the strong favourites to win the race.
“They managed to get away from us at about the 70km mark where there was an uphill,” he said.
“But then, with about 10km to go, they were having technical problems due to the muddy conditions and we caught up with them.
“We rode with them to the finish and the aim was to try to beat them in the final sprint. Thomas crossed the line first, but unfortunately I just fell off a bit and they were able to get in-between us.”
The Norwegian added that they were delighted to move into second spot in the general classification, but admitted they would have a tough time making up the gap on Kruger and Marais.
“They are definitely the strongest team, but we are very happy with being second overall at this stage.
“This is a long race so we just want to keep things as stable as possible. We now have second place and it’s impossible to say what will happen.”
He added that they would strive to avoid any risks in the remaining three stages.
“We will go out to do as best we can and see what happens. Legs can get tired and one of you can have a bad day, so you never know how things will turn out.”
Coming from a European winter, Fiskvik said they were happy with their conditioning.
“Considering we had not raced since October, we are feeling good for the rest of the race.”
In the mixed category, Britain’s Catherine Williamson and Kristof de Neys of Belgium continued to set the pace. The LawPack outfit came home in 4:49:06, increasing their commanding lead in the overall standings.
The fourth edition of the 614km race, supported by STANLIB and Volvo Cars, finishes at La Couronne Wine Estate in Franschhoek on Saturday.
Tomorrow’s 99km leg, known as the Rivers Stage, will take cyclists from Swellendam to Greyton, with much of the riding being done alongside the Breede and Riviersonderend rivers.