Employing a strategy to attack early in the stage, HB Kruger and Stuart Marais rolled on to another win on the sixth day of the Liberty TransCape MTB Encounter today.
After studying the profile of the 74km route from Greyton to Houwhoek, the ASG-Ellsworth outfit struck about 8km into the stage, attacking on the first single-track climb up Bakenskop.
With their plan reaping dividends, they were able to consolidate their overall lead after yesterday’s leg from Swellendam to Greyton was neutralised following confusion over the route.
Crossing the line today in 2:44:31, the Paarl-based Kruger and Marais, from Howick in KwaZulu-Natal, head the general classification with a time of 16:42:20.
Going into tomorrow’s final stage, the South Africans enjoy a buffer of almost 22 minutes over Norwegian professionals Eirik Fiskvik and Thomas Engelsgjerd (Team Happysalmon), who were second across the line today, 11 minutes behind the leaders.
Third place on the podium today went to Japan’s Yuki Ikeda and South African partner Grant Usher, riding for Topeak-Ergon-Sprocket & Jack.
However, the French-German team of Antonin Marecaille and Julian Biefang (Chiru-Magura-Canyon) remain third overall.
Kruger said they were delighted with another stage win, especially as their plan to open a gap proved successful.
“We decided our strategy would be to test our rivals early on and we hammered it up the first climb,” he said.
“We knew it was a steep and rocky climb, which is quite technical and gives you a chance to put up a bit of a gap.
“After that we just rolled through the rest of the stage steadily and the gap grew quite significantly.
“So we were happy with that and our plan to consolidate our position in the general classification.”
With a sizeable lead, Kruger said their focus tomorrow would be to avoid any final-day mishaps.
“We will take it steadily, try to make sure we do not get any mechanicals and keep the bikes in one piece all the way to the finish line.
“Another stage win would be nice, but our main goal is to keep the GC and make sure we win the race.”
He added that the neutralisation of yesterday’s stage had made it a bit easier to push hard today.
“Physically we are feeling strong still and obviously yesterday was a bit easier and helped with the recovery.
“I must admit we still did 110km and spent about five hours in the saddle, but as we were not racing it did help to save the legs a bit.”
In the well-contested men’s solo category, German rider Udo Mueller won his fifth stage in a row to maintain his place at the top of the overall standings. He finished today in 2:56:52 for an overall time of 18:04:49.
He is followed in the general classification by Roland Mueller and Conway Oliver.
British rider Catherine Williamson is set to claim a second consecutive mixed category title after she and Belgian partner Kristof de Neys (LawPack) finished today’s stage in 3:15:06.
Their overall time is 19:08:59 and only a major mishap on the final day can prevent them from winning the category.
The fourth edition of the 614km race, supported by STANLIB and Volvo Cars, finishes at La Couronne Wine Estate in Franschhoek tomorrow. The final stage from Houwhoek covers 73km with 1 850m of vertical ascent.