The Queen Stage of the Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen,
provided the men and women in the yellow and pink First Ascent leaders’ jerseys with the terrain to
race to emphatic stage victories. Stage 5 – on Friday, 8 September – played out in dramatic fashion
as the air went out of Valley Electrical Toyota’s campaign and Imbuko Giant surged to a spectacular
stage victory. In the UCI women’s race, Efficient Infiniti Insure summited the Swartberg Pass well
ahead of their nearest rivals to all but wrap-up the 2023 title.
Featuring 2 300 metres of climbing, in 84 kilometres, the penultimate day finished atop the
Swartberg Pass, at 1 575 metres above sea level. The climb was far from the only challenge of the
course however, as it began with fast district roads before twisting and turning through rocky farm
tracks. After the first water point of the stage, at the 35 kilometre mark, the climbing commenced in
earnest. Initially through the foothills of the mighty Swartberg Mountains and then on the pass itself.
The day’s decisive moment, for the general classification showdown, came early in the piece. “As we
turned off the gravel road into the first rocky section Gert [Heyns] punctured,” Tristan Nortje, of
Valley Electrical Toyota explained. “We didn’t know what happened,” clarified Imbuko Giant’s Marco
Joubert. “But once we saw that Valley Electrical Toyota had stopped for some issue we kept pushing
“The pace was full gas!” Arno du Toit, of Insect Science added. “Last year we raced this stage quiet
conservatively to the foot of the pass and then it all exploded. This year Imbuko Giant went hard
from when Gert [Heyns] punctured. By the time we got to the pass I was nearly blown.”
Heyns received a wheel from his Valley Electrical Titan Racing teammate, Rossouw Bekker, but his
and Nortje’s chase was then hampered by a brake rotor catching, on the wheel he received from
Bekker. “I felt so flat after the wheel change and couldn’t understand it. When we stopped to see
what the problem was the wheel would hardly spin,” Heyns sighed. By the time they realigned the
callipers on the trail to stop the rubbing the fight had gone out of their chase.
Unaware of the problems behind them Imbuko Giant charged on, using Pieter du Toit and Rudi Koen
to help with the pace making for the A squad. Through water point 1, at 35 kilometres, the gap was 2
minutes, but water point 2, at 52 kilometres, it was 4 minutes, and by the base of Swartberg Pass it
was 6 minutes. “I was so cooked I couldn’t help with the chase,” Heyns confessed. “I was struggling
to hold Tristan’s wheel, or the wheels of the Trek SA team, Justin [Chesterton] and Kai [Von During],
through the mid-part of the stage. Later on, I recovered a bit though and felt better.”
While the Valley Electrical Toyota team chased with Trek SA, Imbuko Giant A and B kept their feet on
the gas, which eventually led to Insect Science’s Arno du Toit and Keagan Bontekoning being
distanced by Joubert and Wessel Botha. Exiting Wildehondekloof, with 20 kilometres to race,
Joubert and Botha held a slender 20 second lead. Over the next 10 kilometres they added 90
seconds to that advantage. Then the gap ballooned out over the steepest slopes of the Swartberg
Imbuko Giant A eventually crossed the line 5 minutes and 52 seconds ahead of their nearest rivals.
“It feels great to win in yellow,” Botha smiled. “Last year I won this stage alongside Rudi [Koen],
which was amazing, but to take the stage in yellow is even better.” “Look it’s not over until its over…
but that pretty much seals the GC,” Joubert added. “Though we’ll have to be careful tomorrow, the
last stage is easily underestimated, but it’s still pretty tough.”
Imbuko Giant B’s Pieter du Toit and Koen were second over the line, out kicking Arno du Toit and
Bontekoning, whom they had shadowed for the final 20 kilometres. Heyns and Nortje finished
fourth, 7 minutes and 2 seconds down on the stage winners. Chesterton and Von During were fifth.
The result ensures that Imbuko Giant A go into the final stage with a 7 minute and 32 second lead
over Valley Electrical Toyota, with Insect Science a further 27 seconds back. The likely battle on the
final day will thus be for second, while fourth and fifth are also set to be a close-run thing. Following
the Queen Stage Imbuko Giant B are just 3 minutes and 3 seconds behind Trek SA in forth.
In the UCI women’s race Kim le Court and Samantha Sanders continued their imperious form. The
Efficient Infiniti Insure combination established an early advantage which they built to 14 minutes
and 44 seconds by the summit of the Swartberg Pass. “It’s very pretty up here,” Le Court smiled from
Die Top. “It was so cold up here last year, so it’s nice to be here in better weather. The climb is
always hard, but the views are always worth it!”
Le Court’s assessment was echoed by Hayley Smith, after she and Sarah Hill crossed the line in
second position. “It’s probably the hardest climb I’ve ever done!” the Vivovita-Bell rider laughed.
“But I loved every moment of it, the views were amazing and it really is something special.”
Behind the Efficient Infiniti Insure and Vivovita-Bell teams the battle for third came down to the final
kilometres of the Swartberg Pass. Despite suffering from her fall, two days before, Karla Stumpf
surged ahead with Kelsey van Schoor having spent the stage racing against Ila Stow and Robyn
Williams once again. The Biogen team’s efforts were enough to see them add another 2 and a half
minutes to their general classification buffer to the Bike Park Uitsig – SCR Academy squad.
Going into the final day of the 2023 race Le Court and Sanders lead by 1 hour, 6 minutes and 9
seconds over Hill and Smith. Van Schoor and Stumpf are third at 2 hours, 3 minutes and 21 seconds
off the pace. Vitally they hold a 13 minute and 49 buffer to Stow and Williams, who are themselves
50 minutes up on Tarryn Povey and Sanchia Malan.
The final stage of the race takes the teams from Langenhoven Gimnasium into Chandelier Game
Lodge’s private nature reserve. Famed as the start of the brutal Momentum Medical Scheme
Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, the reserve provides kilometres of rocky tracks and trails
accounting for all of the day’s 1 200 metres of climbing. Stage 6 is, as Joubert suggested, not to be
underestimated however. In 2022 both leading teams suffered punctures and nervous rides home to
the Queens Hotel in the centre of Oudtshoorn.
Header Image: Wessel Botha (foreground) and Marco Joubert, of Imbuko Giant A, won the Queen Stage of the 2023 Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, in emphatic fashion atop the Swartberg Pass on Friday. Photo by Oakpics.com.