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Dylan Rebello taking one last look at his rivals before making the R5 000 winning move up the Ultimate Cycling Knysna Simola Dash. Photo by Julie Ann Hoffman.

The first shots of the 2016 GR300 were fired on the steep slopes of Simola Road. It’s a brutal climb with gradients topping out over 10% at various sections and a final kick which can lead to spectacular blowouts. With the race stopped at the foot of the climb the riders assaulted Simola from a standing start and Dylan Rebello, Momsen Factory Racing, led from the gun with Boyes and Christopher Wolhuter, both of Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology, in particular hot on his rear wheel. It looked for a moment or two like the two older riders, both with strong road racing pedigrees would outsmart the young Rebello, but they simply couldn’t match this strength and one by one they and the other challengers dropped off. Leaving Rebello to ride under the Ultimate Cycling Knysna arch unchallenged to claim the R5 000 prize for the first male rider to crest the climb.

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Robyn de Groot responding to the cheers of the crowd on the slopes of the Ultimate Cycling Knysna Simola Dash. Photo by Julie Ann Hoffman.

In the women’s race the Ultimate Cycling Knysna Simola Dash proved pivotal to the day’s stage result, as well as to the allocation of the R5 000 for the first woman over the line. De Groot, of Team Ascendis Health, cleared the climb first to claim the prize money and then slowly built on the lead she earned on the Simola climb to take stage victory over Catherine Williamson and Yolandi du Toit, largely unchallenged.

For the leading men it was a much tighter race. Rebello sat up to wait for his rivals atop the climb and soon a group formed with all the main contenders including Renay Groustra, Ben Melt Swanepoel, Mike Postumus and Derrin Smith. Meanwhile storming through the field after a slow start on the Simola Dash was Doug Brown of Cycle Lab Toyota. By water point two at the 40km mark the group was whittled down to Boyes, Wolhuter, Rebello, Swanepoel and Brown. In the Harkerville singletrack Swanepoel dropped off the pace having done a lot of the pace making duties on the forest roads.

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Robyn de Groot claiming the R5 000 prize for the first woman to crest the climb courtesy of Ultimate Cycling Knysna. Photo by Julie Ann Hoffman.

From water point three at 60km to the finish the pace slacked slightly as the leaders were content to save their legs for Stages 2 and 3, in the Garden Route Trail Park (tomorrow) and in Elephant Country (on Sunday). Approaching the finish at Quay Four, Boyes lead the group into a tight and twisty section between the buildings on Thesen Island. This provided him with a slight gap which he maintained to win the stage over Rebello, Wolhuter and Brown – with only a handful of seconds separating the four of them.

The result sets up the GR300 race for highly competitive second and third stages and a tight general classification battle throughout. Follow the action live tomorrow on Twitter: @gardenroute300.

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Stage winner Craig Boyes in action, followed by Doug Brown and Dylan Rebello. Photo by Julie Ann Hoffman.