On the 122km stage 3 from Reitz to Sterkfontein Dam, the winning men’s team of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck (NAD Pro MTB) made their decisive break on the approaches to the steep slopes of the mountain. Then, in the Amabokkebokkie mixed category, the dormakaba duo of Amy McDougall and Arno du Toit accelerated away from their opposition as they all struggled up the final climb of the day.

Riders descend Mount Paul. Image: Kevin Sawyer/joBerg2c

Both teams have consolidated their leads in the respective categories and it is clear these two pairings are the riders to beat in the major categories, even though there are still six long days to go before the riders reach the finish at Scottburgh on Saturday, 28 April.
The only rider able to match Bell and Combrinck on Sunday was the PYGA Eurosteel rider Matthys Beukes who, because he is riding in the Solo category and thus no danger to the leaders’ aspiration, was allowed some freedom to make an early break. Beukes ended up finishing a minute behind the NAD Pro pairing after they caught and rode away from him on the final run in to the finish.

Despite the Insect Science pair of Tim Hammond and Alan Gordon claiming second on the stage when they edged out Shaun-Nick Bester and Declan Sidey (Silverback Best4Sports) by 21 seconds, there has been no change in the overall standings and the Silverback pair still hold second in the overall standings.

Image: Kevin Sawyer/joBerg2c

In the Amabokkebokkie Global Mixed Champs race the top three positions on Sunday were the same as the previous day with Darren and Candice Lill (Team Lill) finishing three minutes behind the leaders and about the same distance ahead of third-placed Johan Labuschagne and Catherine Williamson (Sugeons for Little Lives / Mitas).

A tired McDougall was ecstatic with how their tactics played out during the day.

“I think this was probably the best tactical day on a stage race I have ever had in my life,” said the race leader after finishing. “I think we did flipping well. We just stayed with them until Mount Paul and then from there we just smashed it.

“We now have a pretty decent time gap and everything from the way Arno looked after me to how we worked at the water points was perfect today.

“Before the second water point I whispered in his ear to go ahead and I held the group back. By the time Candice and Darren realised what was happening it was too late. That meant he was able to fill my bottles quickly and after the water point he just chased and caught up again.”

Du Toit explained how they made the decisive break: “I saw Candice was suffering going up Mount Paul and so we went to the front and pushed hard on the climb and had a gap at the top.

“Luckily both of us are reasonably good technical riders so we kept it smooth on the way down and opened the gap a bit more. From there it was just a drag race to the finish.”

Image: Kevin Sawyer/joBerg2c

In the men’s race, Bell was pleased to have opened a gap on their rivals for the second-day in a row, but was cautious about getting too optimistic about a race win.

“You never know what can happen with this race, you may cut a tyre wall or break a wheel – so we may need some time at some point and if that is the case then we do not want to be chasing from behind. If we do have to lose time I would rather not lose the lead overall as well. If we have a chance to take time at any point, we will take it.”

Bell is looking forward to Monday’s stage 4 from Sterkfontein to Winterton which includes some of the best mountain biking trails in the country, including the descent off the Drakensberg escarpment.

“Tomorrow is a bit more technical and some more fun, said the 2017 national marathon champion. “There is some nice single track but we cannot make a mistake, so we have to leave a bit of space to the guy in front of us and make sure we do not hit anything ... we must just play it a bit safe.”

In the women’s race, Sarah Hill and Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk) added a further 40 minutes to their already huge lead and it is clear they just need to steer clear of any major mechanical issues and they are likely to claim an easy victory.

For the rest of the field, the 122km stage 3 was a long day in the saddle, with stretches of mud working over tired legs. Respite came in the form of some free-flowing district roads, while scenic highlights included riding on top of the world towards Mount Paul. Once again, riders treated to incredible hospitality at the water points, with mini donuts and freshly braaied boerewors energising the 800-strong field.

Tomorrow’s stage 4 takes the Old Mutual joBerg2c from Sterkfontein Dam to Em’seni, just outside Winterton.

Thobile Tshabala, Old Mutual Head of Brand, was quick to encourage all the riders for the remaining six days. “We know three tough days are done and dusted and we are so proud of all of you. Keep going and we will see you at the sea. Keep doing great things.”