The NAD Pro mountain bike team outsprinted the previous day’s winners Johann Rabie and HB Kruger to record a time of 4:31:20 after 122km of racing from the Free State town of Reitz.
The Telkom pair finished one second behind with Thule-Pyga-TIB’s Andrew Hill and Tyronne White taking third in 4:33:39.
Rabie and Kruger’s combined time of 12:01:53 saw them hold on to the overall lead by a single second over Combrinck and Bell, with Hill and White third in 12:11:22.
“It was a headwind from the gun and no one was really eager to go hard early on,” said Combrinck, who has won the event twice.
“We did however go a little bit harder through the first single-track to see if we could reduce the size of the bunch slightly.
“From there, the main contenders rolled together all the way to the third waterpoint.”
Combrinck and Bell, who are both from Nelspruit, were the first to show any real aggression when they put in a strong attack on the single-track section leading up to Mount Paul.
“Just the Telkom guys were able to match us,” said Combrinck.
“We pushed hard over the final 20km but were unable to get rid of them before the finish, but were nevertheless happy to take out the sprint.”
The 30-year-old said they knew the finish, but felt the last few kilometres on the new track at the water’s edge turned out much harder than the small climb and single-track descent of previous years.
“Our strategy was basically to be in front on that stretch and to go first into the last corner.”
Bell, 32, said they would study day four’s profile tonight to see whether they could identify sections where they could put Rabie and Kruger under pressure.
“We are both good technical riders so tomorrow’s single-track descents obviously suit us. If they make a mistake it will hopefully give us an opportunity to get away.”
Britain’s Catherine Williamson and her South African teammate Johan Labuschagne, who ride in the colours of The Bicycle Company-Bestmed, won the mixed category in 4:44:00 to move into the overall lead on 12:28:57.
Valencia-Lanham-Love’s Grant Usher and Amy McDougall finished second in 4:51:07 to drop down to second in the general classification on 12:35:56.
Dorma-USN-Purefit’s Darren Lill and Candice Neethling placed third in 4:54:33 to move into third overall on 12:53:15.
“We were quite conservative today and sat in a big group,” said Williamson.
“Yesterday I didn’t eat enough early on and paid for it towards the end. So I made sure that I ate better and felt good going up Mount Paul.
“We got down the other side with a gap and Johan went flat-out all the way along the dam wall to consolidate our advantage.
“It is always good to go into the overall lead. We’ll just continue to ride our own race – especially over the next few days when it gets quite hilly.”
The Robert Daniel pairing of Corrie and Richard Muller lead the veterans’ section (13:13:25), Cycle Lab’s Greg Anderson and Deon Kruger the masters’ category (12:29:32) and Valencia’s Samantha Sanders and Anriette Schoeman the women’s (13:43:26).
Calvin Beneke (12:15:09) and Jane Seggie (13:43:25) are the leading solo riders in the men’s and women’s sections.
The 93km fourth stage from Sterkfontein Dam to the new finish at Emseni outside Winterton will see riders take on infamous descents such as Great Wall My China and Sollie’s Folly as they drop down the escarpment into KwaZulu-Natal.
The Old Mutual joBerg2c started at Karan Beef in Heidelberg, Gauteng, on Friday and ends nine days later in Scottburgh, KwaZulu-Natal.