South Africa’s Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock have battled daily punctures and illness to rise above the other African challengers at the Cape Epic to sit 23 minutes ahead of their nearest rivals, Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (NAD Pro MTB). With one stage to go, it seems unlikely that anyone else can squeeze into the red special jersey.

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Waylon Woolcock and Darren Lill of Team USN Purefit lead the race during stage 6 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Boschendal in Stellenbosch, South Africa on the 19th March 2016. Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

With a seventh place finish on the day, it was another impressive performance from Woolcock and Lill, even with Lill still suffering from a stomach bug that has affected both men throughout the week. They also suffered another puncture – a recurring curse of their 2016 challenge – this time on the road as they made their way to the start line. “I was covered in sealant before I even started!” said Woolcock.

Stage 6 of the Cape Epic was a 72km loop through Stellenbosch. The route snaked through the Simonsberg Conservancy and included popular sections like the Tunnel of Love trail through wattle trees, the Muratie loop and the series of great singletrack sections that follow it.

The renowned Skyfall singletrack descent was also a treat for riders who had earlier in the week battled through the sandy and rocky trails of Tulbagh. Still, it wouldn’t be the Epic without a sting in the tail. In the last 5km of the stage there was a tough, rocky trail to remind riders of the Epic’s epic nature.

“It was great riding out there today,” said Woolcock, “especially on trails that I know so well. Skyfall is always fun, but then we hit a really horrible stretch just before the finish. Overall, though, it was a successful day. I loved being out there this morning.”

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Waylon Woolcock of USN Purefit during stage 6 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Boschendal in Stellenbosch, South Africa on the 19th March 2016. Photo by Shaun Roy/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Woolcock said Lill was struggling overnight and in the morning, but soldiered on to help haul the team into sixth place overall in the general classification. “Darren was still feeling ill. But that guy can push through anything. It’s impressive. I felt my best this morning, probably the best I’ve felt all week. We went out with the front bunch, but kept our cool and eventually just pushed through to the finish.”

Tomorrow Woolcock and Lill will tackle Stage 7, the Grand Finale of the Absa Cape Epic. The race leaves Boschendal Wine Estate in Stellenbosch and heads to Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville. With just 86km and 1200m of climbing left to negotiate, the leading African riders will surely be decked out in red at the end of 2016’s race.