Erik Kleinhans and Matt Beers (Red E Topeak Ergon) claim victory at the 2016 Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush three-day stage race in KwaZulu-Natal. The pair saw off stiff competition from the cream of South African mountain biking to record a win on their debut at the event. Credit: Gavin Ryan.

Matt Beers was thrilled with his victory, a first for the big friendly giant of South African mountain biking on his Berg & Bush debut. "This is a big monkey off my back," said an elated Beers. "I've always wanted to win a prestigious stage race and the Berg & Bush, with such a brilliant field, definitely ticks that box. It's very special to win against this level of competition. I love the challenge, I love the fight, so I am stoked that Erik and I have won this."

Kleinhans and Beers fought off the challenge of Phil Buys, Gert Heyns, Nico Bell, Gawie Combrinck, Alan Hatherly, Johann Rabie, HB Kruger and more local MTB top dogs over the course of three thrilling days in the KwaZulu-Natal bushveld.

On a shortish, flat final stage - with the only major bump being Spioenkop - the lead bunch was big, 10 teams racing hard to make a final impression. Kleinhans knew the trick was to back off and not let anyone ruin their chances with an untimely crash. "The goal for today was not to lose any time. There were a lot of teams fighting for position, so I said to Matt let's just hold back and get the overall title."

This is also Kleinhans's first Berg & Bush, and the race has certainly lived up to the hype - the win helping, of course. "Today was another lovely stage with a nice flat start, with racing really picking up on the trails. This definitely ranks up there as one of my best wins. Before the race we had no idea how to win with so many cross country racers here. I am extremely happy to win. That being said, I look forward to coming back when I am a ballie, so I can enjoy the trails and then sit on bean bags next to the river!"

Adrian and Neethling nail it

In the women's race an excellent Stage 1 from Candice Neethling and Vera Adrian (Dorma Time Freight) was enough to give them the edge in the overall stakes ahead of Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag (Team Ascendis Health). De Groot and Stenerhag threw everything into the mix to snatch the race win, but Neethling and Adrian had the answers to all their questions.

Candice Neethling (Dorma Time Freight) powers home hot on the heels of Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag (Team Ascendis Health) at the Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush three-day stage race in KwaZulu-Natal. Neething and teammate Vera Adrian started the day in the overall lead and almost lost it when De Groot and Stenerhag opened up a two-minute time gap. In the end, Neethling and Adrian were strong enough to reel them in. Credit: Gavin Ryan.

"That was really hard. Harder than I expected," said a dust-covered, teary-eyed, but victorious Vera Adrian. "I already knew last night that today would be tough because I could feel that I was getting sick, but then Robyn and Jennie really hammered it today."

At one stage, just before the dreaded climb up Spioenkop, De Groot and Stenerhag held a two minute advantage over Neethling and Adrian, a gap that would have given the Ascendis ladies the overall win.

But Neethling and Adrian threw caution to the wind and skipped down the singletrack on other side of the hill like foxes chasing a particularly tasty hare.

Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag (Team Ascendis Health) power home on the final stage of the Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush three-day stage race in KwaZulu-Natal. They claimed two of the three stages, but it wasn't enough for the overall win. Credit: Gavin Ryan.

"We gave it everything to make up the time. Vera was amazing going down the singletrack" said Neethling, sporting a cut lip and a face that looked like she'd been leopard crawling around a Boer War battlefield. "It was a great race with Robyn and Jennie. Today was tough, but I'm thrilled to take the win at such a great event. I love racing here."

Adrian, too, was delighted that the hard work had paid off. "It's obviously always nice to win, but it's even more rewarding to come out on top when the racing has been so fierce."