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Team USN Purefit, Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock during stage 1 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh, South Africa on the 14th March 2016. Photo by Mark Sampson/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

USN’s Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock, covered from helmet to toes in dust, both declared that it was one of the race’s toughest stages yet. Lill said that in addition to battling dust and heat, he took strain on the uneven climbs. “When it’s bumpy, rocky and loose, it’s difficult to get momentum – that’s where it hits me.”

The team had some drama towards the end of the stage, which started and ended in Tulbagh, with Woolcock getting a puncture and the pair then taking a wrong turn. They eventually came home in seventh place on the 108km stage, in a time of 4:41.16 – 9 minutes and 4 seconds behind Team Bulls. “We lost a bit of time and added a few more metres of climbing,” said Lill, who added that they opted to finish the stage “conservatively”. “I said to Waylon there’s no point in burying ourselves in the last 10km. We still have six days to go.”

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James Reid indicates the retirement of Gert Heyns and effectively Team Spur Specialized, during stage 1 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh, South Africa on the 14th March 2016. Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

James Reid and Gert Heyns from Team Spur started the stage in the red jersey after Sunday’s prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate, but were forced to pull out of the race because Heyns was suffering with flu. Woolcock and Lill now have a commanding 10-minute lead over second-placed Team NAD Pro MTB’s Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell. The third-placed team in the Absa African special jersey competition are the Masters pairing of Adrian Enthoven and Nic White of Team White Inc, who finished the stage in a time of 5:06.06 – almost 25 minutes behind Lill and Woolcock. Team White Inc came second in the stage’s Masters category in a sprint finish but still lead the Masters category by 1 minute and 14 seconds ahead of Dutch Team Van de Haterd Mtb.

Tuesday will be the 100th stage in the thirteenth edition of the Absa Cape Epic and will see riders head out of Saronsberg and return 93km, and 2300metres of climbing, later.