Grand Masters race leaders Robert Sim and Udo Boelts (Team Robert Daniel) suffered some serious mechanical issues and lost time on Stage 3 from Robertson to Worcester, but desperately hung on to the lead of the over-50 category at the Absa Cape Epic on Wednesday.

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Propblems for Udo Boelts of team Robert Daniel during stage 3 of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Arabella Wine Estate in Robertson to HTS Drostdy in Worcester, South Africa on the 21st March 2018. Photo by Andrew McFadden/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Punctures and mechanicals looked to have cost the Robert Daniels pair as they slipped to within a few seconds of losing their overnight lead while out on the road.

Midway through the stage defending champion Barti Bucher and his new partner Hans Juerg Gerber (Meerendal CBC 2) had a huge lead over the former Giro d’Italia stage winner and Sim.

However, the 2016 winners, who easily won the opening three stages and seemed to be cruising to an easy victory before their early morning drama, fought back over the second half of the stage and reduced the deficit from 15 minutes down at 69km of the 122km stage. They finally gave up just seven minutes of their 16-minute lead on their nearest rivals, despite finishing as the fourth Grand Masters on the stage.

Bucher and Gerber won the stage from former Springbok rugby star Joel Stransky and Andrew McLean (CycleLab KTM), with Martijn Mellaart and Shaun Sale (Sales Hire) third.

In the Dimension Data Masters category, the top four teams finished in their general classification order to consolidate the standings in the fiercely competitive over-40 class.

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Ondrej Fojtik and Massimo Debertolis of team Wilier Force 7C 2 during stage 3 of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Arabella Wine Estate in Robertson to HTS Drostdy in Worcester, South Africa on the 21st March 2018. Photo by Mark Sampson/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Italian Massimo Debertolis and Czech Ondrej Fojtik (Wilier Force 7C 2) extended their lead with their third stage win in three days and added two minutes to their lead. They now go into the second half of the race with a substantial 13 minutes advantage over Brad Clarke and Rohin Adams (Mornington Cycles / TRush).

The Australian pair lying second are in turn now over five more minutes ahead of Bart Brentjens and Abraao Azevedo (CST Sandd A. Eagle AAZ) with George Hincapie and Christian Vande Velde (Absa-WBR) losing more time to sit in fourth, well over half an hour off the pace.