The Swartberg Pass is an iconic feature of the Cape Pioneer Trek and after its absence in 2016, Dryland Event Management took the decision to reinclude the grand old dame in the 2017 event. The 95 kilometre long stage might have ended on the Swarberg Pass, but the National Monument’s roads – which date back to 1886 – only accounted for 800 metres of the total elevation gain, making the stage exceptionally brutal.

Alan Hatherly and Matt Beers distanced Nico Bell and Gawie Combrink in the final 300 metres of the Swartberg Pass climb to claim victory on the Queen Stage of the 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen. Photo by Hayden Brown.

Once again the NAD Pro MTB team did their best to drive up the pace in the early phases of the race, but without a second equally strong general classification team to counter punch and put Team Spur/Red-E under pressure they could not force a split from the yellow jersey wearers. Despite crossing some typically technical Klein Karoo terrain, which shook off the other UCI men’s teams Spur/Red-E and NAD Pro started the final climb together.

“I tried to set a tough pace in the hope of dropping Alan [Hatherly]” Bell explained at the top of the Swartberg Pass. “It is impossible to set the pace and attack so Gawie [Combrink] tried to attack a few times, with the idea of me riding across to him if he got away. But Alan [Hatherly] and Matt [beers] were too strong and could follow every move” he concluded.

“My legs felt terrible on the final climb, but somehow I hung in there. Then in the last 500 metres they started to feel better, miraculously, so I thought we might as well go for it and see if we could gain a few seconds” Beers said. “Alan [Hatherly] is like a little rat, he climbs so fast” he laughed, “and I’m like an ogre, so I just have to hang in there.”

Matt Beers looks back as he makes the decisive attack on the upper reaches of the Swartberg Pass. Photo by Hayden Brown.

The sixth stage win of 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, for Team Spur/Red-E saw them cross the line 8 seconds ahead of NAD Pro MTB and extend their general classification lead to 1 minute and 43 seconds. The third placed team on the general classification, KMC Fruit to Go, crossed the finish line on the summit of the pass 6 minutes and 41 seconds behind the stage winners. The result sees Bram Rood and Gerben Mos slip to 17 minutes and 31 seconds down on the overall time sheets.

In the women’s race Team Ascendis Health made the going brutally tough for Team Spur/Valencia. By the 45 kilometre mark De Groot and Spitz had established a lead of 2 minutes and 45 seconds. It looked for all money as if Ariane Luthi and Amy-Beth McDougall would falter, allowing the pink jerseys to slip from their shoulders.

Robyn de Groot reaches across to congratulate her Ascendis Health teammate, Sabine Spitz, on another stellar stage. Photo by Hayden Brown.

After three stages of struggling to match her partner’s pace McDougall put in a race saving ride on stage 6. The Valencia rider was the dominant partner in the team on the stage and rescued Team Spur/Valencia’s Cape Pioneer Trek title hopes. “Amy [McDougall] was so strong today, she really helped me so much” a grateful Lüthi said.

“We gave it our all today” a visibly spent De Groot accounted from the top of the Swartberg Pass. “But it was not to be.” “That is racing” her partner Spitz concluded.

An exhausted Ariane Lüthi recovers while Amy-Beth McDougall smiles in the knowledge that the Team Spur/Valencia pairing did enough to hang on to their pink leaders’ jerseys going into the final stage of the 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen. Photo by Hayden Brown.

Both the men’s and women’s races are far from decided however; the final stage, which takes in 1 150 metres of climbing in its 64 kilometre distance, dished up drama in last year’s edition of the Cape Pioneer Trek. The loose shale surfaces of Chandelier Game Farm provide for exhilarating mountain biking, but they can lead to serious mechanicals and spectacular implosions too. In 2016 both the Team Spur and Cape Brewing Co Elite squads lost their podium positions; after a side wall puncture for Julian Jessop, of Team Spur, and a complete draining of his energy reserves for Daniel Gathof saw both teams lose massive chunks of time.

It remains all to race for then, with NAD Pro MTB and Team Ascendis Health afforded one final opportunity to topple Team Spur/Red-E and Team Spur/Valencia from the top of the men’s and women’s general classifications.

To follow the action as it unfolds mountain biking fans can follow the event’s Twitter handle, @CapePioneerTrek, from 07:30 on Saturday morning. In addition to the live coverage on Twitter the highlights from every stage of the race can be viewed on the Cape Pioneer Trek Facebook page and the Dryland Event Management YouTube Channel from 20:00, Central African Time, daily. For more information on the Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, please visit