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UCT’s Luke Evans leads the way on the second day of the FNB-sponsored Varsity MTB Challenge en route to the Cape Town team’s stage and overall victory at Nederburg near Paarl today. Photo: Luke Thorrold

Maties however remained firmly in control of the women’s race, with Frances du Toit, Nicky Giliomee and Marie Kempf retaining the title they had won in the inaugural event last year.

The two-day mountain bike race, sponsored by First National Bank, saw the top varsities in the country compete in three-rider men’s and women’s teams for the honour of being crowned the top tertiary institution in South Africa.

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UCT’s Luke Evans (left) and Martin Freyer cross the finish line first on the second day to win the overall men’s title at the FNB-sponsored Varsity MTB Challenge, which started and finished at Nederburg near Cape Town today. Photo: Luke Thorrold

In the men’s race, UCT’s Luke Evans, who rode with Martin Freyer and Alex Rohrer, said their strategy had always been to take the race to Maties on the last day.

“We felt it would be pointless hanging back and trying for just a stage win. We always wanted to apply pressure and knew there would be more single-track today, which we felt would be to our advantage.”

He added that the overall triumph was “hugely satisfying” for them after running out of steam on the opening stage and finishing 74 seconds behind the reigning champions.

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UCT’s Martin Freyer (left) and Luke Evans celebrate their stage and overall victory on the second day of the FNB-sponsored Varsity MTB Challenge, which started and finished at Nederburg near Paarl today. Photo: Luke Thorrold

“This really means a lot to us because Maties were the winners last year and there has always been a strong rivalry between us. They have often had the edge, so it was great to come out on top in this one.”

The Cape Town varsity finished the second stage over 58km in 2:33:31 for a general classification time of 4:42:52, just under 30 seconds ahead of Maties.

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Stellenbosch University’s Nicky Giliomee (left) and Frances du Toit won the second stage to retain the overall title at the FNB-sponsored Varsity MTB Challenge, which started and finished at Nederburg near Paarl today. Photo: Luke Thorrold

The latter stopped the clock on 2:35:01 for an overall time of 4:43:18, followed by University of Pretoria who came home in 2:49:05 for a combined time of 5:02:06.

Evans, who struggled when Maties applied some pressure early on, said he got eventually got into his rhythm while climbing Hawequa Pass.

“When we got to the main part of the climb, there was quite a headwind which led to some tactical racing. But, fortunately, Martin and I got into the first single-track ahead of Maties and were able to open up a gap.”

He said the racing was on in earnest between themselves and Maties, who were able to make up the deficit after Freyer “dropped a chain”.

“They caught us at the top of a climb with about 40km to go, but I decided to attack again and I managed to open up a gap. I was able to set my own pace and kept a lead of just over a minute.”

Behind, Freyer stayed with the chasing Maties – Tristan de Lange and Rinus Maarsingh – before getting away with about 5km to go.

“After the last water point, Martin noticed one of them was tiring and he threw in an attack himself.

“I was always looking behind to see if he could get away and when I saw that he had, I sat up and waited. We then worked together and were able to bring it home for UCT.”

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Stellenbosch University’s Nicky Giliomee (left) and Frances du Toit helped Maties to retain the women’s title at the FNB-sponsored Varsity MTB Challenge, which started and finished at Nederburg near Paarl today. Photo: Luke Thorrold

The Maties women won their second stage on the trot when they crossed the line in 3:10:26 for an overall time of 5:49:05.

University of Pretoria finished runners-up in 6:00:49 after coming home in 3:18:09, with North-West University completing the podium in 6:16:27 after finishing the stage in 3:26:45.

Frances du Toit, the national U23 cross-country champion, said the vibe among the student teams had been one of the highlights of the weekend.

“It was great to interact with our fellow students and to race with like-minded people. It was special for Maties to win this in our backyard.”