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SCOTT Factory Racing's Philip Buys approaches the summit of a steep climb on his way through the Kammanassie Mountains on Stage 4 of the Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek on Thursday.

Photo credit: Zoon Cronje/Nikon

At just 70km, the stage from De Rust to Herold was short, but influential, with 1950 metres of vertical ascent and steep, stony climbs and descents through the remote Kammanassie Mountains testing the remaining 354 riders to their limits.

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Eventual stage winners, Matthys Beukes (front) and Philip Buys of SCOTT Factory Racing lead the bunch during the early part of Stage 4 of the Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek on Thursday.

Photo credit: Zoon Cronje/Nikon

Buys and Beukes, both highly skilled riders with cross-country racing backgrounds, used the tricky terrain to their advantage and rode clear of the front group just after 20km into the stage. They clocked a winning time of 03 hours 12 minutes 04 seconds. Defending champions, Westvaal Bells Cycling’s Nico Bell (RSA) and Gawie Combrinck (RSA) finished second 2:50 back, with Woolcock and Kleinhans on their wheels.

Woolcock and Kleinhans only needed to wipe out an eight-second deficit to move into the lead, but they gained 4:35 on overnight leaders, FedGroup Itec’s Brandon Stewart (RSA) and Konny Looser (SUI) and now take a 4:27 lead into Friday’s penultimate stage. Asrin Cycling’s James Reid (RSA) and Jens Schuermans (BEL) lost time on Thursday, but are still in third place overall, 16:42 off the pace.

RE:CM Davinci’s Annika Langvad (DEN) and Ariane Kleinhans continued their dominance of the women’s division, winning their fifth consecutive stage and extending their overall lead in process.

Biogen SA’s Robyn de Groot (RSA) and Ischen Stopforth (RSA) rode strongly to secure second place on the stage, 20 minutes down on the winners and five minutes ahead Wheeler BMC’s Esther Suss (SUI) and Jane Nuessli (GBR), who remain second overall, one hour and six minutes off Langved and Kleinhans.

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Team RE:CM Davinci's Annika Lanvad leads teammate, Ariane Kleinhans through a river during Stage 4 of the Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek on Thursday. Langvad and Kleinhans won the stage and extended their overall lead.

Photo credit: Zoon Cronje/Nikon

“We planned to win the stage today. Matthys and I both felt good early on and we used the rough terrain as best we could. We didn’t ride everything, but we rode for longer than the other teams on each climb and that counts for 20 or 30 seconds each time,” explained Buys.

“Today was a day for the dual suspension bikes. The first three teams were all on dual suspension bikes. This terrain is where the difference comes in and as the race gets longer we’re probably not as weary as the guys that chose hardtails,” said Beukes, adding that an overall podium place was now in their sights.

“This was my first time through the Kammanassie. It was a shock to the system, but I was kind of mentally prepared for a tough ride today. From 20 to 40km it was seriously steep and rocky and very difficult to get any kind of rhythm,” said Woolcock.

“We could see Konny was taking strain on the very first climb today. So when we reached the tech zone with about 15 kays to go, I told Erik that it’s a gradual climb all the way to the finish and we should increase the pressure a bit. It worked. Brandon stayed with us, but Konny cracked and Brandon was forced to drop back to him,” explained Woolcock.

In the highly competitive Mixed category, there was an overall lead change. Asrin Cycling 2’s Nizaam Esa (RSA) and Catherine Williamson won the stage, but it was their stablemates, Asrin Cycling 3’s Jennie Stenerhag (SWE) and Craig Gerber (RSA), runners-up on the stage, that reclaimed the race lead from the Dutch Cube Nutswerk MTB team of Birgit Lavrijssen and Marco Minaard.

The Klein Karoo Vets’ team of Wynand Muller (RSA) and Gerrie Beukes (RSA) won their second consecutive stage, but are still a distant second on General Classification behind Cube Nutswerk 2’s Micha de Vries (NED) and Rik van den Hanneberg (NED). In the Masters race, Wilde 3’s Izak Visagie and Lieb Loots won their fifth consecutive stage and remain firmly in the overall lead heading into the penultimate stage on Friday.

In the Solo men’s race, Adriaan Louw (RSA) secured another stage win to extend his overall lead, while Bettina Uhlig (GER) grabbed the overall lead in the Solo women’s race with dominant stage victory.

Friday’s Stage 5 is another 70km stage, taking the riders our of the semi-arid Klein Karoo region, over the Outeniqua Mountains and into the lush coastal forests to the finish in George. There’s a good chance of light rain, which will add to the challenge. By Friday, the riders will have traversed three different eco-regions, the Great Karoo, the Klein Karoo and the Garden Route, a unique element of the event.

“We’ll be conservative tomorrow. Anything can happen and we want to minimise those risks and hold onto the lead. Some teams are still after stage wins, so I’m sure the racing will be furious,” said Woolcock.