The elite field at the 2016 Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush charged through the 60km Stage 2 course with such ferocity that some in the race village wondered if the final batch of riders might be able to watch the winners come in.
In the end, race leaders Erik Kleinhans and Matt Beers (Red E Topeak Ergon) and the chasing pack weren’t fast wave enough to wave the J batch hello and goodbye, but it was an electrifying pace nonetheless.
Stage 1 winners Kleinhans and Beers were in no mood to mess about, and made a decisive strike with 30km to go to claim Stage 2 in a time of 02:06:50.
They finished just under two minutes ahead of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck (NAD PRO MTB), which opened up a decent 90 second-plus lead going into the final day’s short 50km stage. Third over the line on Stage 2 was the Scott LCB Factory Racing pair of Phil Buys and Gert Heyns.
The early morning conditions at the Em'seni camp start were perfect for riding, slightly cloudy and cool. The race leaders showed their intent in the start pen, lining up in a pincer formation on either side of the other riders, though Kleinhans insists it was purely by accident.
By design or not, once the gun went Kleinhans and Beers shot out of the start area and straight into the front of the pack. The elite bunch held together for half the race, with about 10 teams jostling for position. With some explosive riding, Alan Hatherly and Brendon Davids (Kargo Pro Swiss Cycles) were able to take charge for some time, instigating most of the attacks with only Kleinhans and Beers willing to follow.
It was at the halfway stage, at the steep climb of Mike’s Pass, that the race opened up. With Hatherly and Davids stepping off the gas - their focus now falls on this evening's Volvo Summit 2km sprint race up Spioenkop - it was Red E Topeak Ergon, NAD PRO MTB and Scott LCB Factory Racing in the hunt. “Matt just decided to blast away up and down that hill,” said Kleinhans. “After that we lost the guys behind us and managed to open up a gap. Once that happened we just kept going at full gas.”
Despite the speedy finish and shorter distance after a 99km Stage 1, Beers said the racing was tough. “That was hard. Guys were going full tilt from start to finish. It was a proper morning of riding.”
His views were echoed by Kleinhans, Gert Heyns and Phil Buys, all of who are new to the event, but seem to be enjoying the trails. “The riding is great,” said Buys. “The trails are not too manicured and provide a nice challenge for racing. It’s been tough at the front end of the field, but Gert and I are really enjoying this.”
In the women’s race there was a sprint finish for the line, with Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag (Team Ascendis Health) snatching the win from Stage 1 winners and overall leaders Candice Neethling and Vera Adrian (Dorma Time Freight). The Ascendis Health winning time for the day was 02:30:17, Neethling and Adrian a mere second behind.
“That was really enjoyable,” said a dusty but smiling Robyn de Groot. “The route was good, the singletrack was fun and the racing was excellent. It was very tactical. On such a short stage it’s tough to get time back, but Jennie and I went as hard as we could to get into the singletrack ahead of Candice and Vera. That was how most of the ride went, as we were together the whole way. In the end, we managed to get into the singletrack just before the finish too.”
Stenerhag, who has come out of the European racing season, is struggling with the altitude, but is enjoying the novel experience of the Berg & Bush. “I’m a little tired and not at my best, but it’s fun to ride a new race. We often do the same races every year, so to come up here and take it all in and see something different is very cool.”
Tonight riders have the option of tackling the Volvo Summit, a 2km sprint up Spioenkop with a R20 000 prize for the fastest male and female rider to the top. Or they can wait for Sunday’s 50km Stage 3, which will take the field up and over the famous battle site before the dash home on a newly-minted 13km singeltrack finish.
Results Stage 2 men:
1 Matt Beers and Erik Kleinhans - Red E Topeak Ergon - 02:06:50
2 Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck - NAD PRO MTB - 02:08:22
3 Gert Heyns and Philip Buys - Scott LCB Factory Racing - 02:08:52
4 Lourens Luus and Konny Looser - PSG BiXS Pro Team - 02:08:52
5 Hendrik Kruger and Johann Rabie - Team Telkom - 02:08:54
Results Stage 2 women:
1 Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag - Team Ascendis Health - 02:30:17
2 Candice Neethling and Vera Adrian - Dorma Time Freight - 02:30:18
3 Yolandi du Toit and Theresa Ralph - Galileo Risk Garmin - 02:39:18
4 Anli Smith and Tamaryn Kietzmann - Complete Cyclist - 02:50:26
5 Bonny Swanepoel and Nadine Visagie - Pocket Rockets - 02:53:13
Results overall men:
1 Matt Beers and Erik Kleinhans - Red E Topeak Ergon - 05:33:16
2 Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck - NAD PRO MTB - 05:34:58
3 Gert Heyns and Philip Buys - Scott LCB Factory Racing - 05:37:43
Results overall women:
1 Candice Neethling and Vera Adrian - Dorma Time Freight - 06:28:13
2 Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag - Team Ascendis Health - 06:29:27
3 Yolandi du Toit and Theresa Ralph - Galileo Risk Garmin - 06:58:38