Stage 1 of the 2016 GR300 and GRLite kicked off in fine style, on a beautiful Knysna morning, with a neutral zone cruise through town before racing got underway with the Ultimate Cycling Knysna Simola Dash. After 80km of racing with 1 650m of climbing the first stage was won by Craig Boyes in a time of 3 hours 37 minutes and 3 seconds, while the inform Robyn de Groot claimed the initial stage of the lady’s race in 3 hours 55 minutes and 42 seconds.
The first shots of the 2016 GR300 were fired on the steep slopes of Simola Road. It’s a brutal climb with gradients topping out over 10% at various sections and a final kick which can lead to spectacular blowouts. With the race stopped at the foot of the climb the riders assaulted Simola from a standing start and Dylan Rebello, Momsen Factory Racing, led from the gun with Boyes and Christopher Wolhuter, both of Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology, in particular hot on his rear wheel. It looked for a moment or two like the two older riders, both with strong road racing pedigrees would outsmart the young Rebello, but they simply couldn’t match this strength and one by one they and the other challengers dropped off. Leaving Rebello to ride under the Ultimate Cycling Knysna arch unchallenged to claim the R5 000 prize for the first male rider to crest the climb.
In the women’s race the Ultimate Cycling Knysna Simola Dash proved pivotal to the day’s stage result, as well as to the allocation of the R5 000 for the first woman over the line. De Groot, of Team Ascendis Health, cleared the climb first to claim the prize money and then slowly built on the lead she earned on the Simola climb to take stage victory over Catherine Williamson and Yolandi du Toit, largely unchallenged.
For the leading men it was a much tighter race. Rebello sat up to wait for his rivals atop the climb and soon a group formed with all the main contenders including Renay Groustra, Ben Melt Swanepoel, Mike Postumus and Derrin Smith. Meanwhile storming through the field after a slow start on the Simola Dash was Doug Brown of Cycle Lab Toyota. By water point two at the 40km mark the group was whittled down to Boyes, Wolhuter, Rebello, Swanepoel and Brown. In the Harkerville singletrack Swanepoel dropped off the pace having done a lot of the pace making duties on the forest roads.
From water point three at 60km to the finish the pace slacked slightly as the leaders were content to save their legs for Stages 2 and 3, in the Garden Route Trail Park (tomorrow) and in Elephant Country (on Sunday). Approaching the finish at Quay Four, Boyes lead the group into a tight and twisty section between the buildings on Thesen Island. This provided him with a slight gap which he maintained to win the stage over Rebello, Wolhuter and Brown – with only a handful of seconds separating the four of them.
The result sets up the GR300 race for highly competitive second and third stages and a tight general classification battle throughout. Follow the action live tomorrow on Twitter: @gardenroute300.
GR300 Stage 1 Results:
1. Craig Boyes 3:37:03
2. Dylan Rebello 3:37:09
3. Christopher Wolhuter 3:37:10
1. Robyn de Groot 3:55:42
2. Catherine Williamson 4:01:44
3. Yolandi du Toit 4:17:19
2016 GR300 & GRLite
Dates: 26 – 28 February 2016
Venue: Quay 4, Thesen Island, Knysna
Stage 2 Start: 08:00 Friday 27 February
Directions to Start: The Garden Route Trail Park, Barrington
Facebook: Garden Route Events