Hout Bay biker clinches title

2016-03-01 06:00
 Billy Stelling of Hout Bay acknowledges the crowd as he crosses the line first in Franschhoek recently to win stage seven of this year’s TransCape MTB race. He was crowned this year’s champion as well. Stelling completed the 750km, seven-day stage race from Knysna in 30:56:29.  PHOTO: Yolanda van der Stoep

Billy Stelling of Hout Bay acknowledges the crowd as he crosses the line first in Franschhoek recently to win stage seven of this year’s TransCape MTB race. He was crowned this year’s champion as well. Stelling completed the 750km, seven-day stage race from Knysna in 30:56:29. PHOTO: Yolanda van der Stoep

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Hout Bay ultra-distance mountain biker Billy Stelling won this year’s TransCape MTB race with a great solo effort on the final day of the seven-day, 750km stage race at La Couronne wine farm in Franschhoek two weeks ago.

The cyclist, who started the gruelling race with 130 cyclists in Knysna a week earlier, got his challenge for the title off to a quiet start, finishing fourth on day one, behind international pro women riders Swiss star Esther Süss and British-born Sharon Laws and the Pretoria team of Johan and Fanie Venter.

On day two Stelling started to show his intentions by riding hard, but he was narrowly beaten by the Swiss Olympian on the brutal 121km stage from George to Calitzdorp, which included traversing the Montagu pass and Gamkaberg. While Süss crossed the line in 5:17:49, Stelling finished second in 5:18:03.

It was on day three however, that the former WP and Netherlands cricketer, riding for team Seattle Single Shot, showed his metal during the stage between Calitzdorp and Riversdal.

About 80km into this 121km stage Stelling broke away from the lead peloton with only road specialist Laws making a brief challenge. With 35km to the finish the Hout Bay rider already had a 90-second lead on the chasing pack.

It was the tough Garcia Pass, however, where he stamped his authority on the stage, and the race, building an impressive 7-minute lead on the chasing pack as he reached the top of the pass.

Stelling didn’t ease up going down the pass and raced, at times reaching speeds of over 60km/H, to the finish line in Riversdal in a blistering time of 4:50:32 to take the overall lead in the race.

After this impressive performance Stelling was content, on day four from Riversdal to Swellendam, to let the Venters take line honours in 5:10:29, while he finished on their heels in 5:10:31.

This was arguably the hardest stage of the race with its unforgiving single-track sections and temperatures topping 40°C.

Stage five – a trek of 113km from Swellendam to Greyton – again saw Stelling putting on the pressure. He cruised to a relatively easy win in 4:14:46. He was followed home, in 4:15:52, by the Freewheel Cycology team of Gavin Klerck of Rondebosch and Lionel Murray of Claremont, who just beat Laws (4:15:53) in a sprint to the finish line.

On the penultimate day of the race, from Greyton to Villiersdorp, it was Laws, who had consistently been challenging Stelling, who managed to get a stage win. The race leader and Klerck and Murray took a wrong turn, giving the former British road champion a sniff at victory.

She won in 3:19:54 with Stelling second in 3:20:08 and team Freewheel Cycology third in 3:23:02.

This result gave Stelling an impressive 15-minute advantage over Süss in the overall race standings going into the final stage of the event from Villiersdorp to Franschhoek.

While the Hout Bay rider could afford to take it easy he did not rest on his laurels and determinedly set out to be first over the line in Franschhoek, taking on the first big challenge of the day, the mighty Groenlandberg.

“I didn’t make a conscious decision to break away from the girls and the rest of the field, I just rode at my own tempo and no-one chased after me, so I rode within myself to the end,” commented Stelling after winning the final stage in 3:01:45.

Finishing nearly five minutes adrift of Stelling, but ahead of the women, were Klerck and Murray, who finished the stage second in 3:06:27, earning them the runner-up spot in the men’s team classification for the entire race.

“This was a wonderful experience and one of the best stage races I have ever ridden in. The camaraderie was lovely and it was great riding with a world-class field of girls as well. Everyone was friendly and the food and service were also great,” said Stelling.


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