- The Swiss/Italian team won. Again. With Nino Schurter continuing his impressive Tankwa Trek debut.
- Hotter conditions saw some riders opting to carry hydration packs.
- A significant gap has developed in the women’s race.
Stage 2 of the Tankwa Trek saw repeat victories for the men and women in the First Ascent leaders’ jerseys.
Nino Schurter and Filippo Colombo, of Team Cornercard, raced patiently before making the stage winning move in the final 25km. Faces Rola’s Mariske Strauss and Candice Lill dominated from the start gun to win by more than 24 minutes.
A proper mountain biking test
The 89km stage featured a clockwise rather than anti-clockwise loop of the Witzenberg valley. This meant that the day’s most arduous climb came only 27km into the stage; followed by technical singletracks later on in the day, softening the legs for the final kilometres.
Swiss marathon and stage race specialist, Konny Looser, lost contact with the leading group on the Old Wagon Trail. Looser’s partner, Alexander Miller, then helped pace him back to the front of the race; where Imbuko DEV equipped by Giant were driving the pace.
Lots happened during the first part of the stage
With the leading group of four teams in sight, Miller punctured the MES Electrical Supplies team out of contention for the stage.
This left Cornercard, Toyota Specialized and Cannondale Factory Racing, at the sharp end with Imbuko DEV equipped by Giant. Schurter and Colombo were content to manage their efforts. At the same time, the rest of the group worked to drop Alan Hatherly and Simon Andreassen, before the long singletrack section along the eastern slopes of the Witzenberg mountain range.
Nino used Filippo's experience
For 20km Schurter, Colombo, Wessel Botha, Marco Joubert, Matt Beers and Tristan Nortje played cat and mouse through the twisting trails. Then with 25km to go Colombo pounced.
"Filippo said he recognised the trails from the Cape Epic and went to the front when he thought we could make a difference," Schurter explained.
"Even though we were going in the opposite direction, I knew where we were and where we were going," Colombo confirmed. "On the last climb of the stage I put in an attack and we were able to distance the other two teams."
"The final 10km were flat but anything but easy," Schurter added. "There were lots of tricky corners with sand and loose rocks. It would have been easy to make a mistake and crash. So, we were happy to take our second stage win."
Behind the stage winners, Nortje found the going very tough in the closing kilometres. This allowed Botha and Joubert to race to second on the stage and into second position on the general classification. Beers and Nortje hung on to finish third.
Mariska and Candice look untouchable
Strauss and Lill’s journey towards stage victory started within 5km of leaving Kaleo.
The Faces Rola team rode their rivals from their wheels on the first kick of the course and never looked back. Behind them Samantha Sanders suffered an unlikely mechanical, when her pedal worked itself loose from the crank. This cost the Efficient Insure Infinity Racing team around ten minutes, yet they recovered to finish the stage in third.
"The reverse route was really fun," Strauss enthused after winning Stage 2. "I preferred the shorter steeper climb, even though it was really steep. Racing on our own for so much of the day was a bit of a challenge. But we treated it as an important training ride and focused on maintaining a good pace throughout."
Stage 3 includes the infamous Merino Monster, arguably South Africa’s most demanding mountain bike climb. It gains nearly 1 000m in elevation, from the Ceres Valley floor to the high mountain peaks, within only 20km. In total stage is 99km long and features 2 200m of climbing.