The Queen stage of the 2022 Tankwa Trek, was won by a local team after two days of European domination.
Matt Beers and Tristan Nortje recovered from a difficult second stage to outsprint the overall race leaders, Team Cornercard, on stage 3. Mariske Strauss and Candice Lill recovered from a five minute deficit in the first 15km to win their third successive stage in the women's race.
A bonus for being first up the big mountain
The Merino Monster, South Africa’s most infamous mountain biking climb, loomed large as riders embarked upon stage 3. There was an incentive to conquer it swiftly, with R10 000 prize money for the first men’s and women’s team to reach the summit.
At 1 750m above sea level, this was the highest point of stage 3. The Merino Monster was also located 75km into the 99km stage, which meant competitors would be ascending it after doing a lot of riding.
Two Epic winners at the front
With Matt Beers on the front of the lead group, there was no chance of the chasers regaining contact. When Nino Schurter came to the front, after 40km, only Toyota Specialized could follow the Cornercard team.
On the Old Wagon Trail climb, from the Ceres Valley to the Koue Bokkeveld plateau, Schurter, Filippo Colombo, Beers and Tristan Nortje continued to build on their advantage. Behind this group, Alan Hatherly and Simon Andreassen were leading the chase. Botha and Joubert had joined the pair.
At the start of the race’s main climb, the Cannondale Factory Racing and Imbuko DEV Giant team were three minutes behind the leaders.
Wireless shifting issues
On the steepest slopes of the Merino Monster Colombo started to struggle. Beers and Nortje seized the opportunity and gradually edged away from the race leaders.
"We were feeling good and climbing well," Nortje confirmed. "We saw Colombo was suffering a bit more than us. But unfortunately, about ten minutes from the summit, I shifted and my rear derailleur didn’t engage. The battery was flat, and I was stuck in the fourth cog from the top of the cassette."
As a result, Schurter and Colombo raced through the King of the Mountain hotspot in first place.
"We caught them again on the descent and then rode with the Cornercard team back to the finish," Nortje explained. "It was great to take the victory too. After the first two day’s and all the difficulties I had. Winning today was very special."
A very close win
Toyota Specialized’s victory was by a mere two seconds. Cornercard finished just behind and Cannondale Factory Racing completed the podium. Hatherly and Andreassen had lost their third position on the climb, but their descending skills allowed them to regain contact with Konny Looser and Alexander Miller on the run into Kaleo.
Having caught the Swiss/Namibian pairing Cannondale Factory Racing then dropped MES Electrical Supplies in the final few kilometres to earn their first podium place of the race.
Further back in the men’s field the victorious Veterans team placed tenth overall. Karl Platt and Udo Bolts, of Team Bulls, have been dominant in their age category; despite 55-year-old Bolts being eligible for the older, Masters’ competition. The pair started the day 8 minutes behind the AA batch of elite men, yet managed to beat a number of them back to Kaleo Guest Farm.
Not even tyre problems could stop Candice and Mariske
In the women’s race, Lill suffered a puncture on the Old Gydo Pass descent. The valve of the Faces Rola rider’s rear wheel was leaking air. It took her and Strauss nearly five minutes to get going again.
Faces Rola spent the next 30km chasing Sarah Hill and Theresa Ralph. Once the women in the pink leaders’ jerseys regained their first position on the road, there was no stopping. They climbed to the Queen of the Mountain prize and then descended to a third stage victory.
Strauss and Lill’s victory margin was a significant 16 minutes and 39 seconds. Efficient Insure Infinity Racing’s Kim le Court and Samantha Sanders completed the podium. The result hands Faces Rola a 46-minute general classification lead over Hill and Ralf, heading into the final stage.
In the men's race, Cornercard’s advantage is 4 minutes and 53 seconds over Toyota Specialized