Scottburgh - Despite starting with a hefty lead, the pairing of Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes had to fight back from crashing and technical problems in the slippery muddy conditions to claim the overall victory in the sani2c at Scottburgh's main beach on Saturday, while the fancied team of Candice Lill and Vera Adrian staged a spectacular comeback to claim the women's spoils.
The PYGA Euro Steel duo tumbled back to third midway through the 82km final stage from Jolivet Farm to Scottburgh, after crashing and then battling with chain problems in the treacherous conditions caused by the heavy cold front that gripped the region, and victory seemed almost impossible.
The Beukes and Buys, and Sanders and McDougall pairings were the men's and women's winners respectively after the opening stage of the event on Thursday. After Friday's long Queen stage was neutralised, the fast final stage from Jolivet to Scottburgh - where it is normally tough to make up significant amounts of time - was the only chance for teams to overcome the deficits after Stage 1.
However, the mud - the aftermath of the heavy rain which forced the neutralisation of Stage 2 - created massive drive-train issues for all riders and meant the race became a dramatic case of stop, repair and chase back for all the leading contenders.
NAD Pro's Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell, who started the day in second overall, were quickly out of contention when their muddied chains choked their hopes early in the stage. They eventually took fourth on the stage and fourth overall, just ahead of TIB Insurance's Andrew Hill and Julian Jessop.
Fourth after the only racing day before Saturday, Matthew Beers and Tim Hammond (Ryder RED E Spot Africa) seemed to have dodged most of the early drama and even looked to have the final stage under control as they built a solid lead midway through their journey to Scottburgh. At one point they were timed at over two minutes ahead of Team BCX, and three ahead of the PYGA duo - advantages which effectively gave them the race lead.
Waylon Woolcock and HB Kruger from Team BCX, just 53 seconds behind PYGA at the start of Stage 3, were thus in second position on the road, but when Kruger hit a rock at a river crossing and punctured, they were thrown out of contention for the win. The two former road riders managed to repair and finish third on the stage and third overall.
But up front Buys, who also crashed heavily and later said he "was in pain", and Beukes fought back bravely and had all but caught the early leaders when Hammond suffered from chain suck. As Hammond stopped to clear his drive train, Buys and Beukes gratefully swept past and incredibly were able to take the stage win, and with it an overall victory by just over two minutes.
"I don't know how we got back to win," said an incredulous Buys after crossing the line.
Hammond and Beers remounted and sped to the finish to claim second on the stage and second overall.
"It is great to defend the title that I won last year and we have been in great form this year, so the confidence was there for us and despite our challenges today we knew that we just needed to stay calm and we could win," said a muddied Beukes after the finish.
"To have another sani2c title is great and I am glad that Phil and
I could pull off the victory."
Buys was a bit more descriptive of their dramas out on the route.
"We had some serious problems today but that was going to happen if you looked at the nature of the stage.
"My chain slipped a couple of times and then I had a fall in a donga which set us back a bit.
"It was far from the perfect day of mountain biking but it's really satisfying that we can win in these conditions," he added.
In the women's race, Lill and Adrian fought a rabbit-and-hare dice from soon after the start as they steadily built a lead over Sanders and McDougall. Midway through the stage they had enough of a lead on the stage to be leading on the road, however, just when it looked as if they had victory sorted, the Valencia pairing began to eat into their lead again - only for more mechanical problems to finally scupper their hopes.
Eventually the dormakaba pair reached the finish four minutes ahead which was enough for a deceptively large three-minute win.
"Candice and I have become such a good combination because we are both technically really good and we compliment each other," said Adrian.
"We were strong today and rode really well together in some really tough conditions. It was great to win this year but it was a really tough day for the Valencia Ladies and you never want to see others have problems like that.
"We were looking forward to the second stage but it was definitely the right decision to cancel to drop in the Umko and we knew we had to work really hard today."
Defeat was tough to accept for Mcdougall, who is normally one of the most consistent and toughest riders in the women's races.
"I had so many problems today, I am usually really good and enjoy the mud but today just wasn't my day," the dejected runner up said after the finish.
"It cost us a lot of time today but that is mountain biking and I still really enjoyed riding with Sam (Sanders) and the whole race."
2016 Olympian James Reid made a quick foray away from his studies at UCT to compete for the first time in 2017 and with South African Triathlete Mari Rabie was a convincing winner in the mixed category, finishing 11 minutes ahead of Sanet and Dana Coetzee.
Results (with stage time and overall time):
1. PYGA Euro Steel (Philip Buys/Matthys Beukes) 2:50:08, 5:38:04
2. Ryder RED E Spot Africa (Matthew Beers/Tim Hammond) 2:50:17, 5:40:12
3. Team BCX (Waylon Woolcock/HB Kruger) 2:54:37, 5:43:26
4. NAD Pro MTB (Gawie Combrinck/Nico Bell) 2:56:39, 5:45:19
5. Team TIB (Andrew Hill/Julian Jessop) 0 2:56:45, 5:48:28
6. William Simpson (Derrin Smith/Michael Posthumus) 0 3:05:07, 6:04:32
7. Ballito Bicycling Company (Pieter Seyffert/Andrew Johnson) 0 3:07:35, 6:04:39
8. Home Ice Cream (Matthew Stamatis/Thomas Jessop) 0 3:06:22, 6:05:20
9. Urban Fitness Outdoor (Jonathan Cloete/Nicholas Porteous) 0 3:20:51, 6:20:39
10. Time Freight eTeam (James Burne/Aiden Nugent) 3:13:57, 6:22:26
1. dormakaba (Candice Lill/Vera Adrian) 3:09:45, 6:18:31
2. Valencia Ladies (Samantha Sanders/Amy Mcdougall) 3:13:42, 6:21:20
3. Team Ascendis Health (Robyn de Groot/Mariska Strauss) 3:19:08, 6:37:18
1. Private Client Holdings (James Reid/Mari Rabie) 3:23:47, 6:37:53
2. Omnico Team (Sanet Coetzee/Dana Coetzee) 3:27:26, 6:48:19