Andrew Hill and Waylon Woolcock took one back for TIB-RE:CM as some of the top teams battled illness and mechanical problems on day two of the FedGroup Berg & Bush mountain bike race near Winterton in KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday.
The pair beat newly announced FedGroup-Itec Connect team-mates Brandon Stewart and Neil MacDonald in a thrilling finale to claim the 61km stage by a single second in 2:49:11.
Former Sharks rugby player Jeremy Thompson, riding alongside David Leiman in the colours of Thule, crossed the line in 2:56:04 to take third on the day.
Stewart and MacDonald’s second place sees them retain their leaders’ jerseys and they are now 19 seconds ahead of the stage two winners. Thompson and Leiman cemented third overall.
With two big climbs and a water crossing looming, the top professional teams started conservatively as they infiltrated Spioenkop Game Reserve.
A lead group of five teams formed at the head of affairs and were all still together when they reached the unique speedboat crossing of Spioenkop Dam after 33km.
On the other side, the first big climb saw Stewart and MacDonald take control and they were closely followed by Woolcock and Hill.
But, as a stomach bug began to take its toll on the latter, the overall leaders drew clear and by the time they reached the base of Spioenkop they were two minutes up the road.
“Neil and Brandon were ahead of us going over the summit (at the final water point),” said Woolcock. “But then they must have had technical problems because we caught them on the descent, which wouldn’t have happened on a good day.”
Stewart confirmed that they had lost valuable time when he was forced to stop and attend to chain problems on the way down.
Woolcock and Hill grabbed the opportunity with both hands and were able to close the gap in the technical section near the bottom and from there the two teams rolled to the end as one.
“Coming into the finish, I just told Andrew to go because I knew we could get the edge over Brandon and Neil in a sprint. So he went and got a little bit of a gap and I followed and finished it off on the line.”
Although the overall lead was negligible, Woolcock said those defending it always had the psychological advantage.
“We are quite evenly matched, so we’ll definitely take our opportunities where we can on the last stage tomorrow.”
Stewart said he was pleased to have retained the lead and hoped it would be a taste of things to come for him and his new partner. “I’m looking forward to next season with Neil; I think we’re going to work really well together.”
In the mixed category, overall leaders Justin Porteous and Mariske Strauss (Cranked4Christ-JoJo) also conquered illness and tyre problems to take their second stage win in 3:11:24.
They were chased all the way to the line by adventure racers Martin and Jeannie Dreyer (USN-Hi-Tec), who finished second in 3:11:53 moving into third overall.
Brad Stroberg and Bridgette Stewart (FedGroup-Itec Connect) took third on the day in 3:14:12 to move up to second.
Women’s race leaders Sarah van Heerden and Brenda Potts (Jeep-Enviroshore) extended their overnight lead by taking the stage in 3:22:12.
Sunday’s third and final stage covers 68km through the Central Drakensberg from Emseni Camp near Spioenkop to the Winterton Country Club.
Go to www.bergandbush.co.za, www.facebook.com/bergandbush or @bergandbush for more information.
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Andrew Hill (left) and Waylon Woolcock (right) win the second stage of the FedGroup Berg & Bush at Emseni Camp near Winterton in KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday. Photographer: Photo: Coetzee Gouws/Full Stop Communications