The conditions at the start of the 2016 Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush were cool. The riding from the elite bunch, though, was scorching hot. Setting the scintillating pace was one of the strongest pro fields ever assembled at the Berg & Bush Descent.
Waylon Woolcock and Darren Lill (USN Purefit), Philip Buys and Gert Heyns (Scott LCB Factory Racing), Matt Beers and Erik Kleinhans (Red E Topeak Ergon), Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck (NAD PRO MTB), and 2016 Olympian Alan Hatherly, riding with 2015 Descent winner Brendon Davids (Kargo Pro Swiss Cycles), were just some of the big local names that set out at a blistering pace from the race’s Windmill Farm start.
First across the line was Beers (second in 2015) and Kleinhans in 03:26:26, quickly followed by Bell and Combrinck (03:26:36), with Gert Heyns and Philip Buys finishing in third around two minutes behind the first two teams. “It was hard and fast from the start,” said Beers. “It was tough. I didn't expect everyone to race like that from the word go. It’s great to get the stage win, though.” Tackling trails like Solly’s Folly and the Drakensberg Drop, the riders split apart from their teammates early on.
Hatherly and Davids were able to set the early pace, racing into a 35 second lead, only to have it slashed by the chasing pack when Hatherly ripped open his tyre on a descent around the 25km mark. He eventually received a spare wheel from his teammates back in the field, but the four minute wait on the side of the trail took him and Davids out of contention for the day.
It was then left to the other heavy hitters to power on, forming a 10-strong bunch for the majority of the race. In the mix were eventual winners Red E Topeak Ergon, NAD PRO MTB, Scott LCB Factory Racing, USN Purefit and Team Telkom’s Johann Rabie and Hendrik Kruger. Technical issues saw the end of Telkom and USN Purefit’s challenge, leaving a three-way shoot out for the finish.
Beers attacked on the final descent - Everest - forcing NAD PRO MTB and Scott Factory Racing to chase. With 7km to go Philip Buys overcooked a turn on a berm causing him to puncture, leaving Beers and Kleinhans alone to pip Bell and Combrinck by 10 seconds.
“Our strategy was not necessarily to go for the win,” said Erik Kleinhans. “There are a lot of excellent cross-country teams here, and they are better suited to this style of riding, but we are very chuffed to take the stage win. The trick now will be to consolidate and hold on to the lead, because the cross-country guys will definitely be eyeing out the shorter stages to come.”
In the women’s race Candice Neethling and Vera Adrian (Dorma Time Freight) took the win in 03:57:55, one minute and 45 seconds ahead of Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag (Team Ascends Health). Theresa Ralph and Yolandi du Toit (Galileo Risk Garmin) were the third women’s team across the line 04:19:20.
“It’s my first time here, so I am thrilled to get a stage win,” says Namibian cyclist and 2016 Olympian Vera Adrian. “Robyn and Jennie haven’t ridden here either, so I think it helped that Candice knew the course slightly from last year. We attacked at the final water point and from there we were able to break away.”
Stenerhag and De Groot have both had to overcome illness or injury this year, so the pair we’re happy to be able to race together again. “It’s good to be racing with Jennie again,” said De Groot. “This is our first time here and it was awesome. The trails were great and the singletrack was fantastic. I’m definitely looking forward to the next two days.”
1 Matt Beers and Erik Kleinhans - Red E Topeak Ergon - 03:26:26
2 Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck - NAD PRO MTB - 03:26:36
3 Gert Heyns and Philip Buys - Scott LCB Factory Racing - 03:28:50
4 Lourens Luus and Konny Looser - PSG BiXS Pro Team - 03: 31:04
5 Hendrik Kruger and Johann Rabie - Team Telkom - 03:31:06
1 Candice Neethling and Vera Adrian - Dorma Time Freight - 03:57:55
2 Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag - Team Ascendis Health - 03:59:10
3 Yolandi du Toit and Theresa Ralph - Galileo Risk Garmin - 04:19:20
4 Anli Smith and Tamaryn Kietzmann - Complete Cyclist - 04:37: 47
5 Bonny Swanepoel and Nadine Visagie - Pocket Rockets - 04:43:52