Defending champion Chris Wolhuter and protégé Craig Boyes crushed their rivals on the second day of the Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter to build up a comfortable lead going into Sunday’s grand finale.
As they had done on the opening day, the Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology professional team set the pace for most of the way to win the 57km stage between Franschhoek and Kleine Valleij outside Wellington in 2:20:00.
They got the better of Altech-Autopage’s Colin Noel and Hanco Kachelhoffer, who finished a distant second in 2:28:42.
After CP van Wyk’s horrific crash the previous day while fighting for stage honours, he and his Momsen teammate Dylan Rebello put in a superb ride to place third in 2:29:47.
Wolhuter, from Cape Town, and Boyes, who lives in Stellenbosch, head the general classification with a combined time of 4:46:34.
They are followed by Noel and Kachelhoffer (5:05:22) with Rebello and Van Wyk (5:11:25) in third.
Boyes said they had again got off to a flying start as they pushed hard up front alongside Noel and Kachelhoffer with Rebello and Van Wyk in tow.
“Unfortunately Hanco punctured and he and Colin lost touch,” said the 25-year-old.
“About 5km after exiting the Drakenstein prison grounds, we took a gamble and went really hard as we headed towards the first waterpoint.
“Fortunately we know the route and Chris has been unbelievably strong so we were able to just roll on to the finish after that.”
Although they would not be taking anything for granted, Boyes said they were looking forward to the final day.
“We have managed to build up a comfortable buffer and are really aiming to enjoy the final day and the sights.”
Boyes said his maiden Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter was a special experience.
“Everyone has made us feel so welcome. The friendly reception and the work the organisers have put in have been huge.”
After solid early-season performances at the GR300 and Cape Epic, where they were third overall and fourth African team respectively, Boyes said they were keen to graduate to the top step of the podium.
Team Spur’s Stephan Senekal and Ariane Kleinhans completed back to back victories in the mixed section when they placed fifth on the stage in 2:45:14.
Their aggregate time of 5:35:49 put them in a comfortable lead in the overall standings ahead of Everett and Anna Haywood and Ricky and Kerry Tomaselli.
The final stage, which started and finished at Kleine Valleij, was a distance of 48km with 1 100m of climbing.
On the final stage Chris Wolhuter and Craig Boyes sealed the overall win after cruising to their third consecutive stage victory in the Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter on Sunday.
The Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology pair, who had an 18-minute buffer going into the final day, completed the 48km final stage around Kleine Valleij in Wellington in 1:58:45.
Hanco Kachelhoffer and Colin Noel of Altech-Autopage followed them home in 2:02:36 with Neil Swartz and Rikus Visser of SDK Legends third in 2:08:39.
Wolhuter and Boyes, who hail from Cape Town and Stellenbosch respectively, topped the general classification with an aggregate time of 6:45:19.
Kachelhoffer and Noel placed second overall in 7:07:58 with Van Wyk and Rebello grimly holding on to the third step of the podium in 7:26:12 after their day-one crash.
“It has really worked well because we get on well on and off the bike,” said Wolhuter, referring to their new partnership.
“We are able to joke a bit and that always helps to release the pressure.
“We have had a few podium places this season but it is always nice to get to the top step and we are very happy with the result,” said the 27-year-old professional.
“We came here with a plan and it all went according to that plan. It’s not often that does happen so that was great.”
Wolhuter said he felt the telling break came on the first morning when they went hard on one of the early climbs.
“It was really on the first climb early on the first day when we decided to punch quite hard and managed to get a breakaway going which set things up for us.”
From that moment, the pair were able to protect and even build a lead which was never seriously challenged by their rivals.
Wolhuter, who won the inaugural event alongside Jarryd Haley last year, said the overall experience had been tremendous.
“To be able to participate in a race like this on my doorstep is fantastic. They have refined a few things and kept the legs fairly short, but they are still a tough challenge.
“This helps to create the boutique experience when the guys aren’t shattered at the end of the day, but can finish about midday and enjoy the afternoon.”
After dominating all three stages, the mixed section was won by Cape Epic champion Ariane Kleinhans and Team Spur partner Stephan Senekal in 7:51:17.
Senekal said they were thrilled with the outcome and had enjoyed the experience.
“I have lived in Stellenbosch for around 12 years and to experience these trails and the good mixture of routes the organisers have put together was great.
“We are very happy with the outcome and to work so well with Ariane, who is such a strong rider, was awesome.”
Source: FullStop Communications