Matt Keyser and Rossouw Bekker put it all on the line in the closing metres to overturn a two-second deficit into a five-second overall victory on the final day of the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek mountain biking race at Addo outside Gqeberha on Sunday.
Before the start of the tough 48km third stage, the Valley Electrical-Titan Racing duo found themselves in second overall behind Luyanda Thobigunya and Khusaselihle Ngidi of Fairtree-Imperial after relinquishing a one-second lead the previous day.
Keyser, from Stellenbosch, and Bekker, from the Strand in Cape Town, were able to gap Thobigunya and Ngidi, both from Stellenbosch, in the last 150m to claim the title with an aggregate time of 8:12:32.
The runners-up finished the 188km event in the Zuurberg mountains in 8:12:35. Derek Venter from Centurion, riding alongside Gert Janse van Rensburg from Witbank, took three third places to secure the final step of the podium in 8:28:35.
With little to choose between the top two teams throughout, it eventually boiled down to the final ascent of the Zuurberg Pass to settle the matter.
“We didn’t quite know what to expect with all the singletrack on the stage and there were pretty long and fast downhills, so there were moments when we would attack, and then they would,” said Keyser.
“We took a wrong turn just before the pass but managed to get back to them and when we hit the pass it was just attack after attack from us and them,” said the 23-year-old.
“I said to Rossouw that our last chance was the flattish drag coming into the finish. I could sense one of them just behind us so we had to go all out, as hard as we could, just to make up the three seconds.”
Bekker, who has a dual role within Titan Racing, also acting as manager, was pleased with his efforts given his current schedule.
“I am a little undercooked because my focus at this stage is to take a step back from racing and to get the team going in the right direction. But I have some race experience and I know how to suffer on the bike and how to ride smart, so it was a case of managing my efforts over the three days,” explained the 23-year-old former African junior champion after finishing at the Zuurberg Mountain Village.
“I really hope to be back at the GZT because we are working on some cool things for next year. But it’s kind of motivating to know I can still race and we are obviously happy with our efforts.”
From their perspective, Ngidi said they knew they would come under attack from their rivals and their plan was to apply some pressure as well.
“They are very good riders and on the first day we just wanted to stay on their wheels. Today our plan was to try to get ahead but they were just too strong, even though they only managed to get away in the last 100 to 150 metres.”
He added that they were encouraged by their efforts after also finishing in the top 10 at sani2c earlier this month.
The mixed category went to Nicola Freitas and Craig Munton, both from Gqeberha, in 9:48:22. They outduelled fellow Gqeberha rivals Wesley and Mandi Augustyn by two stages to one with the latter recording an overall time of 10:01.07.
“We haven’t race together before so we first had to work out our relationship,” said Freitas.
“Day two suited my riding style better than the first stage and although the climb at the end was really steep and nearly broke me, Craig pulled me through.
“Today was just filled with incredible singletrack and it was so much fun, but also difficult and challenging. Wes and Mandi got a jump on us at the start but on the steep climb, about 25km in, we managed to pass them. I was never that confident that we could keep the gap but in the end it was really nice to seal the top spot with a stage win.”
Women’s category honours went to the Gqeberha partnership of Tracey Campbell and Juanita Mackenzie in 10:48.19.
“There was a bit of pressure in the beginning today with everyone fighting for the singletrack. But after that we found our groove, rode within ourselves, enjoyed the scenery and had a great day,” said Campbell.
“This was three days of great trails, with good food and excellent accommodation. Honestly, it is the best stage race I have ever done.”
Stage 3, 48km
1 Rossouw Bekker, Matt Keyser 2:24.21
2 Luyanda Thobigunya, Khusaselihle Ngidi 2:24.26
3 Derek Venter, Gert Janse van Rensburg 2:24.52
1 Tracey Campbell, Juanita Mackenzie 3:06.41
2 Alexa Terblanche, Brigitte Joubert 3:35.21
3 Vicki Laing, Leana Cooper 3:39.34
1 Craig Munton, Nicola Freitas 2:44.25
2 Wesley and Mandi Augustyn 2:51.52
3 Christo and Tanya Roos 3:05.56
Stage 2, 82km
1 Luyanda Thobigunya, Khusaselihle Ngidi 3:15.59
2 Rossouw Bekker, Matt Keyser 3:16.02
3 Derek Venter, Gert Janse van Rensburg 3:22.42
1 Tracey Campbell, Juanita Mackenzie 4:03.27
2 Alexa Terblanche, Brigitte Joubert 5:15.42
3 Vicki Laing, Leana Cooper 5:24.44
1 Craig Munton, Nicola Freitas 3:53.46
2 Wesley and Mandi Augustyn 4:02.21
3 Christo and Tanya Roos 4:20.43
Stage 1, 60km
1 Rossouw Bekker, Matt Keyser 2:32.09
2 Luyanda Thobigunya, Khusaselihle Ngidi 2:32.10
3 Derek Venter, Gert Janse van Rensburg 2:41.01
1 Tracey Campbell, Juanita Mackenzie 3:18.31
2 Alexa Terblanche, Brigitte Joubert 3:48.44
3 Vicki Laing, Leana Cooper 4:15.24
1 Wesley and Mandi Augustyn 3:06.54
2 Craig Munton, Nicola Freitas 3:10.11
3 Christo and Tanya Roos 3:15.04
Final General Classification
1 Rossouw Bekker, Matt Keyser 8:12.32
2 Luyanda Thobigunya, Khusaselihle Ngidi 8:12.35
3 Derek Venter, Gert Janse van Rensburg 8:28.35
1 Derek Venter, Gert Janse van Rensburg 8:28.35
2 Bruce Campbell, Richard Allen 10:15.46
3 Pau Garcia, Gaston Cebe 10:25.04
1 Kevin Evans, Andrew van Blommestein 9:36.25
2 Louis, Jeanne de Villiers 9:58.56
3 Stephan van Pletzen, Fanus Delport 10:28.57
1 Brendan Tindall, Will Wertheim Aynes 10:09.16
2 Warren Dickson, Warren Barber 10:29.30
3 Patrick Billson, Craig Dickson 10:50.56
1 Tracey Campbell, Juanita Mackenzie 10:48.19
2 Alexa Terblanche, Brigitte Joubert 12:39.47
3 Vicki Laing, Leana Cooper 13:19.42
1 Craig Munton, Nicola Freitas 9:48.22
2 Wesley and Mandi Augustyn 10:01.07
3 Christo and Tanya Roos 10:41.43