Despite a puncture setback on the final stage, South African Candice Lill and German Helen Grobert claimed the overall women’s title when the Tankwa Trek concluded in the Ceres area of the Western Cape yesterday.
Lill said their goal was to work together as best as they could as a team, which showed when they topped the podium after the first day.
The first stage covered 83km towards the Witzenberg valley and presented riders with 1 900m of climbing. It boasted a fast winding single-track and jeep-track descent.
“We just wanted to figure out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I think after the first stage when we won we surprised ourselves a bit and realized we’re actually quite similar riders and we were very well matched,” said Lill.
Stage two took riders on an 87km ride, with 2 200m of climbing, through the orchards of the Bokkeveld towards the Ceres Valley. The infamous Merino Monster, which rises 686m in 7.7km at an average gradient of 9%, was followed by a well-deserved descent down to Kaleo.
The dormakaba pair extended their general classification lead when they won the stage.
“When we won on day two we were like ‘wow, OK now we’re actually doing this!’,” said Lill, who took the overall National MTB Series title in October.
The final stage consisted of an 89km ride with 1 250m of ascent. It featured numerous single-track sections through the Koue Bokkeveld.
“We had a buffer of about four minutes, so we just wanted to keep it tidy and remember that we didn’t need to make extra time. We just had to protect our lead and stay safe, which was the most important thing as so much can go wrong on the last day,” said Lill.
She added that the final stage was very fast and everyone went out “guns blazing” from the start of the 3km neutral zone.
“I think the main pacesetters of the day were Yolandi [de Villiers] and Mariske [Strauss] who wanted to get a stage win. They were making it hard from early on,” she said.
The Silverback Volvo-OMX and dormakaba riders managed to get away from the others in some of the single-track sections and on the difficult hills.
“It was a group of us four working together as much as we could,” said Lill.
The overall winners encountered their first misfortune of the race when Lill suffered a puncture.
“It happened 10km from the finish. De Villiers and Strauss got away as I fixed my puncture as fast as I could. Robyn [de Groot] and Sabine [Spitz] came past us during that time, but we knew if we could just ride as hard as possible to the finish we wouldn’t lose out time,” said Lill.
Grobert saw the second-placed overall team pass them and set the pace as she and Lill fought their way back to get within sight of De Groot and Spitz.
“Once I saw them, as we were about to enter the last bit of single track, I knew we had won. We could just ride the trails with flow and have fun,” said Grobert.
The stage was won by De Villiers and Strauss, but the leaders’ jersey did not change hands.
“The overall result is really awesome for us. We honestly didn’t expect to win and we didn’t want to go in with too much pressure – we just wanted to see how it went.
“I think the best part for me is just sharing an experience like this with someone who has the same passion and joy for mountain-biking as I do,” concluded Lill.