The Western Cape pair of Rossouw Bekker and Matt Keyser outduelled Luyanda Thobigunya and Khusaselihle Ngidi to capture stage one of the seventh PwC Great Zuurberg Trek mountain bike race at Addo outside Gqeberha today.
Bekker – third overall in the pre-Covid edition in 2019 – and Keyser spent most of the day in a fluctuating battle with the Fairtree-Imperial team but put the hammer down just before entering the Zuurberg Mountain Village premises to snatch the win.
They finished in 2:32.09, with Thobigunya and Ngidi one second back. Derek Venter and Gert Janse van Rensburg completed the podium in 2:41.01.
Bekker, who teamed up with Keyser for the first time, said they had worked in unison, as they showed in the final dash for the line.
“Coming off the road into the last stretch we realised we were not going to get away, so Matt got on the front and went as fast as he could, with me on his wheel,” said Bekker, who also manages the Valley Electrical Titan Racing outfit.
“It was a case of not thinking about it too much and giving everything to the line to make sure they could not come around us.”
After a lengthy day of travelling yesterday, Bekker said they were feeling good physically after the 60km stage that featured 1 450m of ascent.
“We possibly weren’t firing on all cylinders at the start, but we got better as the stage progressed,” he said.
“We didn’t quite know what to expect from the field and were all together for the first 10km before we managed to break away, with the Fairtree-Imperial team.
“They were pretty strong and the initial plan was to see if we could go on the big climb about 20km into the stage, but they stayed with us.”
From the northern plateau of the Zuurberg Pass, he added, they “rolled” through most of the stage while being kept on their toes by Thobigunya and Ngidi.
“It was fairly fast and we burnt one or two matches because they were quite aggressive, sometimes riding flat out and then easing up when they saw we were still with them,” said Bekker.
“Near the finish up the pass [from the other side] we again decided to try to split it up but, although the first part is quite steep, the next 10km are fairly flat and we couldn’t get the gap we wanted.
“So we just kept up the tempo and then made sure in the final straight that they could not come around us to take the stage.”
Bekker, who lives in Stellenbosch, is riding the PwC GZT for the second time while Keyser, from Somerset West, is on his first visit to the spectacular Addo region.
“We really enjoyed the course and the scenery created by the Zuurberg mountain range,” said Bekker.
“I don’t remember all the trails from 2019 and there are some cool, new ones, so that was a lot of fun.
“My partnership with Matt also developed nicely and he is definitely the hammer and I’m the nail.
“We will take it day by day and learn more about each other, but we handled our communications well and it was a good opening stage.”
Gqeberha’s husband-and-wife team of Wesley and Mandi Augustyn (The Engineering Hub) crossed the line first in the mixed category in 3:06.54.
Afterwards, Wesley said their first experience of the GZT had been “awesome”.
“The routes were incredible and Mandi gave it horns on the uphills and I took the lead on the downhills, so it was quite lekker,” he said. The pair were runners-up in the mixed category at the Cape Epic in March.
They were followed home by Craig Munton and Nicola Freitas (3:10.11) and Christo and Tanya Roos (3:15.04).
In the women’s section, Tracey Campbell and Juanita Mackenzie set themselves up for the top spot in the three-stage race after finishing in 3:18.31, well ahead of Alexa Terblanche and Brigitte Joubert (3:48.44). Vicki Laing and Leana Cooper were third (4:15.24).
Tomorrow’s second stage will cover 80km with 1 400m of vertical ascent.
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