Andrew Hill and Shaun-Nick Bester sent a warning to their rivals that they would be serious title contenders on the opening day of the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek mountain-bike race today.
The 71km first stage of three-day event got under way from the Zuurberg Mountain Inn, about 70km outside Port Elizabeth, in fine weather.
Riding for TIB-Silverback-Best4Sport, Hill and Bester finished in 2:46:05, comfortably ahead of Reinhard Zellhuber and Marc Fourie, of Home Ice Cream-Garrun Insurance (2:54:14).
The third team home were Aiden Connelly and Rogan Smart (Bike Shop-Scott-Strocam).
The potent team of Swiss star Ariane Luthi and five-time national mountain-bike champion Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health Spur) showed their intentions in the women’s category, winning in 3:04:11.
After charging ahead in the first 10km of the stage, Hill said they tackled the Seven Dwarfs Drop into the river valley fairly conservatively, at which stage they were caught by Zellhuber and Fourie.
“But on the climb to the first water point we were able to put the pressure on again and managed to create a nice gap.”
From that point on Hill, who won the race in 2015 and 2016, said they coasted comfortably along the flatter sections, trying to add some pressure where they could.
Luthi, who is on a short break from the European season, said they were delighted with the first day’s efforts.
They were followed home by Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill of Galileo Risk.
“The bunch went quite hard at the start, but we eventually managed to settle into a nice pace and were able to get ahead of the rest,” said the two-time Cape Epic women’s champion.
“The conditions were really good because there was a bit of rain last night and this settled the course and stopped it from being too dusty.”
Defending champions Neill Ungerer and Yolande de Villiers (Silverback-Morelo) made an early move in the mixed category, finishing in 3:00:49.
They will take a 13-minute lead into stage two over Ben Melt Swanepoel and Yolandi du Toit (Garmin), with Lester Tait and Andrea Shirley (Ethiopian Bodybuilding) in third place.