The Queen Stage of the Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, provided the men and women in the yellow and pink First Ascent leaders’ jerseys with the terrain to race to emphatic stage victories. Stage 5 – on Friday, 8 September – played out in dramatic fashion as the air went out of Valley Electrical Toyota’s campaign and Imbuko Giant surged to a spectacular stage victory. In the UCI women’s race, Efficient Infiniti Insure summited the Swartberg Pass well ahead of their nearest rivals to all but wrap-up the 2023 title.
Featuring 2 300 metres of climbing, in 84 kilometres, the penultimate day finished atop the Swartberg Pass, at 1 575 metres above sea level. The climb was far from the only challenge of the course however, as it began with fast district roads before twisting and turning through rocky farm tracks. After the first water point of the stage, at the 35 kilometre mark, the climbing commenced in earnest. Initially through the foothills of the mighty Swartberg Mountains and then on the pass itself.
The day’s decisive moment, for the general classification showdown, came early in the piece. “As we turned off the gravel road into the first rocky section Gert [Heyns] punctured,” Tristan Nortje, of Valley Electrical Toyota explained. “We didn’t know what happened,” clarified Imbuko Giant’s Marco Joubert. “But once we saw that Valley Electrical Toyota had stopped for some issue we kept pushing on.”
“The pace was full gas!” Arno du Toit, of Insect Science added. “Last year we raced this stage quiet conservatively to the foot of the pass and then it all exploded. This year Imbuko Giant went hard from when Gert [Heyns] punctured. By the time we got to the pass I was nearly blown.”
Heyns received a wheel from his Valley Electrical Titan Racing teammate, Rossouw Bekker, but his and Nortje’s chase was then hampered by a brake rotor catching, on the wheel he received from Bekker. “I felt so flat after the wheel change and couldn’t understand it. When we stopped to see what the problem was the wheel would hardly spin,” Heyns sighed. By the time they realigned the callipers on the trail to stop the rubbing the fight had gone out of their chase.
Unaware of the problems behind them Imbuko Giant charged on, using Pieter du Toit and Rudi Koen to help with the pace making for the A squad. Through water point 1, at 35 kilometres, the gap was 2 minutes, but water point 2, at 52 kilometres, it was 4 minutes, and by the base of Swartberg Pass it was 6 minutes. “I was so cooked I couldn’t help with the chase,” Heyns confessed. “I was struggling to hold Tristan’s wheel, or the wheels of the Trek SA team, Justin [Chesterton] and Kai [Von During], through the mid-part of the stage. Later on, I recovered a bit though and felt better.”
While the Valley Electrical Toyota team chased with Trek SA, Imbuko Giant A and B kept their feet on the gas, which eventually led to Insect Science’s Arno du Toit and Keagan Bontekoning being distanced by Joubert and Wessel Botha. Exiting Wildehondekloof, with 20 kilometres to race, Joubert and Botha held a slender 20 second lead. Over the next 10 kilometres they added 90 seconds to that advantage. Then the gap ballooned out over the steepest slopes of the Swartberg Pass.
Imbuko Giant A eventually crossed the line 5 minutes and 52 seconds ahead of their nearest rivals. “It feels great to win in yellow,” Botha smiled. “Last year I won this stage alongside Rudi [Koen], which was amazing, but to take the stage in yellow is even better.” “Look it’s not over until its over… but that pretty much seals the GC,” Joubert added. “Though we’ll have to be careful tomorrow, the last stage is easily underestimated, but it’s still pretty tough.”
Imbuko Giant B’s Pieter du Toit and Koen were second over the line, out kicking Arno du Toit and Bontekoning, whom they had shadowed for the final 20 kilometres. Heyns and Nortje finished fourth, 7 minutes and 2 seconds down on the stage winners. Chesterton and Von During were fifth. The result ensures that Imbuko Giant A go into the final stage with a 7 minute and 32 second lead over Valley Electrical Toyota, with Insect Science a further 27 seconds back. The likely battle on the final day will thus be for second, while fourth and fifth are also set to be a close-run thing. Following the Queen Stage Imbuko Giant B are just 3 minutes and 3 seconds behind Trek SA in forth.
In the UCI women’s race Kim le Court and Samantha Sanders continued their imperious form. The Efficient Infiniti Insure combination established an early advantage which they built to 14 minutes and 44 seconds by the summit of the Swartberg Pass. “It’s very pretty up here,” Le Court smiled from Die Top. “It was so cold up here last year, so it’s nice to be here in better weather. The climb is always hard, but the views are always worth it!”
Le Court’s assessment was echoed by Hayley Smith, after she and Sarah Hill crossed the line in second position. “It’s probably the hardest climb I’ve ever done!” the Vivovita-Bell rider laughed. “But I loved every moment of it, the views were amazing and it really is something special.”
Behind the Efficient Infiniti Insure and Vivovita-Bell teams the battle for third came down to the final kilometres of the Swartberg Pass. Despite suffering from her fall, two days before, Karla Stumpf surged ahead with Kelsey van Schoor having spent the stage racing against Ila Stow and Robyn Williams once again. The Biogen team’s efforts were enough to see them add another 2 and a half minutes to their general classification buffer to the Bike Park Uitsig – SCR Academy squad.
Going into the final day of the 2023 race Le Court and Sanders lead by 1 hour, 6 minutes and 9 seconds over Hill and Smith. Van Schoor and Stumpf are third at 2 hours, 3 minutes and 21 seconds off the pace. Vitally they hold a 13 minute and 49 buffer to Stow and Williams, who are themselves 50 minutes up on Tarryn Povey and Sanchia Malan.
The final stage of the race takes the teams from Langenhoven Gimnasium into Chandelier Game Lodge’s private nature reserve. Famed as the start of the brutal Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, the reserve provides kilometres of rocky tracks and trails accounting for all of the day’s 1 200 metres of climbing. Stage 6 is, as Joubert suggested, not to be underestimated however. In 2022 both leading teams suffered punctures and nervous rides home to the Queens Hotel in the centre of Oudtshoorn.
So, the race is not quite over yet. A final day of drama may yet await. To see if that is the case follow the racing action, by watching the Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen or @capepioneer Facebook or Instagram stories. Additional updates can also be found at @CapePioneerTrek on Twitter. For more information visit www.capepioneer.co.za.
Results: Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen
Stage 5 | Men’s Results:
- Imbuko Giant A: Marco Joubert & Wessel Botha (3:14:10)
- Imbuko Giant B: Pieter du Toit & Rudi Koen (3:20:02 | +5:52)
- Insect Science 1: Arno du Toit & Keagan Bontekoning (3:20:04 | +5:54)
Stage 5 | Women’s Results:
- Efficient Infinity Insure: Kim le Court & Samantha Sanders (4:12:18)
- Vivovita-Bell: Sarah Hill & Hayley Smith (4:27:02 | +14:44)
- Biogen: Karla Stumpf & Kelsey van Schoor (4:34:27 | +22:09)
Men’s GC after Stage 5:
- Imbuko Giant A: Marco Joubert & Wessel Botha (15:15:03)
- Valley Electrical Toyota: Gert Heyns & Tristan Nortje (15:22:35 | +7:32)
- Insect Science 1: Arno du Toit & Keagan Bontekoning (15:23:01 | +7:58)
Women’s GC after Stage 5:
- Efficient Infinity Insure: Kim le Court & Samantha Sanders (19:17:05)
- Vivovita-Bell: Sarah Hill & Hayley Smith (20:24:04 | +1:06:09)
- Biogen: Karla Stumpf & Kelsey van Schoor (21:20:26 | +2:03:21)
To view the full results from the 2023 Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, click here.