The final stage of the Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, saw the 2023 general classification titles wrapped up by the teams who had worn the yellow and pink First Ascent leaders’ jerseys since the Prologue. The racing, in the UCI men’s field in particular, was far more interesting than that fact indicated however. Even on Saturday, 9 September’s, Stage 6 when Valley Electrical Toyota took stage honours and Imbuko Giant wrapped up the overall title in the men’s competition. While Efficient Infiniti Insure completed their clean sweep of stage wins to secure the general classification victory.
Stage 6 took the teams from Langenhoven Gymnasium, past the magnificent finish line in the centre of Oudtshoorn, into Chandelier Game Lodge’s private nature reserve. Home to the Hell of the South’s start the reserve’s rocky roads were smoother after the work done to counter the effects of this winter’s heavy rains. The route did include a new singletrack loop however which was as harsh as Klein Karoo mountain biking can be, and which had riders enquiring in concerned fashion if it would be added to the Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, course. In total the final day took in 64 kilometres of racing and 1 200 metres of climbing, before returning to Oudtshoorn for a celebration of the Race with Soul at the Queens Hotel finish line.
A long neutral zone, through town and along the N12 national road towards Chandelier, provided an easy start to the stage. Once the flag dropped from the lead car and the riders turned off the asphalt and onto the gravel the pace increased instantaneously. Tristan Nortje and Wessel Botha lead groups on either side of the road, driving up the tempo. For Nortje the goal was stage victory alongside his Valley Electrical Toyota teammate, Gert Heyns. While for Botha the aim was to stay out front and avoid rocks which could cause punctures for him and his Imbuko Giant A partner, Marco Joubert.
“Last year was pretty stressful with two punctures on the final stage,” Imbuko Giant’s team owner Theunis Van Zyl reflected. “The plan for the guys today was to do all they could to avoid that!” “We tried to stay in front as much as possible and took it relatively conservatively on the descents,” Joubert noted.
With a 7 minute and 32 second buffer, Imbuko Giant A were always comfortable on the final stage. Behind them the fight for second was the primary battle of the day. “At the start of the day there were only 26 seconds between us and Valley Electrical Toyota,” Keagan Bontekoning, of Insect Science, pointed out. “Our plan was to attack on the final climb. But then it ended up being me going out the back of the group. Tristan [Nortje] had made it hard on all the climbs. I was pretty sure that they would not be able to keep that pace up though, when I got dropped. So, I kept up my tempo and they fortunately had to ease up a bit, which allowed Arno [du Toit] and I to make it back to the group.”
Nortje and Botha’s early efforts had split the UCI men’s field, reducing the lead group to the top three general classification teams once again. Behind a group containing Valley Electrical Titan, Imbuko Giant B, Insect Science 2 and Trek SA were racing for the minor places on the day. There was also the matter of fourth and fifth overall to be decided, which provided some additional drama on the day.
“On a fast section, just after the first water point, my chain dropped,” Trek SA’s Kai von During explained. “We were in a group with Pieter du Toit and Rudi Koen, knowing we had 3 minutes and 3 seconds advantage on them going into the stage. When my chain dropped the group just flew away at 45 kilometres per hour. They got such a big gap in no time at all! Then we were chasing and fighting all the way to the line, and I don’t know if we held fourth or not.”
At the sharp end; once the group came back together, with Insect Science rejoining Imbuko Giant A and Valley Electrical Toyota, it was clear that the stage would come down to a sprint. “This morning, before the start we recced the final 3 kilometres,” Nortje explained. “The plan for the stage was to make it hard, not allow anyone to get away and then we knew how we needed to position ourselves for the sprint.”
In the surge to the line Arno du Toit was out ahead, but with Bontekoning dangling off the back of the group the real fight was between Imbuko Giant and Valley Electrical Toyota. Heyns and Nortje edged out Joubert and Botha to take the stage victory, with Arno du Toit and Bontekoning sealing third. The result handed Imbuko Giant A their second Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, title.
“The first two days of the race went well, then on Stage 2 and 3 I had a bit of a problem with my bike set-up,” Joubert reflected on the overall victory. “I got through that and the gaps got really close, down to 30 seconds. But then Swartberg Showdown came and we all knew it was going to be a hard stage. The whole Imbuko Giant squad stepped up for that day and we managed to blow-up the race, which felt super good after some tough days. Finishing it off here in Oudtshoorn is great. It was a good week with the team and it is special to have held the yellow jerseys throughout the race. I’m not sure if that’s ever been done by a men’s team here before.”
Joubert and Botha’s final margin of victory after 7 days of racing was 7 minutes and 31 seconds. Heyns and Nortje were second, 35 seconds ahead of Arno du Toit and Bontekoning. After their 30 kilometre chase to save fourth, Von During and Chesterton held off Pieter du Toit and Koen by just 3 seconds. Imbuko Giant thus topped and tailed the top five places, with first for the A team and fifth for the B pairing.
In the UCI women’s race, Kim le Court and Samantha Sanders had an entertaining final stage. “We got really lucky today and got to ride with giraffe running ahead of us for a couple of kilometres,” Sanders smiled. “Coming from Mauritius I’m still amazed and get really excited when I see big game like that,” Le Court laughed. “That was the highlight of the entire race for me! It reminded me of riding in Botswana earlier this year.”
Having all but secured the title on the Swartberg Pass the day before the Efficient Infiniti Insure team rode the final stage conservatively, by their lofty standards, but still won the day comfortably. The result gave them a clean sweep of stage victories and underlined the emphatic nature of their dominance at the 2023 race.
For the seventh day Sarah Hill and Hayley Smith were second. “Today we had nothing left to conserve energy for so we tried to really empty the tanks,” Hill said. “I wanted Hayley to really get the most out of the race and I think we achieved that, both on and off the bike. We had a great time together and I really enjoyed racing with her, I think we complement each other nicely.”
Behind the entrenched teams in first and second, the women in third overall had a nervy final day. Karla Stumpf crashed on Stage 3 and had started to stiffen up over the second half of the week. The climb to the summit of the Swartberg Pass was particularly tough for the young Team Biogen rider. “Swartberg was definitely worse than my fall,” she stated. “It was the hardest climb I’ve ever done. After that Stage 6 was hard too, but I’m really proud that we secured third overall.”
“I hadn’t imagined that it would be possible to contest for a podium place, before the race,” Stumpf’s teammate Van Schoor added. “Doing so was absolutely amazing. Karla and I learnt so much this week and I’m going to take a lot from this experience.”
After seven days of racing Le Court and Sanders’ winning margin was 1 hour, 15 minutes and 43 seconds. The Vivovita-Bell team were themselves an hour and 2 minutes up on the Biogen combination. Despite finishing third on the final day, Bike Park Uitsig-SCR Academy’s Ila Stow and Robyn Williams only clawed back 4 of the 14 minutes they needed to overturn in order to knock Stumpf and Von Schoor out of third overall. Linda Hitchings and Nicola Freitas, of Specialized Experience Centre, completed the top five.
The 2023 Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, is likely the last edition in the event’s current format. Dryland Event Management will be making an exciting announcement in the coming months, as they unveil their plans for a rejuvenated race. What will undoubtedly remain is the fierce racing, challenging routes and the event’s famous Race with Soul spirit, which forms the guiding principle behind every decision the organisers take.
“We have big plans for 2024,” Henco Rademeyer, of Dryland, teased. “There are more routes we need to incorporate and places we haven’t visited for a number of years or have never been to even. I know I speak for Momentum Medical Scheme, Biogen and all our other sponsors, as well as Dryland when I say; we can’t wait to share them with you.”
Results: Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen
Stage 6 | Men’s Results:
- Valley Electrical Toyota: Gert Heyns & Tristan Nortje (2:24:24)
- Imbuko Giant A: Marco Joubert & Wessel Botha (2:24:25 | + 00:01)
- Insect Science 1: Arno du Toit & Keagan Bontekoning (2:24:32 | + 00:08)
Stage 6 | Women’s Results:
- Efficient Infinity Insure: Kim le Court & Samantha Sanders (2:54:05)
- Vivovita-Bell: Sarah Hill & Hayley Smith (3:02:48 | +08:43)
- Bike Park Uitsig-SCR Academy: Ila Stow & Robyn Williams (3:05:40 | +11:35)
Men’s General Classification after Stage 6:
- Imbuko Giant A: Marco Joubert & Wessel Botha (17:39:28)
- Valley Electrical Toyota: Gert Heyns & Tristan Nortje (17:46:59 | +07:31)
- Insect Science 1: Arno du Toit & Keagan Bontekoning (17:47:34 | + 08:06)
- Trek SA: Kai von During & Justin Chesterton (18:09:47 | +30:18)
- Imbuko Giant B: Pieter du Toit & Rudi Koen (18:09:49 | +30:21)
Women’s General Classification after Stage 6:
- Efficient Infinity Insure: Kim le Court & Samantha Sanders (22:11:10)
- Vivovita-Bell: Sarah Hill & Hayley Smith (23:26:53 | +1:15:43)
- Biogen: Karla Stumpf & Kelsey van Schoor (24:28:53 | +2:17:43)
- Bike Park Uitsig-SCR Academy: Ila Stow and Robyn Williams (24:39:55 | +2:28:44)
- Team Specialized Experience Centre: Linda Hitchings & Nicola Freitas (25:19:58 | +3:08:47)