For Under-23 cross country world champion Alan Hatherly the trail-laden Stage 2 of the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz was “suberb …the highlight of the year”. And as an extra bonus he and Danish partner Simon Andreassen (Team Spur Specialized) won the 66km stage in a thrilling sprint finish against overall leaders Matt Beers and Wessel Botha (NAD).
Hatherly, legs pumping at full speed, crossed the line in Oak Valley first ahead of Beers, Andreassen and then Botha. In the team format the time of the second finisher counts, so Hatherly/Andreassen took the stage by one second.
Beers and Botha retain the overall lead with a 2 minute and 54 second cushion thanks to their commanding win on Stage 1.
Belgian mountain biker Frans Claes and top road riderJasper Stuyven– who finished fifth at the Paris Roubaix classic this year– were delighted to finish in third place a minute behind the leaders but just ahead of NAD 2’s Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck, who crashed during the ride when his handlebar clipped a tree.
“There were quite a few teams that stayed together most of the time –there were no real climbs to separate the group until towards the end,”said Hatherly afterwards. A longish singletrack climb with switchbacks about 6km from the end presented an opportunity to break away and Hatherly pushed hard. “We rode away but NAD stayed with us and we basically time-trialled to the finish,”he said at the finish line.
Yesterday on Stage 1 Hatherly’s “lights went out”and they dropped back, but “I felt great today, perfect”.
Beers and Botha spent the day marking their nearest challengers and were both happy with the result afterwards. “It was really good,”said Beers. “There were a lot of guys with us which changes the racing dynamic in all the singletracks.”
19-year-old Botha is riding with Beers for the first time and believes his partner “may be the strongest rider in the race, so it was a hard race”. Towards the end of the stage he could “feel the legs”, he laughed.
Like the other riders, Stuyven paid tribute to the many trails that the riders cover on the so-called “play day”of the FNB Wines 2Whales.
“The trails were beautiful and it was a nice day,”said Stuyven. “We had a better day than yesterday –it was more punchy and technical and we felt good.”
Hatherly said he had thought the trails would be rutted after the rain in the Pinotage event earlier in the week, “but 90% of them were as new …I’m glad I persuaded Simon to ride because he’s loving it”. Andreassen, a former junior world champion, agreed, saying “I really enjoyed it today”.
Beers said new singletrack sections introduced by the route team made the stage “very different from previous years …some trails were a bit loose but they were good to ride on”.
Conditions overhead were just about perfect too –mostly mild with some cloud and virtually no wind.
Beers and Botha will start tomorrow’s final and third stage as favourites to take the overall win. The route suits their marathon skills and it is unlikely that cross country specialists Andreassen and Hatherly will be able to make up the time difference unless the leaders have issues.
The route should also suit Claes and Stuyven, who might be aiming to head home to Belgium with a stage win in their bags.
1 Spur Specialized (Alan Hatherly/Simon Andreassen) 2:26.13,0
2 NAD (Matthew Beers/Wessel Botha) 2:26.14,2
3 Waypoint Leuven (Frans Claes/Jasper Stuyven) 2:27.13,3
4 NAD 2 (Nico Bell/Gawie Combrinck) 2:27.18,7
5 HiQ Ellsworth (Calle Friberg/Hendrik Kruger) 2:27.20,2
1 NAD (Matthew Beers/Wessel Botha) 5:22.15,5
2 Spur Specialized (Alan Hatherly/Simon Andreassen) 5:25.09,9
3 NAD 2 (Nico Bell/Gawie Combrinck) 5:29.44,4
4 Waypoint Leuven (Frans Claes/Jasper Stuyven)5:31.30,9
5 HiQ Ellsworth (Calle Friberg/Hendrik Kruger)5:33.43,5