Capetonian Billy Stelling forged ahead on a muddy day in the TransCape mountain bike race to win his third stage on the trot and don the leader’s jersey in the men’s solo category today.
Overnight rain turned the 103km fourth stage between Riversdal and Swellendam in the Western Cape into a ride that Stelling described as “very difficult” afterwards.
The peloton, who will arrive at La Couronne Wine Estate in Franschhoek on Saturday after seven days and 690km of gruelling racing, faced the added challenge of almost 2 000m of ascent.
The 47-year-old defending champion from Sea Point, who is competing with a broken rib that saw him start the race gingerly, finished the stage in 4:41:35 for an overall time of 17:50:09.
Belgian Karl Dossche, who led since winning the opening stage, came home second in 4:52:25 (17:51:41) to drop one spot in the standings. He was followed by Alan Tilling in 4:56:56 (18:15:38), who remains in third overall.
Stelling said he rode the last 55km on his own after pulling away from a bunch on the climb at Grootvadersbosch Conservancy.
“I was riding with the front team (Pieter Seyffert and Travis Walker) for a while, but then I stopped to clean my bike in some water and waited for a group behind me.
“I rode with them for a while until they fell off a bit on a big climb and I was on my own from there until the end.”
Because of the conditions, Stelling said he did not set himself any specific goals for the stage, choosing merely to take it section by section.
“The roads were very slippery and you couldn’t ride on the side, while the middle was a fine, powdery mud.
“It is difficult in those conditions because the bike doesn’t function properly and you can’t ride as you would normally do.
“Whenever I got to some water I used it to clean my bike and it would stay clean for about a kilometre. So mentally and physically it was hard.”
Although he is in the lead, Stelling said his only objective was to take it one day at a time.
“I’m not in the best shape I have ever been, but I do tend to ride myself into a race, so the longer it is the better I start feeling. At this stage, I’m not looking too far ahead.”
Riding for Ellsworth-ASG, the men’s pair of Seyffert and Walker won their fourth stage in a row, crossing the line in 4:35:06 to lead the team standings on 16:20:12.
Belgians Eddy Feliers and Kristof de Neys, of Cicero Baik, finished second in 4:52:22 (17:32:12) to consolidate their runners-up spot in the overall standings. Third on the day as well as overall were Bromance’s William and David Wertheim Aymes, who crossed the line in 4:59:21 (17:47:08).
“Thanks to the conditions this was more of a mental struggle than anything else,” said the 30-year-old Seyffert.
“In the thick, clay-like mud you were on the pedals the whole day,” said the pro from Helderkruin on the West Rand.
“Even on the downhills it was difficult to freewheel.”
Seyffert said the bunch stayed in their slipstream at the start on a flat road into a headwind.
“But it was so muddy that we pulled away on a climb about 15km into the stage and we were lucky because we were able to see where the best lines were.”
He added he had so much mud on his chain it kept on coming off in the first 40km so “we stopped at all the water points to wash and lube just to get through the day”.
Despite a commanding lead, Seyffert was cautious about making any predictions.
“You never know what can happen in a stage race because a broken wheel or broken chain can easily change everything. We will need to make sure we take it safely on the more technical sections.”
Competing in the mixed category, the Spar women’s team of Catherine Williamson and Hannele Steyn finished the stage in 5:08:25 to stay in top spot overall (17:41:02).
They were followed home by Ian and Jane Seggie in 6:02:52 (21:16:13), with Matthias and Denise Kubli in third after completing the day in 6:22:16 (22:09:42).
Solo women’s leader Alma Colyn won the stage in 4:57:48 (17:58:47) to extend her lead ahead of Mandy Langebrink, who came home in 6:02:52 (20:52:55).
In third place is Chandre Wertheim Aymes who finished in 6:43:29 (23:57:10).
Thursday’s stage will take riders over 112.5km and 1 542m of climbing between Swellendam and Greyton.