Although the two are aiming to win the masters category, and their four-hour 26-minute 27-second finish means they will enjoy a significant psychological boost over their rivals in the over-50 class, they are well aware that once the timed racing starts on Saturday the big guns are likely to be riding off into the distance.
The opening stage of the 910km ride from just outside Johannesburg to Scottburgh on the KZN South Coast is traditionally a neutral stage with everybody receiving the same time as the first team across the line. Riders are encouraged to enjoy the day and the hospitality of the various communities that man the water points. As usual, water points were packed with koeksisters, marshmallow eggs, boerewors and more. A barge and boat crossing was also a highlight of the day, with riders crossing the full Vaal River on a selection of boats.
From Saturday, when competitors tackle the slightly more arduous 93km Stage 2 from Frankfort to Reitz, the racers can show off their skills and fitness with every second counting and the top teams are sure to re-assert their authority at the head of the field.
Favourites to take the newly renamed Amabokkebokkie Global Mixed Champs category and R100 000 prize money are husband and wife pair of Darren and Candice Lill, but should they struggle there are at least three teams who will be looking for an upset.
Candice’s Lill’s dormakaba and Cape Epic teammate Amy McDougall has teamed up Arno du Toit, while Yolandi du Toit and Ben Melt Swanepoel will also be in contention.
Those teams should always be close to the front, while regular mixed contenders at the Old Mutual joBerg2c, Johan Labuschagne and Catherine Williamson (Sugeons for Little Lives / Mitas) could spring a surprise.
The men’s category looks like a two-way tussle with the NAD Pro MTB duo of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck the favourites to see off the challenge of the Silverback Best4Sports pair of Declan Sidey and Shaun-Nick Bester.
In all likelihood these two teams will spend a significant portion of their time out front with PYGA Eurosteel’s Matthys Beukes – whose partner, Philip Buys, was forced to withdraw due to illness, leaving Beukes to ride as a solo entrant and the overwhelming favourite to claim that title.
In the women’s category Sarah Hill and Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk) should be the team to beat, but the mixed category should provide the close battles up front.
At the opposite end of the field on Friday was Team Agrinet’s Riaan Barnard and Basil Steenkamp who limped in after just over eight hours on the route. Barnard “clicked his back” when jumping off the transport boat at the crossing over the Vaal River and struggled the final 56km in agony before limping off to the race medics at the finish.
The race ends in Scottburgh on Saturday 28 April.