Oct 23, 2014

2014 Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek - Report by Gawie Combrinck

Last week, Johann Rabie and I, Team EAI Cycling, lined up for the Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek. This race is held over seven days and consists of a short prologue followed by six stages. The total distance covered is 572 km, with 11,958 m of ascent.

Although it is a really tough race, there are a few good reasons to take part. The event offers the richest single-stage prize purse in the world, with a R128,000 prize waiting for the first male and female team to make it to the top of Swartberg Pass. Furthermore, this year's race was UCI accredited, so it attracted more international riders and reached a record field of more than 400 riders, so the competition was fierce. You get the opportunity to ride through some of the most amazing and diverse regions in the country, ranging from the desert in the Karoo to forests in George. And it's also a bit more doable for the average rider than the Absa Cape Epic.

The race kicked off on 12 October at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, with the #Buffelsbattle. This short 15.5 km prologue was still challenging enough to get the legs and lungs burning on some amazing single tracks and a few short, hard climbs. The route suited the cross-country riders with all the tight and twisty single tracks. We decided to take it a bit more conservatively, as the race could easily be lost with a crash, but certainly not won here. With gaps not too big, Team Bulls set the fastest time with locals Phillip Buys and Matthys Beukes in second. The podium was rounded off by Asrin Cyling’s James Reid and Herman Persteiner.

Stage 1
This stage was from Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp and the first real test of the race. The fairly flat but rocky 100 km stage would see the main group stay together for most of the day. The main split came at the 30 km mark when Team Bulls and Scott Factory Racing opened a gap up the last climb. A lot of teams suffered from mechanicals on this final rocky descent, including Johann and I. Johann cut a brake hose, while I shredded my rear tire, which resulted in us losing about 14 minutes on the day. Team Bulls won their second consecutive stage, with Scott Factory racing in second again and the Spanish team of ESMTB.com coming in third.

Stage 2 
Known as the Queen stage, this was the most eagerly anticipated leg of the race, with R128,000 waiting for the first men and women teams to reach the top of Swartberg Pass. Starting from Calitzdorp, the stage was 86 km and had 2,789 m ascent, of which 1,100 m of that came in the last 12 km. The stage flew by due to the pack setting a fierce pace as they raced towards the mountain. 

Battling a strong headwind for the majority of this stage, a large group formed and stayed together all the way to the bottom of the Swartberg Pass. As we hit the climb up Swartberg Pass, Herman Persteiner and Asrin Cycling ripped the field to pieces as they powered away to ascend the climb first. Unfortunately, Asrin made a tactical error and Persteiner crossed the line more than two minutes ahead of his teammate James Reid. This error earned them a 30-minute time penalty. Scott Factory Racing was the first team home, followed by team ESMTB.com in second and Asrin Cycling in third. Johann and I crossed the line in fifth position.

Stage 3 
The 107 km route from Prince Albert to De Rust promised to be a bit more of a rest day after the tough climb up to Swartberg Pass. However, from previous experience we knew that wouldn't be the case. Heading out on the flat roads of the Great Karoo at high speed, the smooth, wide-open roads soon turned into rocky, sandy jeep track and quickly ripped the field to pieces. 

The day's biggest obstacle was a short, rocky climb with a treacherous rocky descent. We made the split over this rough section and were in a small group of five teams. With the last 30 km being mostly open road and facing a strong headwind all the way home, Johann and I saw the opportunity to make up some time on the GC. Working well together, we flew through Meiringspoort and managed to gain a lot of time on the teams behind us on the stage. Scott Factory racing won the sprint, with Team Bulls in second and Fairview Elite in third. Johann and I were fourth on the day, and had climbed up to fourth overall on GC.

Stage 4
The 109 km route from Van Kervel High School, George, to De Rust was the toughest stage of the entire race and proved to be a decider for the overall race. Facing cold and rain, we set of on the 111 km journey through the Kammanassie to George. It was one of the toughest days out on a bike, with loads of mud, rain and cold. A number of teams pulled out on this stage and there were also big time gaps at the finish. Team Bulls crossed the line first and also claimed the overall race lead. Team Asrin was in second, followed by Scott Factory Racing in third, who were now second overall in the race, Johann and I came in fourth on the day and had climbed up to third overall.

Stage 5 
This 71 km stage from Van Kervel High School, George, to Louvain Guest Farm, Herold, had to be shortened a bit, due to the relentless rain from the day before making some of the route impassable. Our legs welcomed the shorter day, to recover from the hard effort the day before.

The racing was on from the gun, and as we headed up Montagu Pass, Scott Factory Racing put in a massive attack to try and shake off the Bulls. We lost a bit of time on the climb, but as soon as we were over the top, I just had to hang on for dear life because Johann paced like a freight train and closed the gap significantly. The stage was super fast, with small gaps and little movement on the GC. Scott Factory Racing won the stage, with Team Bulls in second and WMTBbe-Feenstra in third.

Stage 6 
This 86 km stage, from Louvain Guest Farm to Oudtshoorn, was flat and fast, and the first 50 km flew by on the open dirt roads. The bunch kept the speed high, but as we entered the Chandelier Game Reserve and the roads became narrow and rocky, the field began to split up. Team Bulls and Asrin Cycling opened a gap on us as we headed out on the last 10 km to town. Johann put the hammer down once more as we tried to close the gap down and defend our third place from Asrin Cycling. With the two teams in front proving too strong, we finished the last stage in third, but we had hung on to our third overall on GC. Team Bulls won the stage and the tour, with Asrin claiming second on the day. Scott Factory Racing came in fourth, and were second overall in the race.

1 Simon Stiebjahn (Ger) / Tim Bohme (Ger) - Team Bulls                               22:08:19 
2 Philip Buys (RSA) / Matthys Beukes (RSA) - Scott Factory Racing                 0:08:48 
3 Johann Rabie (RSA) / Gawie Combrinck (RSA) - Eai South Africa                  0:40:46 
4 James Reid (RSA) / Herman Persteiner (Aut) - Asrin Cycling                        0:42:35 
5 Michiel Van Aelbroeck (Ned) / Robby De Bock (Ned) Wmtb.Be - Feenstra    1:01:20 

It has been an amazing week of racing and I have no doubt that we will be back next year!

PCG Coach: Hunter Allen


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