The first yellow jersey of this year’s Old Mutual joBerg2c went to Johann Rabie and HB Kruger after they outmanoeuvred Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell at the finish line in Reitz to win the second stage today.
The Telkom duo finished the windy 93km stage from Frankfort in the Free State in 3:16:41.
After yesterday’s neutral stage in which the entire field received the same time, Rabie and Kruger now top the general classification on an aggregate time of 7:30:32.
This gives them a two-second buffer on NAD Pro’s Combrinck and Bell, who clocked 3:16:43.
Thule-Pyga-TIB’s Andrew Hill and Tyronne White recorded 3:23:52 to secure third on the day and overall.
“After the neutral zone we came to the railway section and we knew it was quite an important point to be in front,” said Rabie, who is targeting a third title in a row.
“After that stretch, Gawie and Nico paced quite hard and some of the riders started dropping off,” said the 29-year-old from Malmesbury in the Western Cape.
“When I looked back I saw a few teams were in difficulty so I also pushed the pace.”
After the surges, Rabie said the elastic snapped and they, along with Combrinck and Bell, were able to gap the field at around the 30km mark.
“From there we worked well together. We knew today was a fast but easier stage, so we didn’t want to expend too much energy.
“We rode a hard but comfortable tempo to maintain the gap on the chasers.’’
Rabie said they were confident that they would have the advantage should it come down to a sprint.
“We felt pretty good. We can see that Gawie and Nico are going to be our biggest competition – as we expected.”
He said the next two teams seemed to be slightly off their game but warned that all was not lost for them.
“You can puncture or crash and make or lose 10 minutes very quickly, so it certainly doesn’t mean that they are out of contention. But, yes, so far so good.”
Combrinck, who won the last two editions alongside Rabie, said the start of the stage was tough due to the crosswinds and bumpy terrain.
“Johann made it very hard until we got away.”
The 30-year-old from Nelspruit in Mpumalanga was not overly concerned after missing out on the stage win.
“We knew we would probably come second in the sprint. It is only the first day of proper racing, so the race is not won and lost today.”
He said they would not be sitting back and wait for the leaders to dictate proceedings.
“We are here to race and will be looking for opportunities. There is lots of hard racing to come and hopefully we can get a gap somewhere.
“We usually get better as the race progresses and I think there are a few stages that suit us well.”
Valencia-Lanham-Love’s Grant Usher and Amy McDougall drew first blood in the competitive mixed category.
The pair from Johannesburg won the stage in 3:30:58 with former women’s champion Catherine Williamson (Britain) and teammate Johan Labuschagne second in 3:31:06.
Topeak-Ergon’s international combination of Yuki Ikeda (Japan) and Sonya Looney (United States) completed the podium in 3:42:33.
“The guys who can surf the bunch had a massive advantage on a day like today,” said Usher, who placed second in the inaugural Munga.
“The stage was wide open and you were exposed in the wind, so if you missed a group or fell out the back you lost a lot of time.”
Usher said the start was fast with the men’s teams pushing up front.
“We took it relatively conservatively initially and then managed to catch Darren and Candice who were falling off the back of a group.
“It was a long hard slog for us to get up there, but definitely worth it.”
He said their strategy was not to have one.
“We didn’t want to disappoint ourselves. We wanted to see how today went. It is such early days; one couldn’t spend too many pennies today.”
Usher said he was hesitant to call their gains a “real lead”.
“But it will allow us to follow Johan and Catherine tomorrow and it means we won’t have to initiate anything.”
Based on past experience, Rabie said he had a good idea how tomorrow’s 122km stage between Reitz and Sterkfontein Dam on the KwaZulu-Natal border would play out.
“We sort of know it is going to start getting really hard on those sections before Mount Paul. The split usually happens there and if you get a gap you can drive it over and into the finish.”