Stage 5 of the 2017 Cape Pioneer Trek was decided by mere seconds on Thursday despite both the men's and the women's races featuring an early break.
Alan Hatherly and Matthew Beers secured their second victory in a sprint finish, by out-muscling Bram Rood/Gerben Mos and Nico Bell/Gawie Combrink, while Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz edged out Ariane Luthi and Amy-Beth McDougall by eight seconds at the end of the 97 kilometre long stage.
The fifth stage of the race was second longest and the last journey stage of the event, as the route wound its way from the forests of George to the arid Klein Karoo of Oudtshoorn, via the hop plantations of Herold.
The day featured 1 650 metres of altitude gain, most of which came in the first twenty kilometres on the storied Montagu Pass.
Bell and Combrink set the pace up the pass and forced a split which only Hatherly and Beers could follow.
"Nico (Bell) and Gawie (Combrink) must have slept well last night because they went hard from the end of the neutral zone," Hatherly commented.
The leading two teams opened up a gap of 90 seconds by the first water point at the 35 kilometre mark but then a headwind neutralised the race.
"We wanted to make it as hard as possible to test Hatherly and Beers, but when we got over the pass and into the head wind we realised it was pointless killing ourselves into the wind, while they could just sit in our slip. So we rode tempo until the other guys caught us," Bell explained.
Rood and Mos, had their strongest stage of the race so far - fighting back to the lead group on at least three occasions.
"We rode our own pace up the climb and then worked with KTM and two solo riders to catch the duo," Rood said.
"We were riding to defend our third position so when the other teams dropped off in Chandelier (Game Reserve) we were not worried when we could not keep up anymore. But then coming towards the tar we caught them and we rode into town together. When we turned down towards the river I crashed with 2 kilometres to go, so we went full gas and caught them again with less than a kilometre to go. There was a really narrow gate at the start of the finishing straight and we managed to get through there so that's how we beat them in the sprint." Rood elaborated.
The Dutch team were no match for Hatherly and Beers however.
Hatherly once again powered away and sat up over the finish line to see if Beers could complete the stage win for the team.
Though Rood and Combrink both beat the rider across the line, he easily outsprinted Bell and Mos to secure a fifth stage win for his team.
"In the sprint it is just my job to keep Alan (Hatherly) in sight," Beers said, simplifying the situation.
The three way sprint provided the closest finish of the 2017 Cape Pioneer Trek thus far.
Hatherly and Beers took the stage win by a single second over Rood and Mos who edged out Bell and Combrink by three tenths of a second.
The women's race also featured an early break with Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz going on a solo attack on the Montagu Pass.
Amy-Beth McDougall looked to be in trouble early on but Ariane Lüthi kept her composure and the pink jersey wearers limited their time loss to 1 minute and 12 seconds inside the first 20 kilometres.
"Ariane (Lüthi) was brilliant, she helped me so much today," McDougall said after the stage.
"We established a good gap early on, but once we got onto the district road through Herold and Paardepoort we hit a head wind. Ariane (Lüthi) and Amy (McDougall) were in a bigger group and they managed to catch us before the second water point. From there we rode together until the final few kilometres were we got a little gap on a singletrack," De Groot explained.
The combination eventually crossed the finish line eight seconds ahead of Luthi and McDougall with the Nicky Giliomee and Frankie du Toit team finishing 28 minutes and 59 seconds back in third.
The general classification gap between De Groot/Sabine Spitz and Luthi/McDougall now stands at 5 minutes and 8 seconds.
With the brutal Queen Stage and deceptively tricky Grand Finale left to race that buffer is anything but secure.
The 2 700 metres of altitude gain on the schedule for Friday's stage 6 will provide De Groot/Spitz and Bell/ Combrink with the best opportunities of the race to surpass the Hatherly/Beers men's and Luthi/McDougall women's teams, who have held the race lead since the opening stage on Sunday.
Results: 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen
UCI Men | Stage 5
1. Team Spur/RedE, Alan Hatherly & Matthew Beers (3:33:25)
2. KMC Fruit to Go, Bram Rood & Gerben Mos (3:33:27 | +00:01)
3. NAD Pro MTB, Nico Bell & Gawie Combrink (3:33:27 | +00:01)
4. Kelly's Bikeranch Team, Jiri Krivanek & Marek Rauchfuss (3:35:44 | +02:18)
5. KTM Pro Team, Moritz Bscherer & Manuel Pliem (3:38:41 | +05:15)
UCI Women | Stage 5
1. Team Ascendis Health, Robyn de Groot & Sabine Spitz (3:52:14)
2. Team Spur/Valencia, Ariane Luthi & Amy-Beth McDougall (3:52:23 | +00:08)
3. Junto Ladies, Nicky Giliomee & Frankie du Toit (4:21:14 | +28:59)
4. Team Cape Brewing Company, Ila Stow & Marianne Bergli (4:34:42 | +42:27)
5. Team Bicycling, Jenna Borrill & Tandy Kitching (4:46:32 | +54:17)
UCI Men | General Classification after Stage 5
1. Team Spur/RedE, Alan Hatherly & Matthew Beers (15:20:43)
2. NAD Pro MTB, Nico Bell & Gawie Combrink (15:22:18 | +01:35)
3. KMC Fruit to Go, Bram Rood & Gerben Mos (15:31:33 | +10:50)
4. Kelly's Bikeranch Team, Jiri Krivanek & Marek Rauchfuss (15:47:46 | +27:03)
5. SPOT Africa, Derrin Smith & Timothy Hammond (15:50:35 | +29:52)
UCI Women | General Classification after Stage 5
1. Team Spur/Valencia, Ariane Luthi & Amy-Beth McDougall (17:06:39)
2. Team Ascendis Health, Robyn de Groot & Sabine Spitz (+05:08 | 17:11:47)
3. Junto Ladies, Nicky Giliomee & Frankie du Toit (19:27:49| +2:21:09)
4. Team Cape Brewing Company, Ila Stow & Marianne Bergli (20:34:06 | +3:27:26)
5. Team Bicycling, Jenna Borrill & Tandy Kitching (21:55:43 | +4:49:03)
For all the results from the 2017 Cape Pioneer Trek, please click here.