Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes (Scott Factory Racing) lived up to their billing as stage favourites when they stormed to victory in the prologue of the 2013 Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike stage race, which started in South Africa's Western Cape province on Sunday.
The pair of 25-year-old South Africans clocked a time of 35 minutes and 29 seconds for the 14.8km course at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, near the town of Oudtshoorn. Second place went to the Asrin Cycling 1 team of James Reid and Jens Scheurmans, who were just 18 seconds down, with third place secured by the FedGroup Itec team of Brandon Stewart and Konny Looser in 36:08.
The women's race produced a nail-biting finish with the top two teams separated by just five seconds. Team RE:CM's Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad, last to start, stopped the clock on 42 minutes exactly, snatching the lead from the Wheeler BMC pair of Esther Suss and Jane Nuessli with defending champions Yolande Speedy and Yolande de Villiers rounding out the podium places in 45:16.
"We were hoping to have a bigger cushion, but we're very happy to take the win and the yellow jersey," said Buys. "(Runners-up) James and Jens are on hardtails, which is the best type of frame for this short, twisty course. But there's a lot of rough terrain and distance to go and we're content with our choice to use dual suspension frames."
The prologue took place in overcast, warm conditions on trails built by Beukes, which the Scott Factory Racing team used to their advantage.
"On the singletrack, I followed Matthys because he knows all the faster lines and when the trail opened up I went to the front to do the pace-setting. It worked out well like that. It was such a short stage that we pretty much went flat out the whole way," said Buys.
For the winning women's team, RE:CM, the stage went smoothly, with Langvad, a two-time marathon world champion and the current Danish cross-country champion, taking charge for most of the stage.
"Annika was setting a very fast pace, and I just tried to hang in there as well as I could. We had no problems out there, other than some traffic, as we caught some riders. But I think all the women's teams had to deal with traffic," said Kleinhans.
The top mixed team on Sunday's opening stage was the Cube Nutswerk 3 pair of Mirre Stallen and Nard Clabber, who were just 16 seconds quicker than Asrin Cycling 2's Nizaam Esa and Catherine Williamson. Defending champions, Jennie Stenerhag and Craig Gerber were third, 40 seconds down, setting the scene for an exciting podium tussle.
Other category winners on Sunday were; Veteran: Cube Nutswerk 2 - Micha de Vries and Rik van den Hanenberg; Master: Wilde 3 - Isak Visagie and Lieb Loots; Amateur: Contego Giant 2 - Sakkie Hannekom and Hannes Hannekom; Solo Male: Darren Lill (Cannodale Blend); and Solo Female: Bettina Uhlig
Monday's Stage 1, a 105km haul from Buffelspoort to Calitzdorp, climbs a total of 1768 metres. With Tuesday's huge prize-money queen stage looming, it's expected that some teams will take a conservative approach.
"Yes, some teams will be saving themselves for Tuesday. We'll ride defensively and go for a stage win if we're in contention. But we're not going to worry too much about the yellow jersey. We're racing for a week, not a day and will be sure to pace ourselves accordingly," said Buys.
By contrast, the women's leaders' attitude to Monday's stage is more aggressive.
"We won't be taking it easy tomorrow. We will try and win again. Yes, Tuesday will be a hard day, but this is the Cape Pioneer Trek and everyday is hard, so it doesn't matter," said Kleinhans.