With the favourites staying together on the queen stage, race leaders HB Kruger and Stuart Marais took advantage of a late surge to collect their third successive stage win in the Liberty TransCape MTB Encounter today.
The 102km leg from Hartenbos to Riversdale was only decided in the final kilometre through the Western Cape town's twisting streets as the South Africans edged ahead in sight of the finish.
They crossed the line in 4:09:01, seven seconds clear of Norwegians Eirik Fiskvik and Thomas Engelsgjerd (Happysalmon), with the French-German pair of Antonin Marecaille and Julian Biefang (Chiru-Magura-Canyon) two seconds further adrift.
The general classification remains unchanged, with the locals holding a nine-minute advantage over Marecaille and Biefang. The Norwegians are two minutes further back.
Kruger said they were happy with the final outcome, having ridden a bit more conservatively on the lengthy stage.
"There were quite a few open, long stretches of gravel so today was the sort of day when it was better to work in a group," he said.
"It's much wiser to work together than to go out there and have about 50km on your own into a bit of a headwind."
After a relatively easy start in a bunch of six teams, Kruger said they entered the Gondwana Nature Reserve where "things split up a bit".
"It got a bit hilly and there were one or two steep inclines, which allowed the top three teams to get a bit of a gap over the other guys.
"The rest of the day we kept it pretty steady and everyone did their share, which worked out quite well."
The signature climb of the stage came soon after the 45km mark, a steep 3km stretch out of the Gouritz Valley.
But Kruger said they all rode relatively conservatively.
"There was not much action and there are still four days to go so anything can happen."
Although they have a decent buffer, Kruger said he and Marais would continue to take a cautious approach while looking for chances to build on their lead.
"We look at the next day's route the night before and make sure we try to ride to our strengths," he added.
"We are both good climbers so we will take any opportunities that arise to increase the lead, but we are not going to take any unnecessary risks.
"In a mountain bike race it's all about staying upright, keeping the bikes in one piece and seizing the moments when they arise."
In the mixed category Belgium's Kristof de Neys and Britain's Catherine Williamson, the defending champion, continued to dominate, winning the stage in 4:35:54.
"I am very happy now that I am at the finish," said De Neys, who spends half his year living in Knysna.
"Gondwana was quite technical, with a number of rocks, but it was beautiful. After that it was up and down all the way to the finish.
"But we were in a great bunch and Catherine worked hard today and was really strong. So that was fantastic."
Tomorrow's stage will see the riders tackle a distance of 106km with 1 500m of vertical ascent from Riversdale to Swellendam.
The fourth edition of the 614km race, supported by STANLIB and Volvo Cars, finishes at La Couronne Wine Estate in Franschhoek on Saturday.
UCI Elite men
1 HB Kruger, Stuart Marais (ASG-Ellsworth) 4:09:01
2 Eirik Fiskvik, Thomas Engelsgjerd (Team Happysalmon) 4:09:08
3 Antonin Marecaille, Julian Biefang (Chiru-Magura-Canyon) 4:09:11
4 Hanco Kachelhoffer, Pieter Seyffert (Ellsworth-ASG) 4:22:55
5 Grant Usher, Yuki Ikeda (Topeak-Ergon-Sprocket & Jack) 4:30:59
UCI Elite women
1 Janine Muller and Mari du Toit (Oakley4) 5:37:51
1 Louis Fourie, Francois Ebersohn (Linde & Viljoen Melkmanne) 4:35:46
2 Bruce Poole, Eben Espach (PEG) 4:35:48
3 Arthur McDuling, Fanie Venter (Business Print Oldies) 4:35:49
4 Will Aymes, Waz Squires (NUK Orthodontic) 4:46:59
5 Richard de Villiers, Holden Marshall (Team STF) 4:53:56
1 Jeanette Treherne, Vivienne Turvey (Team T and T) 6:00:23
1 Catherine Williamson, Kristof de Neys (LawPack) 4:35:34
2 Reinette Geldenhuis, Wolf Stinnes (Woolies Trance) 5:29:56
3 Donald Weir, Nicolle Weir (Weirdos) 6:03:38
4 Wayne Albertyn, Catherine Albertyn (BigD & The Hammer) 6:06:17
5 Victor Terblanche, Hildegarde Cronje (VictoryHill) 6:10:33
1 Udo Mueller 4:22:55
2 Roland Mueller 4:22:58
3 Massimo Mancini 4:30:55
4 Conway Oliver 4:30:56
5 Ryan Loots 4:35:44
1 Jeanie de Villiers 5:10:20
2 Wilna Marais 6:01:16
3 Aryna Edwards 6:14:01
4 Jessica Knight 6:23:19
UCI Elite men
1 HB Kruger, Stuart Marais (ASG Ellsworth) 9:47:49
2 Antonin Marecaille, Julian Biefang (Chiru-Magura-Canyon) 9:56:48
3 Eirik Fiskvik, Thomas Engelsgjerd (Team Happysalmon) 9:58:20
4 Hanco Kachelhoffer, Pieter Seyffert (Ellsworth-ASG) 10:22:49
5 Grant Usher and Yuki Ikeda (Topeak-Ergon-Sprocket & Jack) 10:38:24
UCI Elite women
1 Janine Muller and Mari du Toit (Oakley4) 13:24:09
1 Arthur McDuling, Fanie Venter (Business Print Oldies) 10:48:18
2 Louis Fourie, Francois Ebersohn (Linde & Viljoen Melkmanne) 10:53:03
3 Bruce Poole, Eben Espach (PEG) 10:54:35
4 Will Aymes, Waz Squires (NUK Orthodontic) 11:15:16
5 Richard de Villiers, Holden Marshall (Team STF) 11:50:41
1 Jeanette Treherne, Vivienne Turvey (Team T and T) 14:13:26
1 Catherine Williamson, Kristof de Neys (LawPack) 11:04:47
2 Reinette Geldenhuis, Wolf Stinnes (Woolies Trance) 13:16:52
3 Donald Weir, Nicolle Weir (Weirdos) 14:04:32
4 Victor Terblanche, Hildegarde Cronje (VictoryHill) 14:30:02
5 Wayne Albertyn, Catherine Albertyn (BigD & The Hammer) 15:07:33
1 Udo Mueller 10:28:01
2 Roland Mueller 10:31:39
3 Conway Oliver 10:42:15
4 Massimo Mancini 10:48:56
5 Ryan Loots 11:07:57
1 Jeanie de Villiers 12:38:24
2 Wilna Marais 14:40:57
3 Aryna Edwards 14:46:18
4 Jessica Knight 15:41:30
Caption: UCI Elite women's riders Janine Muller (front) and Mari du Toit (middle) tackle a stretch of gravel on the 102km third stage of the Liberty TransCape MTB Encounter from Hartenbos to Riversdale today. The 614km seven-stage races finishes at La Couronne Wine Estate in Franschhoek on Saturday. Photo: Robert Ward