By Bardy the Action Scribe

Melt Swanepoel and Mannie Heymans of Team MTN Energade were in fiery form when they won the first stage of the 2008 Subaru Sani2C mountain bike race in KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday.

Around 2000 participants tackled the first day of this year’s edition of the popular event, which started in Underberg and finished at Mackenzie Country Club near Ixopo.

Hot, dry conditions greeted the participants who compete in two-member teams and it was the Namibian pairing of Marc Bassingthwaighte and Arno Viljoen on Team Garmin Trek that set the early pace.

“Arno and Marc were going really well and their fast pace helped split up the field,” explained Swanepoel. “But Arno got a stick in his rear derailleur which put them out of contention for the stage win.”

The remaining teams in the lead pack were MTN Energade (Swanepoel and Heymans), Mr Price GT/Mongoose (Burry Stander and Rourke Croeser), USN Mazda (Max Knox and Francois Theron) and Fullimput (David Leiman and Roan Exelby).

As the 83km stage drew to an end, Heymans, who won the 2006 edition with Kevin Evans, began to increase the pace.

“Mannie is in superb form right now and I just hung onto his wheel as one by one the other teams began to drop off,” said Swanepoel. “Burry and Rourke were the last to go and Rourke then crashed which helped us extend our lead.”

Swanepoel and Heymans clocked a very quick 2hrs44min03sec, an amazing 17 minutes faster than the winning time on the same stage last year. Stander and Croeser were second in 2:45:08 with Viljoen and Bassingthwaighte rounding out the podium in 2:45:58.

“It’s very dry here right now and the fact that 2000 riders in the Sani Adventure event passed over the same route yesterday helped harden the trails so it was a super fast route. I was all over so quickly!” exclaimed Swanepoel.

On Friday, the riders will tackle the 97km second stage from Mackenzie Country Club through the Umkomaas Valley to Roseveres Farm, a tough leg with 2230 metres of ascent and an expected average temperature of 35 degrees Celsius.

“Obviously we’ll ride defensively, but if the opportunity presents itself for us to extend our lead a bit, we’ll take it,” said Swanepoel. “There is still so much that can happen and there are many strong teams we need to beware of.”

2008 Subaru Sani2c
Stage 1: 83km from Underberg to Mackenzie Country Club, Ixopo
Leading results
1 Mannie Heymans / Melt Swanepoel (MTN Energade) 02hrs44min03sec
2 Burry Stander / Rourke Croeser  (Mr Price GT/Mongoose) @ 1min03sec
3 Marc Bassingthwaighte / Arno Viljoen (Garmin Trek) @ 1:53