Cooper, Haley take first stage in Knysna

Timo Cooper and Jarryd Haley took advantage of a wrong turn by the chasing bunch to open up an unassailable lead and take the first stage of the three-day Garden Route Rocky Mountain 300 in Knysna on Friday.

The Team Rocky Mountain Syncros duo crossed the line in 4:24:42, three minutes ahead of Team Craft’s Delaney Impey and Adrian Enthoven (4:27:07), with Team Cycle Lab’s Shan Wilson and Willie Engelbrecht a further minute back in 4:28:26.  [Photo:  Elle Photography].

After leading the riders out of the neutral zone through town, defending champion Cooper and his new partner attacked on the first climb to go clear early on.

They consolidated their lead when some of the pursuers briefly went off course about 15 kilometres into the 100km stage.

According to 24-year-old Haley, who hails from Hermanus in the Western Cape, their plan had been to go hard on the single track on the well-known “red route” through the Harkerville forest on the outskirts of Knysna.

“I think that also helped us as we managed to open up a bigger gap and then just held it there for the rest of the day.”

Wilson, last year’s runner up, and former five-time Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour winner Engelbrecht led the chasing pack.

“It was actually an advantage getting lost because we corrected quickly and ended up coming back onto Timo and Jarryd,” said Wilson.

Impey and Enthoven caught Wilson and Engelbrecht 20 kilometres from home through the Simola Golf Estate and left them behind with eight to go when Wilson started to feel the effects of dehydration.

Cooper, the Western Cape marathon champion, said the racing had been extremely tough on the undulating course but “so much fun”.

The 20-year-old Wellington-based rider said they would try to stay in the bunch on Saturday’s 114km second stage, which features a challenging 2 100m of climbing.

“You can’t go too hard tomorrow, otherwise you’re going to be worked out on the last day.”

In the women’s race, Team bizhub-FCF’s Catherine Williamson and Yolandi du Toit won the stage after also taking a wrong turn. However, they quickly recovered to catch fellow bizhub riders Nicci Grobler and Leana de Jager.

“We passed them and then just kept a good pace all the way through,” said reigning titleholder Williamson, who races out of Britain.

“We didn’t see anyone for a long, long time and were wondering if we were on the wrong route again.”

The pair finished 13th overall in 5:01:11, just over a minute behind the first mixed team, Rocket-Medac’s Hannele Steyn-Kotze and Chris Nel (4:59:56).

Grobler and De Jager finished in 5:16:08 to take the runners-up spot in the women’s event with the Flying Dutch Girls, Eva Micklewood and Bernike Beukes, rounding out the podium in 6:21:07.

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