Before turning professional on the road and enjoying a career that included Tour de France and world championships victories, Cadel Evans was a successful mountain biker. The Australian is making a return to mountain biking this week at the Cape Epic stage race in South Africa. The 40-year-old, who retired from road racing in 2015, hadn't competitively ridden a mountain bike since 2001. During his time on the dirt, Evans was the 1998 and 1999 overall Mountain Bike World Cup winner.
Teaming up with 43-year-old George Hincapie, one of Evans' key teammates in his 2011 Tour win, the duo was leading the Master's category through stage 1 of the race when a flat tyre for Hincapie ended their hopes of victory. Evans and Hincapie rolled over the line over 18 minutes down on stage winners Tomi Misser and Ibon Zugasti (Orbea Factory) and now sit third overall in the Masters category.
"I totally underestimated the energy requirements for today and I bonked with about an hour to go. Tonight I am going to eat as if it is Paris-Roubaix tomorrow," Hincapie said of his longest day on a mountain bike to date.
Evans added that he was physically ready for the challenge with the mechanical the major issue of the day with temperatures reaching into the high-30's.
"We had come here prepared to suffer but we were unlucky today," Evans said.
While unlucky with the puncture, the BMC duo have a further six stages to make up time on Misser and Zugasti and challenge for the Masters win.
"We have another high profile team in the event in George Hincapie and Cadel Evans. It will be my job to attack Cadel, while Purito will concentrate on keeping George under control," 2010 cross-country world champion Hermida joked pre-race.
After stage 1, Hermida and Rodríguez sit 27th overall, 51 minutes down on leaders Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory Racing XC).
Recently retired 'cross riders Sven Nys and Sven Vanthourenhout are also making their Cape Epic debuts in 2017, doing so in the elite category. Of the 'retired' riders, Evans and Hincapie are best placed to finish the race on the podium. Albeit in the Masters category rather than the elite men.
There will be little respite on Stage 2 for Evans, Hincapie and the other riders with the high temperatures to continue. However, for the first time in race history, the heat has forced the organisers into shortening a stage as CEO Lynn Naudé explained.
"This is a big decision for us and we have never done it before in 14 years of staging the race, but the safety of our riders is paramount," Naudé.
The 102km stage has been shortened to 62km with the finish moved from Greyton to Caledon. The stage will still start in Hermanus as planned.
"We've been up through the night making plans to organise the finishline logistics and have this run as smoothly as possible, but we ask all stakeholders to be patient," said Naudé. "Barring any unforeseen developments the rest of the race will be held as scheduled."