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Luck and cleverness will pay off at South African ultra marathon
Saturday's MTN Ride Crater Cruise might just turn out to be the most exciting race of the MTN ultra marathon series because there are three interesting scenarios that can play out. The Crater Cruise is the final event of the South African MTN ultra marathon series.
If Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade) wins, he will be the first rider to defend his Crater Cruise title successfully; if Max Knox (DCM) manages to be the first across the line, he will complete an amazing hat trick of victories in the space of just four weeks; if Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized/Mr Price) wins, he will the first to boast three Crater Cruise victories.
Jock Green (Ghost/BBT), Marc Bassingthwaighte and Mannie Heymans (both Garmin-adidas) are the three "Jokers" that might just upset the proverbial ‘applecart' and in doing so spoil the fun for the race favourites.
It does not matter to whom you talk about Saturday's race. Every rider agrees that to be able to win the Crater Cruise you need to have some luck and you have also got to be clever.
There is no doubt about Evans's fitness after his strong performance in the recent four-day Clover Tour in the Lowveld which he won. The fact that Evans is already back in Gauteng to ensure that he is acclimatised in time for the Crater Cruise proves he is serious about winning even though he won't admit to it.
"If it happens, it happens, and if doesn't it doesn't. I am out to enjoy the race. I might just sit back and see how the race unfolds," was Evans's reaction when asked whether he thinks he can win.
"One of the big mistakes you can make is to underestimate the Crater Cruise even knowing that it is a 100km race. It is definitely one of the hardest races on the local calendar. My advice to novices is to race the course and not your rivals.
"To be able to win, you not only need to be tactically brilliant. You have also got to ensure that you save your legs for the last 20 or so kilometers because that is when the serious racing starts."
Knox is certainly the other in form rider at the moment. In the last four weeks, he has won the Hill2Hill and followed it up by winning the MTN 50 Miler, the most recent round in the South African marathon series. A Crater Cruise victory will mean that he will become the first rider in a long time to pull off a hat trick of consecutive victories in big mountain bike classics. It is just something that does not happen often.
Knox is not phased at all about the fact that he is on the verge of making history. "As far as I am concerned there is no pressure on me to win. I am content. I had a good year. Usually in the past I would only be good for one or two months during a year. So far this year my performances have been much more consistent.
"What is interesting if you have a look of the results of this year's mountain bike ultra marathons (races longer than 100 kilometers) is the fact that it is only Kevin and myself that have managed to win.
"I don't want to put a jinx on myself by admitting that I will be racing at the front fighting to win. I know Kevin will be doing exactly the same."
What is the secret to winning the Crater Cruise? "I am honest when I say I wish I knew. The Crater Cruise is certainly the one race where tactics are important, so I guess you should keep your cards a little bit closer to your chest.
"Things would be much simpler if there was a ten-kilometre climb on route where the race could be won or lost, but there isn't. The rider who wants to win will have to out think his rivals and spend all his pennies to early on during the race."
If statistics are anything to go by, then Swanepoel must win because it seems as if he is in the habit of winning every second year. He first won the Crater Cruise in 2006 and then again in 2008.
Swanepoel is not going to put his faith in statistics. "To be able to win the Crater Cruise you have to have good legs, be tactically sound and most importantly "Lady Luck" should side with you.
"If you should be brought to a halt by a mechanical problem, there is a more than good chance that it will be race over. I punctured during the first 30 kilometres of last year's race, and it really took a super human effort to try and catch up again."