With less than a week remaining until the start of the Cape Pioneer Trek, Kevin Evans and Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN-Energade) are among the favorites for victory at the South African mountain bike stage race. The six-day event will run through the Southern Cape and Klein Karoo mountains from October 18-23.
Evans has proved himself this season by winning consistently throughout the MTN ultra marathon series. One of those rounds, the MTN Attakwas ultra marathon is doubling as the stage one route of the Cape Pioneer Trek.
It is not just climbing ability that makes Evans so strong. He is also very astute when it comes to race tactics knowing how to do the right thing at the right time.
In contrast to Evans, Niyonshuti, a young rider from Rwanda, is a rough diamond who has been improving with each race. Niyonshuti has been one of the most consistent performers in the MTN national series with five top five finishes in six outings. His best result was finishing second in the MTN 50 Miler. He was also fourth in Barberton and fifth respectively in the Attakwas, Clarens and Cullinan races.
In his short life of 23 years, Niyonshuti has experienced unimaginable horrors, but the setbacks seem to have made him more motivated to train harder and push himself to the limit. The horrors started during the Rwandan genocide starting in 1994, when Niyonshuti lost seven brothers. Roughly estimated, 800,000 people were killed nation-wide, an estimated 20 percent of the country's population.
According to Jock Boyer, technical director of the Rwanda Cycling Federation, Niyonshuti's best friend, Godfrey, was run over and killed by a motorist while he was riding on his bicycle. Godfrey, an up-and-coming cyclist, was a young orphan who lived with his mentor, Niyonshuti, in Rwanda.
The accident happened shortly after Niyonshuti's father died 18 months ago from an unknown disease. Niyonshuti lives with his mother in a town called Rwamagana in Rwanda. He has used his race winnings to make improvements to his mother's house. It now has electricity, cement floors and running water.
"When I met him almost four years ago, his perseverance soon became apparent. To take part in the Olympics is an important goal for him, but I sincerely hope that he will be able to continue with his cycling career until long after the 2012 Games," said Boyer. "Through his cycling exploits, Adrian has become a symbol of hope for many youngsters in Rwanda.
"He won the Tour of Rwanda two years ago and was third overall last year. Not many people know that Rwanda is becoming a growing centre for cycling in central and east Africa. The country is perfectly suited for both road riding and mountain bike riding.
Evans said that his and Niyonshuti's approach will be to take the Cape Pioneer Trek one stage at a time.
"I was actually not planning to do the tour, but when Adrien asked me if I would ride with him, I could not refuse," said Evans. "Adrien is using the tour as part of his preparation for the Tour of Rwanda.
"The Cape Pioneer Trek is really hard a tour therefore I think it would be wise to start out conservatively and see how things develop. If our legs hold up and an opportunity to win overall arrise we will certainly be going for it."
The duo will face teams such as Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized/MR Price) and Jock Green (Ghost/BBT), another team which is taking a conservative approach as it aims for the top five.
"As a roadie turned mountain biker I have learned the hard way that one sure way to 'kill' yourself quite early on during a mountain bike tour is to go guns blazing from the moment go," said Green.
"In a tour like the DCM Cape Pioneer, you can afford to lose 20 minutes on day one and say 15 minutes on day two and still have a realistic chance of getting a good result. That is if you are not intimidated by what your rivals are doing and are prepared to ride at your own pace."
"I know the DCM Cape Pioneer is going to be a tough challenge but what excites me is the fact that I am riding with Jock. It is not often that you get to do mountain bike tour with one of your best friends."
Another duo to watch will be the Specialized team of Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander, who finished third overall in this year's Cape Epic.
Switzerland's Nathalie Schneitter is also competing in the women's category. The internationally ranked racer will be riding with a deaf female teammate.
Racers will cover diverse terrain including passing through parts of the Klein Karoo, the Garden Route, the Groot Karoo and even through arid semi-desert areas. They'll be challenged by serious mountain passes such as the Attakwas, Swartberg and Duiwelskop Passes.
Last year's race was won by Erik Kleinhans and Johnny Kritzinger.
2010 Cape Pioneer Trek
Stage 1: Oudtshoorn - Mossel Bay
Stage 2: Mossel Bay - George
Stage 3: George - De Rust
Stage 4: De Rust - Prince Albert
Stage 5: Prince Albert - Calitzdorp
Stage 6: Calitzdorp - Oudtshoorn