After the MTN Diemersfontein marathon, Kevin Evans and David George from the Nedbank 360Life team can lay claim to the brand new title of chess masters of South African mountain biking.
Evans won the race over 105km in 4 hours, 32 minutes and 12 seconds. Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka) was second in 4:33:28 and Jacques Rossouw (Cadence Capital) third in 4:34:34. David George finished fourth in 4:35:28.
This result means that Evans and George have made sure that one of them will win the MTN series overall.
"With this result we now have two cards to play in the series, especially if I should win the last two races," an elated Evans said afterwards.
Evans admitted that he had to dig deep for his first victory in the series. "I was involved in a tough battle for survival over the last 14 kilometers and I have never been so relieved to reach the finish.
"The course that was set out was of world standard and it could well be one of the best courses that we have raced on this season."
On Saturday, Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Qhubeka) sent out an early warning to her rivals by finishing second in the MTN Diemersfontein marathon. This was her best result in the series after she had knee surgery earlier this year.
Paul Cordes, her training partner and greatest fan, said that Speedy could not have asked for a better return to serious racing.
"The pace of the ladies up the first climb was quick and I think it took Yolandé a few kilometers to burn off the cobwebs. After the Queen of the Mountain, where she finished about sixth, Yolandé started to reel in her rivals one by one.
"Just before the halfway mark she was in the lead and she managed to stay there for quite a while. But hats off to Ischen Stopforth (Bizhub) who refused to accept defeat. She caught up with Yolandé and passed her again.
"Although Yolandé never races to finish second, she will accept the result for now. As far as I am concerned it was an excellent return for Yolandé and pretty much what we had hoped for and predicted at this stage of her recovery.
"I presume there is no need for me to tell you what I predict for her at Hilton."
Cordes was also full of praise for the way his teammates, Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Charles Keey and Adrien Niyonshuti, raced.
"We started up the same climb as we did in last year's Epic, but thankfully the pace was not too hectic during the first couple of kilometers.
"Adrien managed to win the King of the Mountain prime. I must admit that the climb got the better of me. I lost contact with the front group on the climb, but managed to get back to them again during the technical sections.
"I think we did really well as a team. Our pre-race plan worked out for the most part.
"Jacques rode a smart race. He sat in near the back of the bunch during the first half of the race and then made his presence felt on the big climb of the day with an attack that enabled him to get a tiny lead.
"But Kevin Evans, being Kevin Evans, refused to give up and he chased Jacques up one of the last climbs. Once Kevin was in the lead, there was no way of stopping him.
"Jacques did well to hold on to second position. Adrien (Niyonshuti) and Charles (Keey) had a solid race. They rode well together and stayed with each other until the finish, ending in the 7th and 8th positions.
"I finished 12th in a race that was quite frustrating for me."
About how the raced played out, Evans said that there were still ten riders in the lead group after 70km of racing.
"The group split only briefly on a few occasions, most notably on the climb up to the ‘king of the mountain' early during the race, and also during one or two of the awesome single-track sections that came thick and fast.
"The first big split came only after we had gone through the final feed zone at around 70km. It was initiated by Neil Macdonald (RE:CM) and Brandon Stewart (Itec Connect). They opened a gap while they were heading through the feed zone and onto the biggest climb of the day.
"A small group of about six riders, including myself and favourites such as Adrien Niyonshuti, Max Knox, Jacques Rossouw, Jacques Janse Van Rensburg and Dave George did the chasing.
"Rossouw was first to cross the gap to the two leading riders. I was riding at the back, observing the body language of the remaining riders. It soon became evident that they were not looking very fresh and I decided to ride across the gap to the leaders.
"Neil had dropped off at this stage. I went past him and closed in on the front guys. When I looked back I could see that Van Rensburg was following a little further back and he was followed by Dave on his own. The situation was perfect for our team tactics, because the only two other riders who could threaten the overall position were not able to follow.
"I eased up and waited for Dave. Once he had latched on, I dragged us up to the two front guys.
"From then onwards I set the tempo all the way to the top. We rode fast enough to ensure that we increased our lead over the rest of the riders, and to discourage any further attacks as well.
"Once we were over the top, with around 20km to go, the attacks started again. I wasn't feeling so good at that stage, but I dug deep to maintain my position. All my eating and drinking throughout the marathon started to pay off during the next 5km, while some of the other riders started to feel tired during the crucial moments.
"When Van Rensburg attacked, I immediately countered his move. I was soon alone in the front, holding onto a small gap.
"The remaining 14km felt very long, and seemed to drag on endlessly. My only saving grace was that we were all in the same boat. Dave was happy to sit on and let Rossouw do all the work, trying to chase down for second position. For me it was a matter of keeping my head down, giving all I had, hoping that the finish would come soon enough.
"Dave managed to finish 4th, behind the two Jacques', despite a bad crash during the final 3km during which his handle bar was broken."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life)||4:32:12|
|2||Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka)||0:01:16|
|3||Jacques Rossouw (Cadence Capital)||0:02:22|
|4||David George (Nedbank 360Life)||0:03:16|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Ischen Stopforth (Bizhub)|
|2||Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Qhubeka)|