After his disastrous experience in the Dirty Harry in Harrismith, Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade) promised that he would win again - and it wasn't an empty promise.
He kept his word when he won the MTN Blockhouse Ultra-marathon (110km) in fine style. Actually, it was not a mere win, but rather an annihilation of his rivals, because he finished more than nine minutes before the second-placed Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized/Mankele) and 13 minutes ahead of third-placed Andrew McLean (Toyota Cyclelab).
Evans' winning time was 3:40:37, with Swanepoel finishing in 3:49:35 and McLean in 3:53:17.
At the first rise on the route, at about the 36km marker, Evans attacked and just rode away from everybody else. He was completely in control. Even when he crashed after 70km he could afford to dust off himself and his bike before continuing on his winning ways.
By winning the MTN Blockhouse Ultra-marathon, Evans has basically ensured his fifth consecutive overall win of the series.
"Even though there are two races left in the series, I don't think any of the other riders can still overtake me as far as points are concerned. I can now relax and enjoy my racing," Evans said after the finish.
He added that there was a very special reason why he was anxious to win.
"It was the first time that my little girl, Ruby [18 months old], came to watch daddy racing. Of course I didn't want to disappoint her, so I put in a seriously hard effort at the King of the Mountain climb
"I didn't expect that the other riders would allow me to gain the lead, but when nobody chased me I thought, 'OK, if they choose to play tactical games, I might as well use it to my own advantage', so I just continued at a hard pace.
"I think the big mistake that the other riders made, was to look at one another to be the first to start doing the hard work and initiate the serious chase. Every moment they hesitated counted in my favour."
What makes Evans's victory even more amazing is the fact that he had only arrived back on Tuesday after having competed at the world marathon championship in Austria where he finished eighth overall.
Evans admitted that he, "didn't have the best of racing legs, but there was no way that I was going to give up.
"What definitely counted in my favour was that I had only spent about seven hours on my mountain bike since arriving back in South Africa. That gave my body a chance to recover."
The other big hero of the day was Swanepoel. Before the Blockhouse Race much was said about the role that team tactics could play in the outcome of the race. But, like Evans, Swanepoel is a 'lone crusader' and he could also maintain a very fast pace.
In doing so, he managed to shake off the other riders - Brandon Stewart, Max Knox and Johnny Kritzinger (DCM Chrome), Francois Theron and Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) and McLean - one by one.
"I had nothing to lose because, having missed most of the early season's racing, I had no position in the series to defend. So I could afford to make the racing hard. It was a case of 'if it works, it works and if it does not, so be it'," said McLean.
"At least I could then be proud of the fact that I gave it my all. The optimist in me was hoping that there might be a small chance that I could catch up with Kevin. But that was not possible. He was riding like a 'king' and really deserved his victory."
McLean proved that there is life after 40 by finishing third. At 45, 'yesterday's hero' simply outrode riders who are half his age.
"It was the hardest race I have competed in for a very long time. Luckily the course suited me. As far as the racing was concerned, it was very much like tracks racing - devil's race," he explained.
"You just had to hang on until one rider after another popped off at the back. The trick was to try and stay unobserved under the radar for as long as possible. Eventually, just Ben-Melt, Brandon and I were left together, with Kevin way out in front. Ben-Melt was amazing. He just kept turning up the gas until first Brandon and then I could no longer keep up with him."
De Villiers wins women's race
Yolandé de Villiers (Toyota-Cyclelab) set up an exciting finish in women's race. Even though it was her third win of the series, De Villiers is still not the overall leader. Ischen Stopforth (Marsillio Projects), who finished second on Sunday, is the overall leader but the points difference between the two ladies from the Southern Cape is insignificant.
Both of them are still in a position to win the series overall. Everything depends on the two final races.
An overall victory was the last thing on De Villiers' mind on Sunday. "It was just good to finish a race again, and I am not even talking about winning. I have had some really bad luck this year. If I was not ill, it was my mountain bike that ailed."
According to De Villiers, the flatness of the route forced her to ride a tactical race.
"Until about 500 metres from the finish, Ischen, Yolandé du Toit (Konica-Minolta) and I worked very well together. We took turns to ride in front, setting the pace. I think what counted in my favour in the end, was the fact that I often compete in road races as well. That is where you learn to sprint and this ability stood me in good stead because I waited until the right moment and then 'kicked'."
As usual, De Villiers had time for a joke afterwards. When asked about the three 'Yolande's of South African mountain biking', De Villiers, Du Toit and Speedy, she jokingly said that, to prevent any confusion, they should be known as: 'Ou Yolandé', that's me, 'Mooi Yolandé', that's Du Toit, and 'Speedy Yolandé.
Stopforth who, if her face is not caked with dust or mud, is a medical doctor doing clinical research in George, said that she was fighting a losing battle with the flat route the whole day.
"I know exactly how it feels to be sandwiched between two Yolandé's. I tried my best to outsprint Yolandé de Villiers in the end, but she was just too strong. I would have loved to win, but I am always looking at the bigger picture. Cycling is just my hobby, even though I sometimes begin to doubt that because of the way I have to fit in my work as a doctor around my training and racing program.
"But I am in the lucky position that when I lose, it is not the end of the world. It is not as though I have not done my job properly."
Stopforth has been cycling for a number of years, but mostly just in the Southern Cape. She has only started racing nationally this year.
"My husband, Peter, and I went to compete in the MTN Barberton event. I surprised myself by finishing second in the women's race and then realised, hang on, I might just be good enough to compete with South Africa's best. So I decided to race the whole MTN series and I am enjoying every moment of it."
Du Toit, who finished third overall, said that for her the deciding part of the race was over the last four kilometres.
"I was having quite a good day, even though I would have preferred one or two serious climbs. What counted against me was the fact that my technical abilities are not yet as good as they should be. Because of that, I was dropped during the last few kilometres when the route was all twisty and rocky. But I am happy with my race. It is good to have a podium finish."
|1||Kevin Evans (MTN Energade)||3:40:37|
|2||Ben Melt Swanepoel (Specialized Mankele)||0:08:58|
|3||Andrew Mclean (Toyota Supercycling)||0:12:40|
|4||Brandon Stewart (DCM Chrome)||0:12:54|
|5||Francois Theron (Garmin adidas)||0:14:01|
|6||Johnny Kritzinger (DCM Chrome)||0:19:05|
|7||Philip Buys (Garmin adidas)||0:19:46|
|8||Erik Kleinhans (GT Mr Price)||0:22:48|
|9||Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN Energade)||0:27:36|
|10||Jacques Janse van Rensburg (DCM Chrome)||0:34:17|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Yolandé De Villiers||2:52:53|
|3||Yolandi Du Toit||2:54:16|