When Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade) makes up his mind to finish off something, it is not just idle talk. He proved this on Saturday when he won the 100km Cullinan ultra-marathon (in the MTN series in fine style by outsprinting David George (SAFindit) to take his fourth victory in the series and win the series overall.
Max Knox (DCM) finished third, with Jacques Janse van Rensburg (DCM) fourth and Adrian Niyonshuti (MTN-Energade) fifth.
With this victory Evans ensured that his name will be part of the South African mountain biking folklore for years to come. No rider has ever dominated the MTN series, as well as its predecessor the Mazda series, in the way this rider from Plettenberg Bay has done during the past decade.
Evans has now won the series overall for a record sixth time. By winning the MTN Cullinan ultra-marathon on Saturday, he also set a personal record. It was his fourth victory, which is one more than in previous years when he only won three races in the MTN series.
After the race, a dust-covered Evans was not prepared to make any predictions on how long he intends to dominate the MTN series. "Immediately after the race is not a good time to ask me such questions. I would love to win the series overall once more. Perhaps it would then be time to call it quits, but at this stage nothing is final."
According to Evans he would like to defend his title in the Crater Cruise ultra-marathon of the MTN series, if his body should allow him to do so. "Luckily, there is no pressure on me for the rest of the series. I have achieved what I had set out to do. Therefore, I am just going to enjoy myself and take things as they come in the last two races."
According to Evans the deciding moment in the race came at about 70km. "Up until then we were all just riding along at a comfortable pace. This was totally different from what happened in the World Marathon Championship in Germany, where the racing was flat out right from the word go.
"Because of the easy pace, I decided that it was a good time for me to take a chance. I then attacked and made sure that it counted. Only David (George) could stay with me. It suited me to a tee to have David with me because we worked well together to make sure that nobody could catch up with us again.
"I was never worried about what would happen during the sprint for the line. Naturally I was racing to win, but if David should have beaten me, it would not have been the end of the world. I only had to finish before Max (Knox) to win the series overall.
"Going into the sprint, I was lucky to get in front of David in the crucial final corner. This gave me a slight advantage in the sprint."
David George, who was even more covered in dust than Evans, was not upset about being outsprinted by his friend. "It was a good race and the best man won."
George said the MTN ultra-marathon was much tougher than he had expected. "Actually, it was a perfect marathon course because there was something of everything - thick sand, tough little climbs, technical rocky sections etc."
Knox experienced some bad luck when the saddle of his mountain bike broke after about 20 kilometers. He could keep on riding, but the loose saddle prevented him from getting into a steady rhythm.
"I cannot use my broken saddle as an excuse. Up to about 70 kilometers, when the racing was not really that hard, I could stay with the front riders.
"Towards the end of the race, when it really started to count, I just did not have the legs. That was to be expected, because I was definitely not 100 percent racing fit going into the race. I have only been training again for the past two weeks. Given another month, I will hopefully be ready to start winning races again."
Janse van Rensburg, who just managed to pip Niyonshuti in a frantic sprint for the line to finish fourth, said he surprised himself. "It was the first time that I have raced since I broke my collarbone, so I am not complaining. I will admit that I was scared during a good part of the race. I kept thinking how bad it would be if I should fall again and break my collarbone for a second time. That meant that I played it safe in the technical sections and I was careful not to take any risks."
Ischen Stopforth (Bizhub) won the women's marathon race over 75km, with her teammate, Yolandi du Toit, taking second and Karien van Jaarsveld (USN) third. Sanet Smal (Ghost) was fourth and Caitlin de Wet (Specialized/Mr Price) was fifth.
Stopforth's problems began just after the MTN Attakwas marathon in January, when she crashed quite heavily during a training ride. Being a doctor herself, she immediately realized that her collarbone was broken. What she did not realize, was that she had also fractured her pelvic bone.
During her recovery period, Stopforth committed the cardinal sin of ignoring a piece of wisdom that she would have advised her patients to keep in mind if they were in the same situation, namely to take things easy and to give the body ample opportunity to heal itself. In short, it boils down to the well-known proverb which says that 'patience is a virtue'.
"It was very frustrating. Every time I began to feel better, I started to do too much too soon and ended up paying the price. Therefore, it took me much longer than it should have to be back on my mountain bike and to do some real training.
"Cullinan is my first serious race in nearly six months and my first major victory since winning the MTN Clarence Marathon last year."
Listening to Stopforth when she talks about her experiences during the race, one comes to the conclusion that she was lucky not to get injured again.
Apparently there was a sharp corner in one of the very sandy sections at an early stage of the race. Going into the corner, Stopforth was boxed in by Du Toit and De Wet with a quad bike just behind her. As luck would have it, she lost control over her bike for a brief second and this was all she needed to crash. The quad driver had to keep his wits about him to avoid riding into Stopforth.
According to Stopforth, she had to chase very hard to catch up with De Wet and Du Toit when she was back on her mountain bike.
"To me it felt like an eternity before I could join up with them again."
Shortly afterwards De Wet punctured and this effectively put an end to her chances of winning. During the the rest of the race she had to battle to ensure that there was enough air in her tyres. She arrived at the finish with a plug that looked like a miniature antenna sticking out her rear tyre.
Du Toit managed to outride Stopforth in a very technical rocky section in one of the game reserves. However, it was not her day either. About 10 kilometers from the finish, Du Toit's body decided that it had had enough fun for one day and went on ‘strike'.
Du Toit said, "I just had nothing left in my legs. This meant that, when Ischen caught up with me again, I simply could not stay with her. I had to watch as she became a mere speck, way ahead of me, and then finally disappeared from sight."
Still, it was not all plain sailing for Stopforth. Near the end of the race, she lost her way for a while. Luckily she managed to find the right track again.
Du Toit said afterwards that she had 'a rude awakening' during the race. "I expected the MTN Cullinan race to be a nice cycling experience like the Nissan Diamond Rush in Cullinan was, but it certainly was not. The MTN race was much tougher. At times I had the feeling that we were riding where no other mountain bike has ever gone before."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade)|
|2||David George (SAFindit)|
|3||Max Knox (DCM)|
|4||Jacques Janse van Rensburg (DCM)|
|5||Adrian Niyonshuti (MTN-Energade)|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Ischen Stopforth (Bizhub)|
|2||Yolandi du Toit (Bizhub)|
|3||Karien van Jaarsveld (USN)|
|4||Sanet Smal (Ghost)|
|5||Caitlin de Wet (Specialized/Mr Price)|