South African marathon champion, Kevin Evans, got his National Series title defence back on track when he won round three of the 2009 MTN National Mountain Bike Series, the Induna Ultra-marathon, in Hazyview this weekend.
The 31-year-old MTN Energade rider has won the country's national series title for the past three years, but appeared to falter in the early part of the 2009 edition managing two third place finishes in the first two rounds. He started Saturday's race in the orange Series leader's jersey and there were doubts about whether he'd be able to do it justice.
But just over four-and-a-half hours later, he dispelled all doubt when he returned to his aggressive best and charged to an emphatic victory in the 110km race, reminiscent of his dominant form of 2008.
Evans collected the victory in a time of 4:35:35 to secure maximum points and extend his lead in the series. Namibians Marc Bassingthwaighte and Mannie Heymans (both Garmin adidas) finished second and third respectively, while David George (MTN Energade) and Max Knox (DCM Chrome) rounded out the top five.
Evans was part of a four-man lead group going into the final 35km of the race, which was bathed in warm, sunny conditions, a stark contrast to the unseasonal rain over the previous few days. With Evans in that quartet were George, Heymans and Bassingthwaighte.
"At the base of the final climb, David attacked and forced Marc and Mannie to respond. I sat on the back and after about a kilometre they pulled him back. But as they caught him, I put in my one big effort for the day. I went as hard as I could determined to make it count and luckily the others weren't able to respond," said Evans, who extended his lead during the remaining 18km to the finish.
Pre-race favourite, Knox raced into an early lead on the twisty, technical terrain with which he is so familiar. But he fell victim to mechanical problems after having built up substantial gap by the halfway point. A recurring chain problem left him to limp through the next 30km until he reached the tech support station, during which time he was caught and passed by the lead pack.
"I had chainsuck problems and was pretty much limited to just two gears for a big chunk of the race. But that's how it goes in mountain biking. I still enjoyed the race and gave it a good go," said a typically relaxed Knox.
Organisers shortened the original race distance of 120km by 10km due to last week's unexpected rains, which had made certain low-lying sections difficult to ride.
The anticipated duel between South African champion, Yolande Speedy (IMC Momentum) and Series leader, Yolande de Villiers (Toyota Supercycling), never materialised. De Villiers opted to skip the event in order to recover fully from illness, while Speedy decided to tackle the Ultra-marathon in preparation for the marathon world championships later in the year.
In the women's 75km race, Ischen Stopforth (Marsilio Projects) was given full value for her journey up from the Western Cape when she took her first ever National Series event victory in 3:44:39. Second place went to Garmin adidas rider, Samantha Oosthuizen with Amoryn Saayman rounding out the podium places.
Round four, the Dirty Harry, will take place on Saturday, August 8 in Harrismith. The event will double as the 2009 national marathon championships.