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George, Evans bounce back with 1-2 finish at MTN Tulbagh

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David George was in dominant form, making the hills look easy

David George was in dominant form, making the hills look easy
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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The three chasers: Adrien Niyonshuti, Kevin Evans and Daren Lill

The three chasers: Adrien Niyonshuti, Kevin Evans and Daren Lill
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka)

Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka)
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Max Knox grimaces as he summits

Max Knox grimaces as he summits
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Daren Lill was forced to dismount as he is chased by Kevin Evans

Daren Lill was forced to dismount as he is chased by Kevin Evans
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Max Knox interviewed before the start

Max Knox interviewed before the start
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Max Knox

Max Knox
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Racing in Tulbagh

Racing in Tulbagh
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN Qhubeka) leads the chase

Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN Qhubeka) leads the chase
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Nico Bell and Charles Keey

Nico Bell and Charles Keey
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Adrien Niyonshuti

Adrien Niyonshuti
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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South African road champion Darren Lill showed that he also knows his way around on a mountain bike.

South African road champion Darren Lill showed that he also knows his way around on a mountain bike.
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Team Garmin Adidas rider Francois Theron is focused on the job at hand.

Team Garmin Adidas rider Francois Theron is focused on the job at hand.
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Kevin Evans on his way to second place

Kevin Evans on his way to second place
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Kevin Evans finished an impressive second in his first race back after crashing

Kevin Evans finished an impressive second in his first race back after crashing
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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David George on his way to a win.

David George on his way to a win.
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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David George goes over some scenic roads around Tulbagh

David George goes over some scenic roads around Tulbagh
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Early mist made for cool conditions

Early mist made for cool conditions
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Kevin Evans and David Lill in action

Kevin Evans and David Lill in action
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Kevin Evans and Adrien Niyonshuti pass by an old wreck

Kevin Evans and Adrien Niyonshuti pass by an old wreck
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Kevin Evans chases hard

Kevin Evans chases hard
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Francois Theron scrambles up a hill

Francois Theron scrambles up a hill
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Kevin Evans and Adrien Niyonshuti pass a wreck in the mist

Kevin Evans and Adrien Niyonshuti pass a wreck in the mist
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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David George show shis rivals a clean pair of heels

David George show shis rivals a clean pair of heels
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)
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Kevin Evans on his way to second place.

Kevin Evans on his way to second place.
(Image credit: Zoon Cronje)

After the heartbreak of having their Cape Epic victory hopes crushed by an untimely early exit, Team Nedbank 360Life's David George and Kevin Evans bounced back on Saturday with a one-two finish at the MTN Tulbagh marathon in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

George, the winner of the first round of South Africa's series back in January, rode a tactically faultless race to claim the victory in a fast time of 4:29:08 and in the process, rose back to the top of the MTN Series rankings with three rounds remaining.

Evans had to outsprint Max Knox (Do-It-Now Ghost) to claim the runner-up place, but the fact that his plated collarbone held up well in his first mountain bike race since that fateful Cape Epic stage 1 crash on March 28 was more reason for Nedbank 360Life to celebrate.

George and Knox moved ahead of the other contenders at 19km into the 105km race and built up a lead of 45 seconds over a small chase group that included Evans, Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN Qhubeka), Darren Lill, Nico Bell, Erik Kleinhans (Contego) and Charles Keey (MTN Qhubeka).

Then, just before the 60km mark, George powered away from Knox up a climb and then extended his lead on the following descent, putting around a minute into Knox just on that downhill before going on to build his lead into a substantial one over the final 40 kilometres. Evans caught a tiring Knox in the final kilometres and made short work of dispatching him in the last 100 metres.

"With Kevin back in the mix, we had another card to play, so I went with Max early on. I let him set the pace because I knew we had Kevin as a second option not too far back," said George. "When you're in good racing condition, you always feel in control. That's how it was for me today. On the climbs I was strong and on the descents I was confident and sharp.

"Obviously I'm also building my skills with every mountain bike ride I do," said George, a former professional road cyclist.

"It was a great way for us to return to the racing scene. A first and second place in a strong field also shows that we are on track for the (marathon) world championships next month," said George. "Since the Cape Epic, I've been doing some great training - both quantity and quality. The last few weeks I've been feeling so good on the bike. Today I was really in control in every aspect. It's a good place to be."

George was quick to pay tribute to the team's sponsors, specifically the title sponsor, Nedbank 360Life, for their belief in the pair. "For the first time in my life as a pro cyclist, I am able to make decisions that suit me best. We have no pressure from our sponsors because they know we want to win as much as they want us to - probably more actually. Glad we could show them today how that kind of support pays off."

"Now Tulbagh and I are even," said Evans, referring to his collarbone-snapping crash in Tulbagh on stage 1 of this year's Cape Epic. "It was the last place I raced a mountain bike and, appropriately, the first place again after recovering from the crash and surgery. Coming back with a podium finish does my confidence a lot of good."

George and Evans are now focusing on their second major goal for the year, the 2011 marathon world championships in Italy at the end of June. Next on their schedule is this week's Subaru Sani2c, a three-day stage race in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. They then head to Europe where they will contest some build-up races in preparation for the World Championships on June 26.

George, who also won the MTN Attakwas marathon and finished second in Barberton, is now the likely overall leader in the MTN marathon series.

Kleynhans wins women's race

Arianne Kleynhans (Contego-Giant-Sludge) achieved her second victory in the MTN women's marathon series. The Swiss rider had also won the MTN Attakwas event.

"Gutsy" is the most appropriate word to describe Kleynhans' victory. She took the lead within minutes after the starter’s gun went off and from then on there was no stopping her. She basically time-trialed straight to the finish.

According to Kleynhans, she experienced one of those races when nothing could go wrong and riding a mountain bike became just one huge pleasure.

Catherine Williamson (Bizhub) finished second, Ischen Stopforth (Bizhub) was third, Candice Neethling (Bizhub) fourth and Karien van Jaarsveld (USN) fifth.

After her performance on Saturday there can be no doubt that Neethling has what it takes to become one of the great riders in South African women's mountain biking.

The 18-year-old was the only rider who really chased hard to catch up with Kleynhans. Because of this effort she was second overall for a long time, but unfortunately her legs let her down when it really mattered.

Stopforth, who was full of praise for her younger teammate’s performance, was of the opinion that Neethling’s problem on Saturday was that she had concentrated mainly on cross-country races during the past few weeks.

"It has been some time since she had raced in a marathon and I think that was the reason why Candice began to tire towards the end of the race."

According to Stopforth, the reason why she and Williamson were slow off the mark on Saturday was that their legs were still tired after racing, and winning, the Joburg2C tour the weekend before.

"We became stronger and stronger as the race progressed."

Unfortunately for Stopforth, she took a "flyer" towards the end of race. It occurred when she was racing down a dip, just before a river crossing.

"I was chasing to catch up with Catherine. Things began to go wrong the moment I rode into the river. My mountain bike's front wheel hit a rock and this caused my bike's handlebars to turn a full 180 degrees. I was in full flight before I hit the ground, face first.

"My nose took most of the hammering, causing quite a bad nose bleed. Luckily nothing was broken, but my nose is still bruised and swollen. It is certainly not a pretty sight," Stopforth joked.

Stopforth was full of praise for the Tulbagh course. "I expected it to be the same as the one used during the Epic but it was not. It was a totally new racing experience, quite challenging but still enjoyable.

"Ones technical skills were definitely tested with all the twists and turns on the route and the loose rocks."

Brief Results

Elite men

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1David George (Rsa) Nedbank 360Life4:29:08
2Kevin Evans (Rsa) Nedbank 360Life0:08:15
3Max Knox (Rsa) Do-It-Now Ghost0:08:25
4Adrien Niyonshuti (RWA) MTN Qhubeka0:12:57
5Nico Bell (Rsa)0:14:33
6Charles Keey (Rsa) MTN Qhubeka0:16:44
7Darren Lill (Rsa)0:26:57
8Mannie Heymans (Nam) Garmin adidas0:31:34
9Francois Theron (Rsa) Garmin adidas0:31:36
10Grieg Knox (Rsa)0:39:10

Elite women

#Rider Name (Country) Team
1Arianne Kleynhans (Contego/Giant/Sludge)
2Catherine Williamson (Bizhub)
3Ischen Stopforth (Bizhub)
4Candice Neethling (Bizhub)
5Karien van Jaarsveld (USN) fifth.

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