Four-time South African marathon champion, Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life) left nothing to chance when he raced to a dominant victory over a strong international field at Round 3 of the South African National Marathon Series in Sabie in the Mpumalanga province on Saturday.
The 33-year-old, who has won South Africa’s National Marathon Series title six times, led the tough 113km race from start to finish, not once faltering in his quest for a race title he’s claimed twice before. The event, which included over 3,200m of vertical ascent, doubled as Round 6 of the 2011/2012 UCI Marathon World Series, attracting riders from France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Canada.
The weather conditions were typical of a South African summer’s day, misty and cool at the start and becoming very hot and slightly humid. The course climbed up to over 1800 metres above sea level, which also made altitude a factor for those unaccustomed to it.
Evans clocked a winning time of 05 hours 08 minutes and 42 seconds, over six minutes ahead of Sabie resident, Max Knox, whose efforts were hampered by a front tyre puncture. Evans’ Nedbank 360Life teammate, David George, finished third, just five seconds ahead of the first non-South African, Germany’s Karl Platt (Team Bulls). Another local resident, Nico Bell (Westvaal Columbia), rounded out the first five.
“It was a good, hard race today. My first ever cycling coach and good friend, Gary Stanley, suggested Dave and I start hard. We’re strong climbers and the race hits a big climb virtually straight away. He said the Europeans aren’t used to a quick start and not many South Africans would be able match us on the climb. It worked out perfectly!” smiled Evans.
Evans was beaten in a sprint by compatriot Burry Stander at Round 2 of the National Series in Tulbagh last weekend and it was evident that he didn’t want a similarly tight finish in Sabie. He and George set a high pace within 20 minutes of the start as the leaders reached the first climb, a 15km ascent starting with the steep Mamba Switchbacks for 3.5km.
“Dave and I rode hard and only Max (Knox) and Phillip (Buys) stayed with us. When the climb got steeper it favoured me and only Max was able to stay with me. I chose to race a Scott Scale today, a hardtail bike as opposed to the Scott Spark dual suspension bike I normally race with. With all that climbing, it was the right decision.”
Evans led the race over the summit of the first climb to claim the King of the Mountains prize, some 20 seconds ahead of Knox, who was wearing the Polka Dot jersey of Series KOM points leader.
“Once over the ‘King’, Max caught me and we rode steady until we heard the time gaps. They were quite big so we decided to push on together,” recalled Evans.
Series leader after the first two rounds, Jacques Rossouw (FedGroup ITEC- Connect) had missed the start and began four minutes late. His gutsy chase saw him catch the main group behind George and Buys, but then a broken derailleur ended his hopes of contesting the remainder of the event. Buys crashed out and then Platt pulled clear of the chase pack on his own, setting the scene for the final 40km of the race.
“Max had problems with a front tyre puncture and he had to stop twice to try and repair it. Each time he had to chase to get back to me. With 1000m of climbing in the last 40km, I began to feel the effects of starting fast and at one stage, but I was determined to win. I got away from Max on a descent and when he caught me on a flat section I saw his front tyre was very flat. I think he just decided to nurse it home after that.
“Winning this race was a big goal for me and I achieved that goal. It feels really good! It was a fairly stressful week for me and I just tried to channel that stress into winning this race. It’s also the start of my in-form period, which I plan to maintain for the next few weeks until the Cape Epic. That is the biggest goal for Dave and I.”
Evans and George aim to become the first South African team to win the Cape Epic, the world’s most prestigious mountain bike stage race, which takes place in South Africa’s Western Cape province from 25 March until 1 April.
In the women’s 75km Marathon on Saturday, Ariane Kleinhans (Contego) secured her third straight win to strengthen her Series lead. Theresa Ralph (Britehouse – Biogen) finished second with Yolande Speedy of (Epic Sports USN) in third.
Men’s MTN Sabie Ultra-marathon, 113km:
1 Kevin Evans – RSA (Nedbank 360Life) 05hr08min42se
2 Max Knox –RSA 05:14:38
3 David George – RSA (Nedbank 360Life) 05:17:49
4 Karl Platt – GER (Team Bulls) 05:17:54
5 Nico Bell – RSA (Westvaal Columbia) 05:22:19
6 Charles Keey – RSA (Blend Properties) 05:26:52
7 Gawie Combrinck – RSA (Westvaal Columbia) 05:28:58
8 Ben Melt Swanepoel – RSA 05:29:44
9 Thomas Dietsch – FRA (Team Bulls) 05:31:57
10 Ruan du Toit – RSA (Blend Properties) 05:34:36
Women’s MTN Sabie Marathon, 75km:
1 Ariane Kleinhans – SUI (Contego) 03:56:14
2 Theresa Ralph – RSA (Britehouse – Biogen) 04:06:18
3 Yolande Speedy – RSA (Epic Sports – USN) 04:07:03
4 Ischen Stopforth – RSA (bizhub-FCF) 04:09:30
5 Candice Neethling – RSA (BMC-SA) 04:13:19