Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rift Valley Odyssey, Kenya

                                                                                Kevin Evans

Rift Valley Odyssey, Brakenhurst-Lake Nakuru, Kenya

It was a year ago I was invited to this event, a race but not a race, an event where self navigated GPS routes first took off, an event where times are not taken, nor important, an event where the trails are sublime, an event which is small and intimate, where the focus is on the mountain biking, in its purest form, in the heart of Africa, in the middle of the Mighty Rift Valley.

Eric Nesbitt, the mastermind behind this event and the ‘Mini DrEvil’ of Kenya, had especially positioned his event this year so as not to clash with my fathers own DrEvil Classic, so that teammate, Max Knox, and myself could participate. It would be my first experience to Kenya, Max had ridden the previous year, but without doubt, not my last, but only the beginning for some of the true ‘mountain bikers’ I know back home.

I had no idea of what to expect, apart from what Max had told me about the beautiful and bio diverse landscape that Kenya has to offer, and the minor details that Max had neglected to tell me, the severe altitude and heart thumping 400 odd kilometers between 2200m-2750m that lay ahead of us, from Brakenhurst to Lake Naivasha, and then on towards Lake Nukuru National Park.

The riding, which in essence, is what we were here for, was incredible, ranking right up there with the best trails I’ve ridden around the world. The organization for this small, but intermit event was also world class, and the hospitality of the local Kenyans was mind blowing. If I ever travel abroad, it will be African countries from here on for sure.

Highlights of the tour? Too many to name off the top of my head. 
But I will try: Heaven is a rarified place on earth, where the air is thin, but the rewards are thick.
The descent for the first time into the mighty Rift Valley, the many climbs around the valley, into lush indigenous forests, raw volcanic rock barren landscapes that apparently, Lara Craft once roamed.  

How about the last day when riding through proper big five reserves of Lake Nakuru, seeing rhino, buffalo and lion, or simply being able to ride with the SafariSimbaz, a group of boys, raised and guided by David Kinja, a close friend and mentor to Chris Froome. David took us on a personal tour of his Simbaz and how the boys live, and where they grow up, a most humbling experience for any developing cyclist or athlete.

The RVO has quickly taken over a special place in my heart, close to the route of my soul, Africa and mountain biking in essence, and I will be the first rider to put my hand up to return next year to build on the fond memories that this diverse country has left me with.
The Pride of Africa.

Till then,

Kevin Evans

Monday, June 16, 2014

MTN Ultra Marathon, Van Gaalens #6

MTN Ultra Marathon #6, Van Gaalens

The sixth leg of the Ultra marathon series took us to the well known cheese farm of Van Gaalens in Magaliesburg. If anything, the start of the race would be remembered as one of the coldest yet, a chilly minus 5 as Max and I warmed up behind the Team Fedgroup-Itec KIA Sorrento on the way to the start. (or possibly a warm down!)
The cold start was short lived as the racing began, and I was pleased to know that we were following most of the trails we rode in the Route66 MTB race earlier in the year. So I knew what to expect, well at least kind of for the first 30km. The group split up very early on with the usual contenders at the front. I put the pressure on the group up the second big climb of the day to take the King of the Mountain, and was surprised that I had managed to ride a small gap into the chasing group.
Knowing better though at what still lay ahead, I took it easy and stayed with the group. We then had a very rocky (understatement) of a descend to the first tech zone. I was not comfortable on this section at all, and I will be the first to admit that I was not going to take any risks with World Champs only two weeks away. 

The first half of the route was really technical, perhaps one of the more technical in the series, with plenty of physically demanding trails, making it tough on the body.
The second half of the race included some rolling gravel roads, and then various short steep climbs with technical trails up and down, and I knew the final 30km would always be tough. At 65km, Max decided to split the large group that had reformed, and it left only Lourens Luus, Darren Lill, Max Knox and myself. I could feel that my legs had not fully recovered from SA champs the week before, and normally where we would have had the upper hand in terms of tactics and numbers, Max and I were actually in a slightly stalemate position as we had to make the racing and set the pace to keep the other riders from re-joining.
I only needed a good result to move up the series rankings and with Nico Bell missing from the front group, we found ourselves racing maybe more for the series than the race win.

I lost touch with Lourens and Darren on the final descend when I had a slight off in a corner, and could not chase back to the two, who sprinted for the finish, with Lourens taking his second MTN Ultra win for the season.
Darren was second and myself third.

The series however starts to get a little interesting now. You see the best five races of the eight race series count towards the overall points and the eventual winner. So although Bell is leading, he has done all six races so far, thus giving him the lead. The rest of us have only done four races, with two races remaining. As I've won the series 6 times, I know better than most how the points work, and if I go on average points after three races, its interesting to see Lourens Luus would have overall lead, followed by myself, Bell and Lill. So in theory the series is hotting  up and still wide open, but of course it leaves no margin for error in the remaining two events.

Provisional results:
1st Lourens Luus (RECM) 4hrs49
2nd Darren Lill (Cannondale/Blend) 4hrs49
3rd Kevin Evans (FedGroup-Itec) 4hrs50

Looking forward to another tough but well organised event from the Advendurance crew next week I Hilton.
Till then,

South African Marathon Championships


A star studded field lined up at Cascades, Pietermaritzburg for the 95km marathon boasting a vertical ascent of 3500m! With only three weeks left before the UCI World Marathon Championships will take place on the same course, South Africa’s finest bikers were there to test their mettle and fight for the most prestigious national title. Over the last 11 years only five athletes have won the title, namely JP Pearton, Kevin Evans, Burry Stander, James Reid and Max Knox.
Max takes us through the race....
The race started steadily with a big group forming at the front. The course was mixture of punchy climbs and short technical descents. Kevin and I settled comfortably into the lead group. After a good build up in the past few months we were pretty confident one of us would be able to pull off the win. Kevin was coming into some really great shape, but sadly for him he was having some technical issues with his seat post that kept putting him on the back foot having to chase back a couple of minutes to the lead group each time he stopped to sort out the problem .
Approximately 40 km into the race Lourens Luus, one of the contenders for the title had a huge crash putting him out of the race. A small group then formed consisting of James Reid, Brendan Davids, Rourke Croeser, Kevin Evans and myself. Brendon kept the tempo steady to avoid chasing riders from Cannondale, EAI, Scott or RECM catching our group. With the course being so tough the time gaps where pretty big and after doing a really good job up front Brendan eventually dropped off the lead group. It was then just before the 70km mark that Rourke and James decided to turn on the gas. Kevin was able to stay with them for a while but I just didn’t have it in my legs to go at that speed. The two of them [Reid & Croeser] really showed great strength and maturity beyond their years and were super strong on the day.
The second loop of 23km was a case of survival for me, with about 5km to go I took the incorrect route where there course split. Unhappy to say the least, when I turned around to back track and find my way I noticed a totally disinterested marshal sleeping in the bush ! No excuses, it is the riders responsibility, so as disappointed as I was I rejoined the race in 6th place.

Back at the front of the race Reid had ridden off Croeser and at 83km had a 20sec lead followed by Kevin who was fighting hard to pull back some time on 1st & 2nd. In the end the SA title was not ours to take home this time as Reid crossed the line a few minutes ahead of Croeser with Kevin finishing in a solid third place.

Finishing 6th I was not terribly happy with my performance but in hindsight i shouldn’t have been disappointed. Having had a super busy schedule with The Epic, JHB2C and SANI2C the fatigue was bound to play a role so ultimately I was pretty chuffed.
Lessons learned and experience gained we continue our build up to the UCI World Marathon Champs later this month. With the SA MTN Marathons at Van Gaalen’s and Hilton in between let’s hope our preparation holds us in good stead for the big one.
We will keep you posted.

MTN Ultra Marathon #5, Rooiberg

A classy field of South Africa’s top pro’s filled the start pen ready to give the race a crack. As it’s really close to SA and World Marathon Champs, now is the time to start shinning.
Kevin and I had laid out a race strategy which we thought would work best for us.  I would make the racing hard at the beginning to isolate some of the other riders from their team mates and hopefully we could get away. The other option was if I got away, Kevin would marshal the chase bunch and ride across to me at the end. So the plan was in place.

All seemed in order and after 10km Darren Lill and I got away. I knew the chase bunch behind consisted of Kevin, Gawie Combrinck, Hanco Kakkelhoffer, and Waylon Woodcock (who would sit on as his team mate Lill was up the road with me) as well as Nico Bell and Lourens Luus.
The only team put under pressure was RECM, now paying the price for not having a rider able to go with Darren and I early on.  Knowing both riders and their competitive spirits I was budgeting that neither of them [Bell or Luus] would be prepared to work together, with one having to sacrifice his own chances for the win by trying to close the gap for the other. Sometimes in a team you have to make scarifies, work together and rejoice in a team mates success putting personal ambitions aside for the good of the team.  Sadly with the team captain out due to injury and not much cohesion between these two teammates the situation worked in favour of Darren and I.  

By the 60km mark Darren and I had built up a solid lead fortunately as some days you need to be humbled and today was one of those for me. Having not executed the correct nutrition strategy in the heat of tactical racing I hit the wall completely, with a spectacular mushroom cloud. To be honest there were stages where I thought it would be easier to just get off and push my bike!
 Now racing in survival mode, I don’t even know how I dragged myself through the next 50km.
 Somehow I managed, obviously moving faster than it felt I rolled over the line in 2nd position. An excellent win for Darren hard earned with aggressive racing from the gun. Exactly what we need in SA to lift our level of competition. 

A mere 30 seconds later Kevin came charging in in third position and man did he look strong. After he had taken care of the chasing bunch and he’d set his sights on the Iead. In my opinion Kev was the strongest rider on the day. His race was very cat and mouse, with me up the road he needed a very hard section to get rid of the chasers and cross over to the leaders [which he came very close to doing]. Finishing as strongly as he did it’s a really great sign for the upcoming events. We where chuffed with our two podiums spots and really are starting to gel as a team.

As always thanks to FedGroup Financial Services, Itec Group, Kia Motors SA, Crusader Logistics and Kathea Communications for keeping the dream alive along with Trek, USN, Quickrock and Shimano for providing us with top notch equipment and nutrition.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nedbank Sani2c

Nedbank Sani2c, Underberg-Scottborough

Hard to believe that this year would already be the tenth running of what has become the biggest stage race in the country. Its not easy to get an entry into this event and I would be fortunate to be racing my 8th one.

Over the years I’ve seen many different tactics play out in the race, but riding with Max, and knowing that our build up over the last month has been progressive, I sensed we had a slight advantage over the rest of the teams. We used this that to really take the racing to the teams form the start, as we set a hard tempo on the first stage, where only team RECM were able to ride across to us, where we would have a sprint finish up the hill to Mackensie Club and take the first stage with a handful of seconds.

Stage two is the ‘holy grail’ of mountain biking in this country, with 30km of technical descending down into the mighty Umkomaas valley. With the Adventure and Trail race starting two days before us, and about three thousand wheels riding the trails in, it would be a super fast downhill. Our plan for the day was to get through the first half safe, trouble free, and then race the next half out the valley as the climbing would suit us.
Unfortuntaley I had a bad crash at the bottom of the Umko when Andrew Hill washed out on one of the wooden bridges, leaving me with nowhere to go except over him and over my bars. I landed hard on my shoulder and thankfully the reinforced plate kept me in one piece. 
We continued to follow our plan, and we powered out the valley getting the gap we needed. We soon caught and passed the two cross country teams who were out front, but with 10km to go, team RECM had pulled back our gap to 20seconds.
Max and I pushed on, and in the last 3km, Erik Kleinhans had a bad crash, which ended their race.

With only the final stage to the beach, all we had to do was follow the GC contenders and get to the finish safe with no hassles. I had been in this situation before, and a costly mistake cost us the win. This time, we stuck to the plan, and rode safely onto the beach, super happy to take our first stage win together, racking up my sixth win in the event, and Max’s third. The Treks were perfect; in fact, Trek bikes won every stage of the elite race. As usual USN kept us fueled, and our KIA’s got our staff around and to the water points with no hassles.

It was a bittersweet end to the race for our fantastic sponsors, FedGroup-ITEC, as Neil Macdonald announced his retirement from professional racing after 15years. Bridgette had the privilege of riding along side him in his last race.

Thanks again to our sponsors who continue to support us and give us all the opportunities to perform to the best of our abilities. 

Next race, race, Max and I head off to continue the MTN Ultra series in Rooiberg. Hopefully some time at altitude will lessen the suffering, somewhat.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Provisional results:
1st FedGroup-ITEC (Evans/Knox) 8hrs57
2nd EAI Cycling (Rabie/Combrinck) 9hrs01

3rd Kargo (Croeser/Walker) 9hrs05

Old Mutual Joberg2C

Old Mutual Joberg2C, Heidelberg-Scottborough, 900km, 9Days

The Old Mutual Joberg2C is a nine day race from Heidelberg, just outside of Johannesburg, going through the Freestate towns of Frankfourt, Reitz, Sterfontein Dam, then down through the ‘Berg’ to Winterton, Kamberg, Underberg and finally through the last three well known days of the Sani2C route finishing on the beach in Scottborough. 
The biggest change and challenge to this years race, would the first time it became a ‘self navigated’ GPS race where the riders were responsible for finding their own way through the entire route via GPS maps downloaded from the race. This would change the race tactics a fair bit in the front of the race, whether or not it’s the format of racing in the future, we will have to wait and see.

Unfortunately for Max and myself, we had a very up and down race, with not much going our way. The second day of the race I got ‘The Bug’ that would take out a vast number of riders during the event. This bug left me depleted for the third day of racing, and we would loose a fair bit of time, but fortunately I could recover enough to continue.
After two good days, making back some time, it would be Max’s turn to have ‘The Bug’. The sixth day was probably one of the hardest days of the race, and Max had to experience what I felt on the third day. We lost a huge amount of time, and when we crossed the finish line and went to the race doctor, we had actually decided to pull out the race. We spent the day and night at Max’s uncle in Underberg and again we were fortunate enough to recover and find our sense of humor, and come back the following day and resume racing. Another good day saw us reclaim our third place on the overall podium.
And just when we thought our bad luck was over, the penultimate stage down the Umkomaas Valley, we broke our chain, twice. The second time though, I had lost my chaintool and we were absolutely stranded, again close to being completely out of the race, until the beginning of the B batch riders came along and we were able to repair it and fight our way back to sixth place for the stage.

With one stage left, we put everything on the line to try and win one stage, and for once in the nine days, things went our way and according to plan, and we managed a fantastic stage win on the beach in front of a large crowd awaiting the finish of the race.
We finished third overall, and the race for first and second was fiercely contested between Team EAI Cycling and Cannondale/Blend, with the overall lead exchanging three times in the final three days. It was EAI Cycling who took the win on the final day for what must have been one of the closest finishes in the history of the race. 
Bridgette managed to fly the solo women’s flag and finish second overall, but also winning the final stage.
Our backup team, Scott and Grant Field, also rode a great race bringing home the middle of the pack riders☺

Many thanks to Sue and Brandon for helping us through the many ups and downs, and keeping us all in one piece.

Next race, race, we go straight back to Underberg to race Sani2C with the trails still freshly engraved in our minds from the past weekend.  Max and I will team up again and we are starting to gel well together, so im really looking forward to this race.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Provisional results:
1st EAI Cycling (Rabie/Combrinck) 33hrs36
2nd Cannondale/Blend (Woolcock/Lill) 33hrs39

3rd FedGroup-ITEC (Knox/Evans) 34hrs35

Spar Hessequa MTB Challenge

Kevin Evans

Hessequa MTB Challenge, Riversdale, 88km, 1800m

This would be a new race for me, but with familiar hospitality from Dryland Events who have fast become one of the leading race organizers in the country. With Supersport TV coverage, helicopters, good prize money and organizers going out their way to accommodate professiona and amateur riders, it only made sense for me to go take part and represent FedGroup-ITEC in Riversdale. And the route, which would be the ‘pudding’, wouldn’t disappoint and featured some superb mountain bike trails, with a variety of jeep tracks, single tracks and gravel roads through the plantations of the Garcia Pass and surrounding Hessequa Farmlands.

The mass start saw all the various distances start together, including even the trail run. With Carel (AKA the Dutchie) as MC, the race began with a vibe, and after a short neutral zone, the race was on the go!
I mentally split the race in to two sections, the race to the King of the mountain, and then the final race to the line, reason being equal prize money for the King, and for first place overall.
After a few efforts, it was only Gert Heyns and myself left out front, and we would be boxing clever trying to save as much energy for the King, whilst still trying to test each other out.

The King was at the 70km mark, and the climb was not easy, nor was the pace that Gert set from the bottom, but both of us matched each others efforts, and it was only in the final 2km from the top that I managed to put in a big effort and get the gap I needed to take the King. From there we descended the fairly technical downhill off the mountain known as Cliffhanger, where I would have enough of a gap to ride conservatively and not take any chances. Unfortunately Gert had a slow puncture to deal with, but this afforded me the gap I needed to race to the finish without taking chances and bag the Hessequa win.

The Mayor of Riversdale, who gave us her commitment to grow the race to the best of their/her ability going forward, presented the fantastic prize money sponsored by the Spar. Together with Dryland events, I have no doubt this race will grow into one of the big classics on the calendar.

Next race, race, we go straight back to Underberg to race Sani2C with the trails still freshly engraved in our minds from the past weekend.  Max and I will team up again and we are starting to gel well together, so Im really looking forward to this race.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans


Provisional results:
1st Kevin Evans (FedGroup-ITEC) 3hrs33
2nd Gert Heyns (PYG Academy) 3hrs37
3rd Vickus Boshoff (Coimbra Cycles George)