Kevin Evans, Pics Zoon Cronje
Sabie was the host of the 7th South African Marathon Championships, and a testing 110km in the mountains of the Lowveld would always provide a true marathon course and some very hard racing. It would also form the third leg of the MTN Marathon series, but with the coveted green and gold jersey up for grabs, and the title of SA Marathon champion, it was sure to be a hard fought race, with all the countries top riders taking the start line.
The course was really made for climbers, with 2600m of climbing in the 110km, preparation was key. I’d chosen to ride my Volcan Pro 1 completely tuned with DT Swiss Carbon wheels and bits, getting the weight down to as close to 8kg’s as possible for all the climbing. No sooner had we rolled out of the start, the course would tilt upwards and we’d find ourselves climbing for the first 12km, up to nearly 1900m. I was adamant before the race that I would like to set the pace from the start, and after about 2kminto the climb I took control, Burry Stander (Specialized) keen to also get stuck in and help. By the top of the first climb, the race was completely in pieces as Burry and myself crested the top first, with MTN/Energade team mate Adrien Niyonshuti in third place. Unfortunately for him a cut tire would his race in one of the technical singletrack sections. Max Knox (DCM) pushed hard to ride back to us, but had used up valuable energy in doing so, and near the end of “ugly words climb”, he was off and Burry and myself riding well together to increase our lead with each pedal stroke. The next section to the technical zone at 75km was quite hectic as we had to negotiate our way past loads of fun riders doing the shorter distances. We entered the feed zone with a healthy gap, but neither of us were going to slow down as we started the last 45km loop. There were two really big climbs in this loop, the last one at about 30km to go to the finish. It was up this climb that Burry was setting the tempo and shifted out his big chainring, and I saw a chance and took it. I knew I had nothing to loose as I didn’t want to take him to the line, and I powered a big gear up the climb, forming a small gap on him. Once I realized I had ridden him off my wheel, I gained some much needed motivation to put everything into this move. With around 25km to go, I tried to remain conservative yet consistent. In fact the most problems came from the fun riders again as riders back logged the singletrack sections and were not so friendly when asked to give way.
I think at least with the lead motorbike in front of me trying to clear the track, it made it a little easier than for Burry who was chasing on his own. I kept a steady tempo, knowing that Burry would not let his title slip easily, and only once I turned into the finish straight did I realize I had just won the South African Champions and my fourth Marathon Championship!
Burry held onto 2nd place with no problems, and David George (SAFindit.co.za) grabbed his first mountain bike nation medal to take third, after an early crash saw him break a cleat and have to fix that first before he could even begin the climb!
It was a fantastic feeling to retain my title especially on such a challenging course with the level of competition that was there.
However it was again far from a solo victory as there was so much hard work that went into the preparation of this race, lots of hours behind the scenes from mechanics, managers, coaches, soigneurs, sponsors, team riders and of course family! Everyone deserves a piece of this special jersey, so I’d like to say a big thank you!
Next race, unfortunately will be tomorrow at Carnival City, a road race and with three of our riders representing the National team in Malaysia, I’d need to help out there. Then it’s off to Sani2c with Alban for some Epic prep! Till then, cheers.
1st Kevin Evans (MTN/Energade) 4hrs32
2nd Burry Stander (Specialized)
3rd David George (SAfindit.co.za)