Kevin Evans, Zoon Cronje
Sani2c has quickly established itself as one of South Africa’s premier mountain bike stage races, and this would be my fourth time participating in the event. I’ve had a fairly good track record with the race thus far, three starts and three wins, all with different partners, and this year would be no exception as I would be privileged to be racing with Austrian National Champion Alban Lakata (Topeak Ergon racing) as preparation for the upcoming Cape-Epic. He flew out only three days before the race, and we headed off with a full MTN/Energade team, with no expectations for myself and Alban other than good racing and prep.
Stage 1, 95km Underberg to Mackenzie
Once again at the Sani2c, the weather was not playing along, and torrential rains the day before the race, plus the thousand or so Adventure riders that would churn the trails up in front, would make for some really hectic conditions. And it would only get worse as the weather was not about to clear any time soon.
The race played out fairly as I had predicted, although in the conditions it would be important to look after yourself and equipment. As usual the race split up after the first singletrack, and then onto the climb. I saw some of the other teams taking strain here and decided to make the climb hard. Provided Alban could follow the wheel, I would continue, and he had no problems. At the top it was only team DCM and ourselves left. We worked well together as we gradually increased our lead over the other teams. Although we tested each other, it looked like it would come down to a sprint finish again. Alban was too strong for the DCM duo as we powered away to win the stage just ahead of Max Knox and Brandon Stewart. Third on the stage went to Specialized/Mr Price’s Burry Stander and Ben-Melt Swanepoel, about 8minutes behind us.
Stage 2, 97km Mackenzie to Jolliviet
Conditions only got worse on the second day as farmer Glen and his team were forced to have to re-route the course, unfortunately missing out on the 30km descend into the Umkimaas Valley via Nics Pass, normally the highlight of the race. The change took us straight down the district roads into the valley, the same as my first time in 2006. However this was just as dangerous as poor visibility and an incredible amount of mud made the going really scary! The race rejoined the normal race route as we went down the valley into the “mamba downhill”, and headed towards the halfway compulsory stop at the top of “lamb legs”. It was up this climb that I’d won the race in previous years, and this was our plan again. Alban set a hard tempo, and I waited till he had opened a gap to ride across to him. All of this just more on pure instinct, and from there to the top we managed to make 1min25 on our DCM rivals. As discussed we knew from there in the last 35km we could work harder together than the other teams could, and this was clearly evident as we crossed the finish line a good 5min30 ahead of DCM, Specialized/Mr Price taking third again on the day. Despite a “shower” and bike wash halfway, we were still caked in mud at the finish and the backup team would have their work cut out for them as the conditions took its toll on everything!
Stage 3, 78km Joliviet to Scottborough
With a good lead going into the last stage, we had no pressure other than to follow the wheels and make sure we stayed out of trouble. The goal was actually to try and set up a win for our second team, Paul Cordes and Adrien Niyonshuti who had moved up to fourth overall after some really bad fortune the first two days. But as I thought, DCM were going to take no prisoners today, and set a tempo that was too hard for all except Alban and myself to follow. We had no need to work with them, as we just sat on whilst they kept the tempo hard. A couple of kilometers to go, they had begun to slow down, and we could see our second team coming with Specialized/Mr Price. As we began the final climb to the finish line, we looked back and guessed they were about a minute behind us. We decided to wait, knowing that at the worse, they would get a podium place on the final stage. Adrien and Paul dug really deep, and Paul just managed to ride Melt off before entering the finishing straight, placing them second on the stage behind DCM. Specialized took third again, as we just consolidated our overall victory.
It was a fantastic experience to team up with Alban, someone who has achieved so much in the sport yet remains so humble and approachable.
After this I’m more motivated and excited about the Epic as his form is really good, and will get better in the next two weeks. I’ll need to get faster somehow before then!
Thanks again to our staff and management for the fantastic support, good enough for a potential world champion!
Next race, Giro Del Capo to assist our road team, and then it’s one week to the big one, The Cape-Epic! Till then, cheers.
1st Kevin Evans/ Alban Lakata (MTN/Energade)
2nd Max Knox/Brandon Stewart (DCM)
3rd Burry Stander/Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized/Mr Price)