Photo by Karen Schermbruker: Kevin Evans
Stage 1, Tableview to Wellington, 80km
The Columbia Grape Escape is a new race on the calendar, and put on by the Cycle Tour organizers. Its inception attracted some of the worlds best mountain bikers and with the likes of Meurant Botha in charge of the route, it looks set to become a firm favorite in the future.
Day 1 began with a late 9am start, and literally right on the beach in Tableview, with a full view of the ocean and city, was a very beautiful starting point.
The first 8km was great, neutral and controlled, but once the flag dropped and we swung off road, it was on the gas, through soft sand, multiple sandy sections, and the one thing everyone will remember, thorns! By the time the race had split up the first climb into the Cotermanskloof section, riders were battling with punctures, or tires running out of sealant. Dave had to stop to inflate his back tire, and I had to stop and inflate both my tires, worried that I would run out of gas in my pump! This would effectively end the dash for the overall title, for a lot of top contenders, unless we encountered similar terrain on the next couple days.
After 60km, there was only Karl Platt, team mate Dave and myself left at the front of the race. We worked well together, but mostly we rode fast to get to the finish quickly before our tires went flat, and also the temperature was hitting the early forties!
The final 3km wound us through some tight singletrack, and as we exited this section, with a kilometer to the line, Dave got a stick jammed in his rear wheel, forcing him to stop and take it out. This left Karl and myself out front, with an uphill sprint for the line. It was a great finish for the spectators, and I was desperately close to my first win for the season! I had to settle for second, same time as Karl, Dave 7seconds in third, but pleasantly surprised with my form.
Results Stage 1:
1st Karl Platt (Bulls)
2nd Kevin Evans (Team360life)
3rd Dave George (Team 360life)
Stage 2, Wellington to Boschendal, 72km
The second stage began a bit earlier, and I think after the heat on day 1, all the riders were happy about this. Again the weather was perfect, and temperature rising fast, as was the course for the day! After the first 25km of rolling farm road and jeep tracks, the route headed for the mountains, and climbed up the front side of Du Toitskloof Pass. The bunch split up this climb, with five of us left by the time we reached the top. Then the incredible trails back down the mountain that Meurant found were breathtaking and made for some seriously scary fast descends! Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser were both keen to make the racing fast today, after bad luck yesterday, Burry setting a really fast tempo through the winding route around the back of Paarl.
Dave was looking great, following the wheels easily, especially on the technical descends whilst I had two sections of bad luck, having to stop and put my chain on, and getting stuck behind back markers on the short route. Nonetheless I had good legs from the Tour of SA, and was able to dig deep and bridge the gaps to get back on to the small group.
It got quite tricky through the final 3kilometers with the fun riders finishing their race, and us heading towards the end of our stage at lightning speed, not knowing how the finish line was planned. All of a sudden we were bombing into the final corner, and Burry and Karl had got the best line through it, but very nearly headed into the wrong finish straight! I though perhaps I had a little luck finally, but they were quick to correct their lines, and I had to settle for third place on the day, again all of us on the same time. Dave was fifth, having given me the gap to follow Karl, and Sauser in 4th.
Results Stage 2:
1st Karl Platt (Bulls)
2nd Burry Stander (Specialized)
3rd Kevin Evans (Team 360life)
Stage 3, Boschendal to Boschendal, 67km
Most riders I’m sure were more than happy to welcome an overcast and cooler final day of the Columbia Grape Escape. Boschendal was the venue for the final stage, and the route followed the familiar Cape Argus Mountain Bike route, except with an extra 13km added on for good measure. The Argus Mountain Bike Challenge still took place on the day, but had a separate start to the riders doing the full three day event. With every thing to race for, we knew it was going to be a short but tough stage, and we were ready to give it a bash.
Burry Stander set the early tempo, but soon had a mechanical and was forced to stop. Thereafter, on the first climb of the day, I went to the front and set a hard tempo to try and thin the group out. Near the top, Dave took over from me, and once over the top, only three of us were left. Karl Platt, Dave and myself, all separated by only 7seconds.
The next climb, Dave rode a really incredible tempo, and I was on Karl’s wheel, when he started to ‘drift’ backwards off Dave. In the whole three days, this was the first sign that I saw that he was maybe taking a little strain. I was content to watch Dave ride away, and it forced Karl to have to chase him for the next 10km. At this point, I had my own little crisis as my front brake had faded to nothing, meaning I would have try keep up with Karl on the descends with no front brake! I managed okay, but had a few close calls. Soon we were all back together plus one more, Marc Bass of Team Garmin had caught us and latched on. But the group didn’t stay together for long, as we hit the next big climb. Again Dave rode a relentless tempo, and I was watching Karl take strain. I waited for Dave to get a fair gap, and then jumped across, leaving Karl behind. Once Dave and I were together, it was simply a matter of keeping a high tempo, staying focused and making sure we worked well together to maintain our advantage.
One of our strengths as a team is how similar we are in physical attributes, and it was great to feel some form coming back, as we consolidated our lead all the way to the finish.
Dave crossed the line ahead of me, but it gave me the overall title of the Columbia Grape Escape and at last, my return to the top step of the podium. Very humble and very grateful for this win, and of course, the support from Team 360life though my difficult and testing times!
Results Stage 3:
1st Dave George (Team360life)
2nd Kevin Evans (team 360life)
3rd Karl Platt (Team Bulls)
Next race, the “fun riders world championships!” Cape Argus Cycle Tour, but looks to be a fun weekend with Nedbank!
Till then, cheers.
Provisional Overall results:
1st Kevin Evans (Team 360life)
2nd David George (Team 360life)
3rd Karl Platt (Team Bulls)