Wednesday, June 29, 2011

World Marathon Championships

The 2011 Marathon World Championships was held this past weekend in the Montello region of Italy, in the small town of Montebulluno. The race would ‘piggy-back’ off the well-established and tough Gunn-Rita-Marathon. The beautiful course would wind its way around the vineyards and forests that surround Montello, and there would be no shortage of great tracks to race on. The route unlike last years course, had just over 30km of singletrack, which would make the race tactically quite interesting and tough. Along with the 17catagorized climbs ranging from 5km to only 200m, the course and the pace would be really hard.

The Italian national team, fielding a huge contingency of riders, took the racing from the start and forced the pace as we sped out of the narrow town streets and up into the forests. They were clearly on a mission with their advantage they had in numbers and with the first singletrack fast approaching; it was a sprint just to try getting in and holding your position.

Dave and I were well prepared for this, and we were racing through the first couple pieces of fast track always in the first 30riders. It was turning out to have a ‘road race’ like effect and if you were badly positioned, your day could be over early on. Then unfortunately for Dave, on a fast loose gravel corner coming out of the forest, his front wheel washed out and he took a nasty looking crash just in front of me. At first I didn’t think he had hurt himself and expected to see him rejoin us shortly.

John was meanwhile doing a fantastic job making sure he was at all the feed zones, and with the temperatures reaching mid thirties, the cold bottles were very necessary. I was starting to settle into the pattern of the race, just doing enough to stay with the front group of around 30-40riders. Unfortunately, at around 30km, a sharp rock cut my rear tire, and despite trying to repair it, the cut was too big. Looked like day was over for me as I walked a short distance up to the tarmac where I was going to try decide what to do. If I could make it to John at 40km, he had our spare wheels waiting. Just then Dave came around the corner, and immediately stopped and took out his rear wheel for me to continue. He assured me to carry on and as he had hurt his hip, and was happy to see me off and back into a small chase group. The problem on a fast course like this one, was that once you had lost maybe only 2minutes, you’d lost the momentum of the front group and from there on you were always going to be loosing time.

It took a fairly big effort to keep myself mentally together and push on through the tough course just to finish. But at the end of the day, despite my position and time difference, I was really happy that I was able to finish, and I was really grateful for a team mate like Dave who unselfishly gave me the opportunity to at least be able to complete the race. Although I must confess, the last 10km were so long that I was starting to regret him giving me his wheel!

At that level of racing, you only really have one chance, and perhaps if you have a mechanical problem close enough to a tech zone or with a teammate to assist you immediately, your race for the podium is over.

It was a disappointing end to a fantastic month of racing, and the support we had from Nedbank and Team360life was overwhelming. We definitely learnt a few things along the way, all of which will only help us in going forward and pushing ourselves to achieve the goals we dream of in the future. Thanks again to our sponsors, of course our families, and everyone for all your support, its much appreciated.

Provisional Results:

1st Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) 4hrs25min

2nd Jaraslov Khulavy (Czech Republic)

3rd Mirko Celestino (Italy)

38th Kevin Evans (RSA)

45th Mannie Heyman (Namibia)

69th Erik Kleinhans (RSA)

Next race, my personal favorite and home town special, the Knysna Oyster Festival. Can I try not finish 2nd for a seventh time?

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Black Forest Ultra Marathon

The fire place Mac App came in handy....
The good weather...
The bad weather...

Photo by John Hooper: Kevin Evans

Black Forest Marathon, Germany, 116km, 3150m

The next race on our schedule in Europe took us to The Black Forest and the small village of Kirchzarten which hosts one of the classic marathons in Germany. We arrived nearly a week before the race which gave us good time to train and enjoy the good weather. The training would be important for our last hard week ahead of the World Championships the following week.

The good weather decided to turn on the weekend and by Sunday morning, it was not looking great. Although in the town itself where we started, it was not too bad, unfortunately, little did we know, that at the top of the mountains, snow, hail and cold rain awaited us.

There was a good contingent of top riders lined up at the start, and it looked set to be a fast day. The first climb basically saw us climb nearly 1000m in the first pull, and Dave was looking in rampant form as he took the race to the guys and set a blistering tempo. I was feeling better again, and managed to go over the top of the first climb after 15km in the small group of around 8riders that were left, including the race favorites.

We then descended into one of the many small villages on the route, and that’s when the cold rain pulled in. We had our short sleeve rain jackets with us, which by this stage we had already put on after the first climb. The next climb took us into the clouds and mist, and I had to take a double look when one of the riders pointed out the snow on the side of the road. This was about the same time that I looked at my poor little fingers in my thinnest gloves and started wondering if things would get better or worse. The legs and lungs were working fine and I was hoping that conditions would improve. By this stage, the group was down to six, as Thomas Dietch had already decided to stop earlier. The next climb we hit at around about 50km, the rain came pouring down, mixed with hail for some good measure, and Karl Platt, myself and Dave started drifting off the back of the front 4 riders.

This was the stage when the bodies starting going into crisis mode, my hands and feet were completely numb. I could not even feel the handlebar in my hands, making the descends dangerous. Shifting was also becoming a problem as you could not press the shift lever hard enough to shift a gear, resorting to using the palm of your hand.

All three of us had said we were going to have to abandon the race, biggest problem being that our support crew would only see us again at around the 75km mark, leaving the better part of around 20km to have to complete.

By the time we rolled into the small village where the support was, we were both just shivering wrecks. Its truly the coldest I have been and was completely into hypothermia stages, I actually began to become concerned in those last 10km that I might just shut down completely, climb off my bike and find a tree to sleep under, let alone even make it to the vehicle.

So bad we were, that John was just about to plug the nearest hospital into the Garmin! It took the best part of around an hour and half to stop shivering and trembling uncontrollably. John had to remove my gloves and I could do nothing but sit in the car, wrapped up in his jackets as he sped us towards our hotel and hot showers and tea. Even then, as the blood started flowing back to my fingers and feet, the pain was far from over. All I can say is that it was another humbling experience.

On the other hand, Mannie Heymans managed a great ride to come 7th, and Erik Kleinhans also persisted through the cold weather to finish the race. For us however, even if we had wanted to continue on and try finish, it was not possible. If we hadn’t caused any permanent damage to our bodies by that stage, we had no choice but to be cautious as Worlds was in a weeks time and much more important.

On a more upbeat note, it was also really great to have our Sinamatella camera man, Dale ‘The Hunt’ with us, to document our ordeal we went through, and ultimately to document our build up to Worlds. He’s already been with us through some highs and lows, but definitely fun to have him around.

We are now in Treviso, Italy, and managed to ride the first half of the Worlds route today, and should the course stay dry, and the weather nice and hot, all is set for a great Championship fight.

Provisional Results:

1st Thomas Stoll (Bixs) 4hrs35

2nd Mike Felderer (Full Dynamix)

3rd Mathias Bettinger (Centurion/Vaude)

Next race, World Marathon Championships, Sunday, 10:00am.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Monday, June 13, 2011

Willingen Bike Festival

Willingen Bike Festival Marathon, 122km, 3555m

The small town of Willingen is where Team360life headed for next on our European campaign. I’d say the festival is comparable in size to that of the Knysna Oyster Festival, attracting similar numbers, held over 4days, with bike expo’s, demos and then the full weekend of racing including every thing from marathons to four cross.

The marathon held on Sunday, includes three distances, a 55km, 95km and the big one, 122km.The frustrating part of the race is that everyone starts together, and you can literally decide which race you doing as you are riding. In other words, if you having a bad day, you can always just pull off and do the shorter distance, and possibly still podium!

I was feeling much more comfortable from the start of the race, always riding in the front group of around 10riders, including Dave. Team Vaude had the most numbers, around 5riders, and with Markus Kaufman fresh off his third place at Trans Germany, we thought he’d be the rider to watch.

After 25km I had my first problem, a slow puncture in the rear tire. So I had to stop and bomb the tire, and hope it held till the 55km mark where I had spare wheels. I then chased to catch the group, which I did, but as I caught up, the action had started. Two Vaude riders had attacked, and Dave was in pursuit. As far as our team tactics was concerned, this would be fine as Dave was up the road, and I would be following Markus. What we didn’t know though, was as soon as we got to the feed zone after 55km, the two Vaude riders turned off to complete the short route, leaving Dave out on his own for the rest of the race! This would take a massive effort from him on the demanding course.

I had to stop in the tech zone, at first I thought to change the wheel, but as it was only a slow puncture, I opted for another bomb, and continued to just keep inflating it. Not the best solution as I had to catch the group again.

Through the second loop, Dave continued to open his time gap on us, riding a great race. The group I was in was now down to 6riders, and once we went through the tech zone for the second time, after 90km, three more riders pulled out to complete the middle distance. The last loop of about 30km was tough and included a few climbs adding up to around 1000m of climbing. I was feeling good and decided to ‘test’ the legs. I rode the first two climbs at a very hard pace, we managed to drop the one rider but Markus was still with me. The kilometers were ticking by and I was already starting to think of a possible ‘sprint’ finish with him. Then I hit the wall. Literally at 112km, with only 10km left, my day was over. In the space of around 2km, I started to fatigue really badly. I was not too concerned as far as the race went, as I knew Dave had the race in the bag, but I was concerned just to get myself to the finish in one piece. The rider, which we had left behind on the earlier climbs, caught me in the final 2km, and I had no energy to even try and follow him! Thankfully the last 2km were downhill!

Dave had ridden a fantastic race to claim the Willingen title, and in a dominant performance. I was happy with my shape and progression that I’ve made, especially over this distance and at the speed the guys race here. I must also mention that Mannie Heymans, a previous winner of this race managed a 7th overall and as always kept us entertained whilst we waited for the prize ceremony.

Everything looks on track for a great Worlds in two weeks!

Provisional Results: Elite men

1st Dave George (360life) 4hrs55min

2nd Markus Kaufman (Vaude/Centurion)

3rd Kevin Evans (360life)

Next race, another German classic, The Black Forest Marathon. Also a ultra distance race, with probably a few more top names wanting to fine tune for the following weekend.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Trans Germany

Photo by John Hooper: Kevin Evans

Trans Germany, Day 1, Sonthofen-Pfronten, 68km, 2600m

On arrival in Sonthofen two days before the race, the weather was perfect for us, hot and sunny. But true to last years race, that very quickly changed, and by the time we started on Wednesday morning, it was cold and wet. With the race climbing high into the ‘foothils’ of the Alps, it was hard to predicate the conditions at the top of the mountains.

Dave and I started well, the big group had splintered up the first climb and Dave and I were in the lead group of six riders, including current World Marathon Champion Alban Lakata, Christoph Sauser, Markus Kaufman, one of his team mates and us. Dave was looking really comfortable, whilst I was battling with the cold weather to breathe properly and finding myself having to manage my efforts carefully.

The speed was very high and after about 30km, we had already built a led of over 3minutes to the chasing group. It was here that I had to drop off the pace being set by Alban and Suzi and settle into my own tempo. Unfortunately for me, the cold weather and fast start and sapped my energy levels and I quickly had to move into ‘damage control’ mode. This was made very hard as riders started catch and pass me on our way to the finish.

At this stage I thought I would just conserve as much as possible, as I could then help Dave in the next few days. Little did I know that Dave missed a turn in the final 10km, and went from 40seconds behind the leaders, to 17minutes behind by the time he found the route again. Frustrating for him, but on the plus side, an exceptional performance considering the travelling, weather and higher speed and competition here.

Day 2, Pfronton-Lermoos, 78km, 2400m

The weather wasn’t a whole lot better on the second day, and the muscles were sore from the previous days trauma. I decided I had to ride the climbs at my own tempo, and not go so deep that I risked completely destroying myself within the first couple of days.

The pace up the first few climbs was fast, Dave again looking good, always in the first group. I was riding my own tempo, riding in a small chase group around a minute behind for the first half of the race. By the time we hit the final climb for the day, we had caught most of the front bunch. Karl Platt was having a better day despite a crash early on, and him and his teammate Thomas Dietch were chasing Alban, Suzi and Markus. Alban and Suzi would race each other for the stage win, Dave and myself finishing with Hannes Genze and Tim Boehme in 7th and 8th place for the stage, just a few minutes off. A better day for myself, for Dave, just lacking the motivation to try and compete for an overall podium after the bad luck from the previous day.

Day 3, Lermoos-Garmisch 88km, 1900m

Finally we had sunshine at the start! With the rise in temperature, a rise in motivation too. However by this stage, the legs were fairly shattered after the 7000m we had already climbed in 3days. The stage started as usual with a mountain to get over, and I just could not hold onto the pace of the first group, and I settled into my own sensible pace.

By the time we hit the second big climb, the front group had splintered and the second group, now contained all the front riders except for Alban and Suzi who were again racing each other flat out for the overall title.

Dave and I landed up having a great ‘motor pacing’ session behind a couple of really fast riders as we sped through the kilometers heading to the mountain top finish.

Again our group splintered up the last climb, with Dave racing against Markus Kaufman and Tim Boemhe for the line at the top. Dave finished in fifth place after sprinting for a possible 3rd, and I managed 7th about thirty seconds behind him.

At last I felt like I was finding some speed in my legs and both of us were in great spirits at the end of the stage, feeling some form coming along.

Day 4, Garmisch-Achensee Maurach, 99km, 1700m

The hardest part of the last day, for a change, was the first 20km of which was completely flat, and controlled by a lead vehicle that drove way to slowly. This meant that every fun rider pushed and shoved their way to the front, and by the time we hit the narrow bike paths, it was complete carnage. We had to fight our way around about 200 bikers, and on narrow gravel bike paths, this would be extremely dangerous. Riders were crashing, mowing into obstacles, and just far to dangerous. Eventually we hit some hills which would be the end of their time near the front.

The race then went through a ‘neutralized’ section for 30km, and resumed with 40km remaining. The legs didn’t appreciate the break, as we hit the big climb with around 40km to go. Everyone was in the same boat, Dave was in the front split of 5riders, and as much as my mind wanted to be there, my legs could only go at there own speed. The second group of around 6 riders rolled through together really fast and we were only around 10seconds off the front group by the finish. Dave had a good sprint and a final dig for a podium finish, but was just beaten into 4th place for the stage.

I rolled into the finish, relieved to have made it in one piece, and with nearly four hundred quality racing kilometers in the legs.

It was a fantastic experience and the preparation will go along way in helping us towards a good World Championships in three weeks time.

Provisional Results:

1st Christoph Sauser (Specialized) 11hrs04min

2nd Alban Lakata (Topeak-Ergon Racing)

3rd Markus Kaufman (Centurion/Vaude)

10th Kevin Evans (360Life)

12th Dave George (360Life)

Next race, Willingen Bike Festival, Germany. And a monster of a race, 125km with 3700m of climbing!

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans