Photo by Yolande Pretorius: Kevin Evans
MTN Ultra Marathon, Gravel Travel, Diemersfontein, 105km, 2800m
The sixth leg of the National MTN Marathon series was held at the beautiful wine estate in Wellington, Diemersfontein. I only realized as we were driving into the venue that this was where the Epic started last year, and as Dave rightly pointed out, that particular day worked out well for me, and was hoping for some of the same luck today.
Conditions were perfect on the morning, fresh, but clear skies, and a full field of the countries top riders were there to tackle the course that lay ahead. In fact, I’d have to say that the course set out, was no short of ‘world standard’ and possibly one of the best courses we’ve raced the whole season. So congrats to all involved in setting out this well marked, fantastic route that tested riders on every level in all aspects of true mountain biking.
The race was somewhat different though in the way that the first 70km played out. It says a lot about the standard of racing in the country at the moment, as after 70km, we were still ten riders in the lead group! Up until this stage, the group had only briefly split on a few occasions, most notably on the climb early on up to the ‘king of the mountain’, and then through one or two of the awesome singletrack sections that came thick and fast.
It was only once we had gone through the final feed zone at around 70km, did the first big split come, started off by Neil Macdonald (RE:CM) and Brandon Stewart (Itec Connect). They got a gap heading through the feed and onto the biggest climb of the day. There was a small group of around 6 riders chasing, including other favourites, Adrien Niyonshuti, Max Knox, Jacques Rossouw, Jacques Janse Van Rensburg, Dave George and myself. First to jump the gap across to the leading two riders was Rossouw. I was riding at the back, and just taking note of the body language of the remaining riders. It soon became evident that the remaining riders were not looking to fresh, and I took a chance and decided to ride across the gap to the leaders. Neil had dropped off at this stage and I went past him and closed in on the front guys. Looking back, Van Rensburg was following me, and a little further back, Dave was coming too, and alone. This was perfect for our team tactics, as the only other two riders who were a threat to him on the overall could not follow. I eased up and waited for Dave, and once he had latched on, I dragged us up to the front two guys. From there on, all the way to the top, I set the tempo, riding hard enough to ensure we increased our lead over the rest of the riders, and discouraged any further attacks.
Once over the top, with around 20km to go, the attacks started again, and I wasn’t feeling so good at this stage, but I dug deep to hang in there, and within 5km, all my eating and drinking throughout the marathon paid off, as other riders stated to fatigue in the crucial moments. It was right then that Van Rensburg attacked, and I immediately followed him, but only for a short distance, until I countered his move and was soon alone in the front, holding onto a small gap.
The remaining 14km was very long, and seemed to drag on for a long time, my only saving grace was that we were all in the same boat. Dave was happy to sit on and let Rossouw do all the work to try chase down second position, but for me it was head down and give all I had, and hope the finish came soon enough.
Eventually the finish did come, and I was able to enjoy every second of my first win the MTN Series for 2011. Dave managed 4th, behind the two Jacques, despite a bad crash in the final 3km which even saw him break his handle bar.
Thanks again to all involved, from Advendurance to our incredible sponsors at Nedbank 360life, here’s to a good end of the 2011 season!
1st Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life) 4hrs32
2nd Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (MTN/Qhubeka)
3rd Jacques Rossouw (Cadence/Full Dynamix)
4th Dave George (Nedbank 360life)
5th Brandon Stewart (Itec Connect)
Next race, Kwazuzlu-Natal, Hill2Hill, first time back since 2006. I’m really looking forward to this race as I have great memories of it when I raced it last.
Till then, cheers.