Sunday, February 26, 2012

UCI XCM World Cup/MTN Ultra #3, Sabie

Photo by Zoon Cronje: Kevin Evans

XCM World Cup/MTN Ultra Marathon #3, Sabie, 113km, 3200m

I’ve always enjoyed racing in Sabie and have raced here for nearly a decade. Ok that makes me feel my age now. The marathon or Sabie Classic has always been ‘kind’ to me, and I guess I learnt from the best in the race, Mister African aka Mannie Heymans, a seven-time winner of this event. The last time I raced here in the Ultra Marathon in 2010, I won my National Marathon title, so coming back, I was fairly confidant that I should be able to achieve a good result. Plus having the support from the team, and a race partner like Dave who’s equally as strong, our chances were stacked in our favor.

We decided to set the pace on the long first climb, and with tactician Gary Stanleys advice, we soon had most of the European riders on the back foot. It was only Contegos Phil Buys and Brytons Max Knox who could stay with us. As we neared the infamous ‘Mamba’ switchbacks, a relentless three and half kilometer stretch of the fifteen-kilometer climb, I used the steepness of that section, with the added, or should I say, subtracted weight of my Scott Scale RC, to good use, and put the pressure on. I went alone from there till I crested the King of the Mountain hotspot, and then eased up as Max caught back up to me. We assessed the situation from there, and decided to ride a steady tempo together. All the time I was concerned that perhaps I had gone too hard too early, and also the altitude would become a factor in your energy requirements and recovery time, so all the time I was running these factors through my mind and trying to conserve as much as I could. Somewhere between tech zone 3 and 4, Max had a slow puncture on the front wheel, and he would have to stop and inflate it a couple of times. Each time he would have to spend a few extra pennies to get back to me, and those pennies would begin adding up with a really tough 45km loop still left to race.

Max Cluer had the spectators wound up and he really gets the crowd behind you as I came through the start finish area to begin the final loop. Max was starting to fatigue a little by this stage, and still had problems with his front wheel, as I slowly put in what little I had left, to slowly start pulling away from him. The climb just seemed to continue and with no end in sight, I started getting concerned that I might be running out of energy. I knew Dave was about 2-3min back, but I wasn’t sure on who was behind him and what the time gaps were. I carried on and willed the top of that climb to just arrive, and as soon as you think you may be there, you round another corner, and it rears upwards again. My sense of humor monitor was reaching fail point by this stage, and had it not been for the little bit of motivation from some of the Advendurance team, I may have cracked. I finally crested the climb and began the fast 10km downhill stretch towards the finish area. I knew I had a gap of around 4minutes and all I needed to do was concentrate for about 15minutes longer, and I was on my way to my first World Cup Marathon win.

Again Advendurance raised the bar for this event, which is hard to believe, but coming into the finish area and over the final ramp with a large crowd waiting, was a fantastic experience. After an emotionally draining week, I finally put everything behind me and enjoyed the win and the moment.

Max would hold on for 2nd, and Dave would finish 3rd, just ahead of Karl Platt.

The last Marathon World Cup I raced was in 2005, in Sweden Falun, where I finished 10th, and its great to have a world series again, although its not really our focus.

We had some great support around the course and the best support as usual from Nedbank Team 360life. Its hard not to, ‘Make Things Happen’ with support like that.

Provisional Results:

1st Kevin Evans (Nedbank Team 360Life) 5hrs8min

2nd Max Knox (Bryton) 5hrs14min

3rd Dave George (Nedbank Team 360life) 5hrs17

4th Karl Platt (Team Bulls) 5hrs17

5th Nico Bell (Westvaal/Columbia)

Next race, back down to the Cape for the Columbia Grape Escape, one with special memories as it was my first race win for the team in 2011. This year we will race three days, followed by the Mountain Bike Argus on Sunday. Again there will be a full field of the world’s best riders on the start line.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Sunday, February 19, 2012

MTN Ultra Marathon #2, Tulbagh

Photo by Zoon Cronje: Kevin Evans

MTN Ultra Marathon, Tulbach, 107km, 2400m

The second leg of the MTN series headed to a small town in the Western Cape that holds some special memories for me. Tulbach was the disaster scene of the end of our 2011 Cape Epic, and although I did return with Dave to make amends after the Epic as it was part of 2011 MTN series, I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from the emotional scarring stowed upon me from that day. Ok, enough of the drama writing.

Advendurance had organized another class event, and this event would field the best quality riders in the country, all vying for a good result to count towards the overall series. Most notably on the start line, was Burry Stander who is always ready to make the racing hard, but is always great to race against as he sets the level for us compared to the international riders. But we were up for the job at hand, and we always embrace the competition. Added to that, Jacques Rossouw off a fantastic win in the first race, plus the best of the rest, the race was set to be a tough one. And besides the competition, the ruggedness of the area, the rocks, dry loose sand and hot temperatures, would prove more than enough for most riders to deal with.

The route followed the same first 30km loop as the Epic did, so we knew it well, only without the descent where I crashed. The Spark 29er’s absolutely demolished the route, and our Scotts were turning what last year seemed like a rough and rocky course, into ‘tarmac’. We were only six riders left after the first climb, and that would be the selection for the day. As predicted by some of the media, Adrien Nyionshuti, Max Knox, Jacques Rossouw, Burry Stander, Dave George and myself. The six of us rolled through the dry terrain of Tulbach and after the second feed zone, around the 70km mark, the trails began to get rough again, and Burry, Dave and myself decided it was time to start making the racing hard. We upped the tempo, and dislodged Max and Adrien, with Jacques hanging off the back like an elastic band.

When we hit the final climbs, I set a really tough tempo, and Burry was able to follow, Jacques was fighting to try and stay in contact, and Dave just a little behind him.

Burry and I had the gap, and when we thought the climbs were over, they weren’t, and the race wound its way through some super singletrack, and then up a final monster of a pull. By the last tech zone, we had a minute on Jacques, but his persistence saw him nearly catch us in the final two kilometers, great fighting spirit!

We hit the final straight into the finish, where I led the sprint out, and my record against Burry in sprint finishes does not count in my favor, however this one was remarkably close, and he just snuck around in the final 50meters to take the win. Jacques came in third, and Dave a good fourth place, Adrien rounding out the top five.

If we take the good out of it, bikes, body and team is in great shape. We had a benchmark with which to compare ourselves, and we are on track. A few more weeks, and the form will be ready for our big goal. Thanks Swen for the great back up, and Grant Clack, Nigel Clack and his ‘special late harvest’ friends for their Tulbach hospitality.

Provisional Results:

1st Burry Stander (Specialized) 4hrs40

2nd Kevin Evans (Nedbank Team360Life) same time

3rd Jacques Rossouw (Fedgroup-Itec Connect)

4th Dave George (Nedbank Team360life)

5th Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka)

Next race, the Sabie MTN Ultra Marathon, and the first of the Marathon World cup events. Its great to have a marathon world series again, which I last, competed in 2005. We are looking forward to seeing the international riders out for that.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ride the Rock, Cedarberg

Photo by: Patrick Baransky Kevin Evans

Ride the Rock, 3 Stages, Cedarberg.

Stillwatersports were the presenting sponsors of this three-day race in the heart of the Cedarberg. It would be my first trip to this part of the world, and there are not many places left I have not been to on my trusty mountain bike, but the Cedarberg as far as remote, tranquil, and off the beaten track goes, will soon become a destination that I will gladly head back to.

Small details like arriving at the camp site, finding that the organizers have reserved you the ‘deluxe’ cottage, complete with race registration boxes and entries already waiting inside for you, goes along way with pro-bike riders, and leaves a ‘I will be back’ taste in your mouth!

It was also great ‘Epic prep’ for us, complete with our newly recruited chef/nutritionist Sandi Bryan joining us, and our head mechanic Swen Lauer. It’s a fantastic backup team and a pleasure to have with us, plus we get spoilt with some of the best tasting nutrition known to sportsman! We were also joined by Patrick Baransky, head of Nedbanks sports sponsorships and our key man in introducing us to one of the most passionate wine makers we’ve found, albeit in the middle of nowhere with ‘altitude’.

Stage 1, 85km, 1550m

The first day of Ride the Rock is the toughest of the three, and the terrain, the conditions and altitude would make for tough racing. Also many of the teams here were using it as preparation for the Epic in just six weeks time. I guess the rugged and rocky terrain will also ‘iron’ out any last minute issues with bikes and or equipment choices that may still need to be made.

Despite the field of riders being fairly small, it still had some good quality riders, and it wouldn’t detract anything from the intensity of the racing up front.

Dave George was eager to get the racing started, and within five kilometers, there was a small group of about six riders with most of the top riders in it. We continued to ride hard at the front, and once the hills started rolling on, we started riding a really hard tempo, and soon, we had a gap over the rest of the field. Nico Pfitzenmaier was riding well, and the very rocky descends and sandy jeep tracks suited his riding style, and he joined us after Dave had to stop to inflate his rear tire, which had lost air. The most technical and dangerous descend of about 4km we negotiated with caution, as Nico managed to put about a 30second gap into us down here.

Once down this section, we were faced with a monster climb of about 5km at 10% gradient, and we quickly took back our time over Nico, plus then drove the tempo on to put a further minute into him by the top. The kilometers from here to the finished ticked by very slowly, and the harsh terrain definitely took the sting out the legs, but at least we were together and could make use of each other taking turns into the headwind home. Nico had to soldier on alone, but held off Team Blend, Charles Keey and Dave Morrison to take third, whilst team mate Dave and I dueled out a sprint finish.

(Dave obviously coming out second from that one!)

Provisional Results:

1st Kevin Evans (Nedbank Team 360life) 3hrs21

2nd Dave George (Nedbank Team360life) same time

3rd Nico Pfitzenmaier (Rob Daniel)

Stage 2, 60km, 950m

Fortunately with the cooler temperatures, the start was pushed back to 07:00am, giving us another hour of sleep, and although it can get unbearably hot in this area, riding conditions over the weekend were absolutely perfect.

Day 2 was a much ‘smoother’ day and the trails wouldn’t be as rough as the previous. The group rolled together through the beautiful Cedarberg Valley, until we hit some great singletrack. The racing started here for the Pro’s, and soon we were only a handful of riders. After around 20km, we started the climbs for the day, and I rode a hard enough tempo that I was soon alone in the front. Not long thereafter, Dave rode across to me, and from here we started another ‘team trial’ and rode consistently hard to try hold our gap over the chasing riders.

At this point we thought that Nico would be chasing us, but after another 20km, Dave Morisson and Erik Kleinhans joined us. Unfortunately for Erik, no sooner had they caught us and he had yet another puncture which would take him out of contention for the stage. Dave Morisson was riding as hard as he could to try and get some back on Nico for the overall, whilst Dave George and I just followed him for the last 15km to the finish, where Morisson took a well deserved stage win. We were happy to finish safely in second and third, gaining a little more time on the overall, and not having any mechanical issues.

The real highlight for us on the day would be meeting David Niewoudt with Pat Baransky, who gave us a ‘personalized’ wine tasting experience of some of the most exquisite wines we’ve come across. We even managed to persuade him to throw a few nice bottles into the mix for the final days racing, just for some added incentive! (We may also have had a few glasses that evening)

Provisional Results:

1st Dave Morrison (blend) 2hrs17

2nd Kevin Evans (Nedbank Team360life) same time

3rd Dave George (Nedbank Team360life) same time

Stage 3, 50km, 800m

The last stage was rumored to be the ‘queen’ stage in terms of technical, singletrack riding, and it definitely lived up to its pre-race hype. We climbed from the start, all the way up the side of ‘Wolfberg Cracks’ mountain, and once near the top, we would descend a tight, loose, sandy, rocky downhill that would prove to be as much of a challenge as some of the most technical routes I’ve ridden anywhere. Nico knew this trail fairly well, and put that knowledge, along with his technical skills to good use to apply some real pressure down here.

By the bottom of the trail, I was a minute down, and Dave George, Morisson and Keey probably a further minute behind me. I knew I needed to chase Nico alone, and the legs were still feeling relatively good, so I managed to make up that minute in the space of the next 10km. Once I caught him, I had only to sit on as he was trying to race himself into second place overall. With 15km left, through the rough jeep track, I attacked Nico and rode away to the finish alone. Dave had also caught him through this last section, so our first and second place for the overall was secure.

Although this stage was short in distance, it was action packed and resembled more of a ‘cross country’ style race with some incredible trails. Thanks to the race organizers for the effort they put in to make such great routes through this barren landscape.

Provisional Results:

1st Kevin Evans (Nedbank Team360life) 1hr55

2nd Nico Pfitzenmaier (Robert Daniel) 1hr56

3rd Dave George (Nedbank Team360life) 1hr56

Provisional Results Overall:

1st Kevin Evans (Nedbank Team360life) 7hrs30

2nd Dave George (Nedbank Team360Life)

3rd Nico Pfitzenmaier (Robert Daniel)

4th Dave Morisson (Blend)

5th Charles Keey (Blend)

Next race, we head back to that town, Tulbach, for the second race in the MTN Ultra Marathon series. Should be an interesting race with riders starting to hit some good form, and a testing route that lies ahead.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Sunday, February 5, 2012

VW Herald Mountain Bike Challenge

Photo by Vic Momsen: Kevin Evans

VW Herald MTB Challenge, Addo, Revised route, 80-90km

I always enjoy racing in the Eastern Cape, after all, it’s where I started my mountain bike racing way back when. Except for the torrential down pours we had been experiencing over the past few days, the weather just wouldn’t let up. In fact, on Friday, it even got worse, to a point where Dave George could not even fly into Port Elizabeth, and would have to sit this race out. This would leave James (Junior) and myself, to fly the Nedbank 360life flag for the weekend.

Conditions were so bad, that race organizers were forced to have to change most of the route, and for the safety of the riders, was the only choice they would have. They did however provide a challenging route nonetheless and for us in the front, the racing would always be hard.

In these conditions, you really have to manage your equipment well, as the non-stop mud takes its toll on the drive train of the bike. It also taxes the body, and you constantly have to force yourself to eat and drink which is difficult most times. I decided the best place to ride, was in the front, and that’s where I stayed right from the start of the race. I figured its only going to be harder trying to follow wheels, and setting the pace would be marginally easier.

The main split for the day happened on the big climb up the Zuurberg pass, a hard 8km climb. This is where James and I pushed the pace up, and he was really impressing with his gutsy ride on the day. We were expecting a big effort from Jacques Rossouw who we know is on good form, and when it came, junior was able to follow the wheel comfortably. Having a teammate up front with you, that’s strong, is invaluable and James was filling Dave’s shoes for the day.

After the climb, we were four riders left, two from FedgroupItecConnect, and two from Nedbank 360life. We would then descend and make our way through the farms back to the start finish where we would do another lap of the 30km course. Just before the final loop, I put in an effort and Jacques had to work really hard for the next ten kilometers to catch me, whilst James could sit on his wheel, but the efforts were enough to isolate him.

James only battled in the final 20km, where Jacques and I rode away, and from here, I knew on the flat muddy run in to the end, it would come down to a sprint.

I’ve lost a few races on this exact same sprint, and today I wasn’t going to take any chances, and gave it everything to make sure I got on the field first, with only about 300m from there to the finish line. I managed to just hold Jacques off to take a close win. James held on for 3rd, and Brandon Stewart and Dave Morrison, who were in fourth and fifth on the road, got sent on a third, lap, giving fourth place to Oliver Munnik and fifth to Julius Cobbett.

A great ride in terrible conditions, but I guess, you have these days and the experience you gain from them is always important.

Provisional Results:

1. Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360life) 3:10:17

2. Jacques Rossouw (FedgroupItecConnect) 3:10:19

3. James Reid (Nedbank 360life) 3:14:39

4. Oliver Munnik (GT) 3:20:26

5. Julius Cobbett (GT-Zaskar) & Brandon Stewart (FedgroupItecConnect) 3:41:29

Next race, take the team to the Cedarberg, where I can actually for a change say I have no idea what to expect as it will be my first time there. Ride the Rock, a new three-day race. Looking forward to it, plus some hotter weather, please.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

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