Sunday, February 23, 2014

Marathon World Cup, MTN Ultra, Sabie.

UCI World Marathon Cup, Sabie, 113km, 3100m

The first race of the World Marathon Series kicked off in Sabie and piggy backs of the MTN Ultra Marathon event hosted by Advendurance. Sabie has always been a happy hunting ground for me, and this year would be no different! Except for the weather, which wasn’t playing nicely, however never deterred the nearly three thousand participants who made their way down to the small town in the Lowveld.

Heavy rains continued throughout the night, and the course in those conditions would prove to be one of the toughest races of my career. I could carry on about how muddy, and how extremely dangerous the course was in those conditions, but you would have had to be there to see first hand, words cannot do it any justice.

The Bulls were intend on using their current form and European experience of racing in these types of conditions to their full advantages, whilst for me, I was going to give it my best shot, but I always knew that these conditions don’t favor my riding style.
I was riding my Trek Superfly HT, and was flying up the first climbs with it. Huber and I soon had distanced ourselves from everyone, and only Karl Platt was able to keep us within 30-60seconds. I managed to edge out Huber for the King of the Mountain, and soon the descends would start. I would battle down the treacherous sections like ‘Rocky horror’ and Mount Moody as the Bulls set a really fast pace down the mountain. The trails in the slippery and wet mud, meant the full suspension bikes were in a league of their own (my own bike choice fault), and once the two Bulls had distanced me, they would work well together, making sure they put more than enough time between them and myself.

This would be the hardest past of my race, well from there until the finish, the more or less 70km I would spend racing on my own, losing time to the front two, but also being chased by the remaining field. I had to stay calm, focused and really concentrate, it was the longest and arguably hardest section of the race, the final 40km loop, as attrition started playing a key role in the outcome.
Brandon was going a stellar job in the ‘pits’, and kept me fuelled on various USN products, and motivated me to keep going and not give up.

I managed to consolidate my third place, not by much, but enough. Enough to earn the points I needed for World Champs later in the year, enough to roll over as the first South African rider, and enough to know that I had given it my all and I had taken the race to the Europeans as much as I could, and went down fighting. A proud and very relieved moment to cross that finish line! Neil managed his race well despite a puncture, but still fought back to 9th place overall, and again proving to be one of the most consistent riders out there.

Next race, and for the next few weekends, we will be down in the hopefully sunny Cape, starting off next weekend with the Argus MTB Challenge, and then heading into the Tour de Boland road tour for some final Epic prep.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Provisional results:
1st Urs Huber (Bulls) 5:28
2nd Karl Platt (Bulls) 5:30
3rd Kevin Evans (FedGroup-ITEC) 5:42

9th Neil Macdonald (FedGroup-ITEC)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bridgestone Route 66

Bridgestone Route 66, 3Day MTB Race, Johannesburg

If you searching for a three-day mountain bike stage race in and around Jozi, look no further than the Bridgestone Route 66 event. Put on by The Leverage Corporation, with the backing of Bridgestone and Kathea, the event is the perfect race if you looking at starting your stage racing career or if you a seasoned pro, the route has it all. I wasn’t expecting much when FedGroup-Itec added this event to our calendar, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the route that they had set out for the riders and the great organization. The other huge draw card to what I believe is the only stage event in Jozi, is the fact that every stage starts within an hours drive from Jozi, so you can do the event and remain in the comfort of your own home, or guest lodge/hotel.

Day 1, Lanseria-Van Gaalens, 80km, 1300m
We were warned that this stage was the most technical stage, and I had no idea what to expect. The race incorporates teams of two, and also solo riders. Neil and I had teamed up for this event as part of our preparation going forward. We had decided to make this part of a good three-day hard block of training, so we were always going to race it hard. Take nothing away from the rest of the field, but we soon found ourselves racing ahead of the chasing pack, but pushed each other hard.
The trails were super technical, very rocky and loose and it was very hard to find a rhythm with all the singletrack. I would have to guess as much as 75% of the stage was tight and twisting trails, which made for a physically tough stage.
I won’t lie when I say I was happy to arrive at Van Gaalens Cheese Farm, to a good lunch and refreshments with the organizers and sponsors.
Neil and I won the stage, whilst Bridgette had a great ride to finish second behind a flying national champ, Robyn deGroot.

Day 2, Van Gaalens-Maropeng, 70km, 1250m
Day 2 was the tougher of the three days, and as you can work out, from Van Gaalens to Maropeng, the route would always mean you would be going ‘up’ to the finish. So a tough route, combined with hot temperatures, would take its toll on all riders, even us professionals!
I have to say though that the route was amazing, and the many times I’ve raced along the tar roads in this area, the trails that they had found and cut were really fantastic. The group stayed together for the first 15km, which was flat and fast, but once we started hitting the rocky climbs, it was only the Exxaro Academy team who would follow our pace. Around halfway, heading past the Tracking station, it started getting really tough, and Neil and I used our Superfly full suspensions here to good use and rode our pace and pushed on. The final climbs even caught us a little off guard and again we were hugely relieved when we arrived at Maropeng to another welcome sight of refreshments and food. 
Positions stayed more or less the same, whilst we rode back to Kloofzicht Lodge where we would be finishing the final stage the following day.

Day 3, Maropeng-Kloofzicht, 63km, 800m
The final day, the fast and flowing day, took us on a scenic loop around The Cradle of Humankind, with amazing trails and some great scenery if you had time to look around.
Again we were finishing off a good three-day block of training, so we pushed hard for the stage. Andrew Mclean managed to follow our pace till around 40km, where I think he had had enough of that, and again Neil and pushed on alone.
The organizers had set up a brilliant finish at the five star lodge, Kloofzicht, where they had an amazing lunch on the grass around the dam, and it would turn into a fantastic family day to welcome the entire race home from a great three days riding.
Overall positions remained the same, whilst Bridgette held onto her second place for the race.

Again thanks to everyone for making this a fantastic weekend and definitely a stage race I would recommend! 

Next race, my first goal race for the season, and a ‘happy hunting’ ground for me, Sabie. Maybe it’s the climate, maybe the climbs, or maybe the fact the Mr. African (Mannie Heymans) taught me how to race there, none the less its time to make some music for the team.

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Provisional results:
1st FedGroup-Itec (Macdonald/Evans)
2nd Specialized (Porteous/Cooke)

3rd Exxaro 1 (Mahlangu/Maseko

Monday, February 10, 2014

MTN Ultra Marathon, Dullstroom

MTN Ultra Marathon, Dullstroom, 118km, 2500m

The MTN mountain bike series would kick off this year slightly later than usual, and at a brand new venue, Dullstroom. I cant say I was overly excited about this one knowing that this little fishing town getaway, lays at 2000m above sea level, and my performance would always be compromised at that altitude without the proper time to acclimatize.

Nonetheless, we took to the start line, Neil and myself in the Ultra, and Bridgette in the marathon. I couldn’t help but notice that I was the only rider in the top pro’s who had opted for my Trek Superfly Hardtail, not that I had an option as I had flown up with my road bike too for my extended stay of training.

The route was rough, and I managed to get through the first 30km, apparently the roughest, without any hassles, and knowing that most of the climbing was coming, I was feeling really confident. We started the long climb at the fifty-kilometer mark, a good 10km undulating climb lay ahead, and I was feeling really good. I put in a few hard efforts, and soon the front bunch of around 10 riders was whittled down to four. Another effort later and I found myself ahead of the three riders, and settling into my hard tempo, with a sensation that I’ve been waiting months to feel, and thought that this might be my day. Until that dreaded sound, ‘phhff phhff phfff’, looking down I thought I must be hearing things, but my tire had cut and was not sealing.

I tried to fix it but the plugs wouldn’t work and I ran out of bombs. Frustrated I rode the next two kilometers on a flat wheel to the tech zone, where I contemplated trying to repair it, or abandoning the race. With some help from Morne from RECM, and a big gulp of motivation, I decided to carry on, and get the benefit of a full high altitude training session. 
The route never really smoothed out, and in fact, I would have to argue that even got rougher on the final 40km lap.

I managed to scrape myself to the finish, with one very sore and bruised rear end, and a slightly deflated morale at the prospect of what could have been.
Lady luck also took care of Bridgette, when after 9km she had a mechanical issue taking her out of the race, but a great ride by Neil saw him take fourth place after also suffering severe chain suck and a few mechanicals in the wet and muddy conditions.

So from here I will continue with my focus on Sabie, which has been my first ‘A’ goal of the season, and one that I’m more hungry than most to tick off!

Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Provisional results:
1st Lourens Luus (RE:CM) 
2nd Charles Keey (Cannondale/Blend)
3rd Waylon Woolcock (Cannondale/Blend)
4th Neil Macdonald (FedGroup-ITEC)

11th Kevin Evans (FedGroup-ITEC)

Monday, February 3, 2014

VW Herald Cycle Tour

VW Herald Cycle Tour, MTB 80km, Road 106km

The VW Herald cycle tour, one of the oldest events on the calendar, has always been one of my favorite races, being so close to home and the fact that I raced in the Eastern Cape as a junior rider. The race consists of a mountain bike race out in Addo, and the old faithful road race, around the same 106km route for the past twenty-nine years.

The mountain bike race has turned into a super technical route, with I guess around 35km of loose, rocky, thorny dry (for a change) single track, and finishes with about 15km of fast district roads to the finish.

James Reid and Gert Heyns put their exceptional cross country skills to use and got the initial gap on Darren Lill, Mathys Beukes and myself. Darren and I chased hard up the Zuurberg climb, and we were within about 15-20seconds of the leading two when we turned off the road and headed down the tricky descend. They managed to pull away from us, and we would not see either of them until the finish.
About the most action I would see there after, was Darren being switched in the single track by a calf, yes you read that correct, and I would have to stop and help him out of the thorn bush he was impaled onto. It could have ended much worse for him, but fortunately he was ok.
We then had to settle the minor placing with a sprint onto the Polo field where he just edged me out into fourth. Nonetheless, I was happy with my build up and continued good health!

The road race the next day also has a combined prize, called the Ultimate Quest, and sees an overall winner crowned from the two days. I would have some time to make up, but it was by no means over!

The wind was blowing, but it was strong South Westerly, so basically headwind out, tailwind back. After about 10km, I found myself attacking and getting a gap on the bunch, but was soon joined by two riders, one from Abuntu and one from Bonitas, the two big professional road teams on the day. Dylan Girdlestone and I worked hard and by the time the bunch caught us, it was already into pieces. Nolan Hoffman put a big effort in, and that forced the final split of the race. Three riders from Bonitas, two from Abuntu, Carl Pasio and myself.

The tactics from here would always to be to try and get rid of the sprinter, Nolan, but with a fast tailwind, and no climbing, would be very difficult.
The Bonitas riders would take turns in attacking, and this would slow down our momentum as a break away. Carl and I decided we would keep the pace high, and take our chances with a sprint in a group of six as opposed to being caught by the bunch and settling for nothing.

Unfortunately this is the nature of the beast when it comes to road racing and routes, which suit the fast sprinters. My legs were feeling the previous days effort, and Carl and I managed to keep it together till the finish, unfortunately we took 5th and 6th, but more than we could have, had we not driven that move. Plus I guess we animated the race and threw a few spanners into the tactics of some of the teams who needed to re-think theirs.

Next race is the beginning of our MTN National series, with the first race being held in Dullstroom. I will be flying up the day before, so I expect altitude to play a small role in my performance!
Till then, cheers.

Kevin Evans

Provisional results:
1st James Reid (Trek) 3:03
2nd Gert Heyns (PSY) 3:06
3rd Darren Lill (Cannondale/Blend) 3:11
4th Kevin Evans (FedGroup-Itec) 3:11

1st Nolan Hoffman (Abuntu)
2nd HB Kruger (Bonitas)
3rd Jade Julius (Bonitas)

6th Kevin Evans (FedGroup-Itec)