George, Evans in charge | TeamSA - TeamSA

George, Evans in charge

After the heartbreak of having their Cape Epic victory hopes crushed by an untimely early exit, Team Nedbank 360Life’s David George and Kevin Evans bounced back on Saturday with a 1-2 finish at the MTN Tulbagh Mountain Bike Ultra-marathon in the Western Cape.

George, winner of the first round of South Africa’s most prestigious mountain bike racing series back in January, rode a tactically faultless race to claim the victory in a fast time of 4hr 29min 08sec and in the process, rose back to the top of the MTN Series rankings with three rounds remaining.

Evans had to outsprint Max Knox (Do-It-Now Ghost) to claim the runner-up place, but the fact that his plated collarbone held up well in his first mountain bike race since that fateful Stage One Cape Epic crash on 28 March, was more reason for Nedbank 360Life to celebrate.

George and Knox moved ahead of the other contenders at 19-kilometres into the 105km race and built up a lead of 45 seconds over a small chase group that included Evans, Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN Qhubeka), Darren Lill, Nico Bell, Erik Kleinhans (Contego) and Charles Keey (MTN Qhubeka).

Then, just before the 60km mark, George powered away from Knox up a climb and then extended his lead on the following descent, putting around a minute into Knox just on that downhill before going on to build his lead into a substantial one over the final 40 kilometres. Evans caught a tiring Knox in the final kilometres and made short work of dispatching him in the last 100 metres.

ÔÇ£With Kevin back in the mix, we had another card to play, so I went with Max early on. I let him set the pace because I knew we had Kevin as a second option not too far back. When you’re in good racing condition, you always feel in control. That’s how it was for me today. On the climbs I was strong and on the descents I was confident and sharp.

“Obviously I’m also building my skills with every mountain bike ride I do and the SCOTT Scale 29er bikes are really well suited to marathon racing,ÔÇØ explained George, a former professional road cyclist.

ÔÇ£It was a great way for us to return to the racing scene. A first and second place in a strong field also shows that we are on track for the World Championships next month,ÔÇØ said George. ÔÇ£Since the Cape Epic, I’ve been doing some great training ÔÇô both quantity and quality. The last few weeks I’ve been feeling so good on the bike. Today I was really in control in every aspect. It’s a good place to be.ÔÇØ

George was quick to pay tribute to the team’s sponsors, specifically the title sponsor, Nedbank 360Life, for their belief in the pair.

ÔÇ£For the first time in my life as a pro cyclist, I am able to make decisions that suit me best. We have no pressure from our sponsors because they know we want to win as much as they want us to ÔÇô probably more actually. Glad we could show them today how that kind of support pays off.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Now Tulbagh and I are even,ÔÇØ smiled Evans, referring to his collarbone-snapping crash in Tulbagh on Stage One of this year’s Cape Epic. ÔÇ£It was the last place I raced a mountain bike and, appropriately, the first place again after recovering from the crash and surgery. Coming back with a podium finish does my confidence a lot of good.ÔÇØ

George and Evans are now focusing on their second major goal for the year, the 2011 Marathon World Championships in Italy at the end of June. Next on their schedule is this week’s Subaru Sani2c, a three-day stage race in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. They then head to Europe where they will contest some build-up races in preparation for the World Championships on 26 June.

MTN Tulbagh Ultra-marathon, 105km
Leading results:

1 David George ÔÇô RSA (Nedbank 360Life) 04hr 29min 08sec
2 Kevin Evans ÔÇô RSA (Nedbank 360Life) @ 08min 15sec
3 Max Knox ÔÇô RSA (Do-It-Now Ghost) @ 08:25
4 Adrien Niyonshuti┬á ÔÇô RWA (MTN Qhubeka) @ 12:57
5 Nico Bell ÔÇô RSA @ 14:33
6 Charles Keey ÔÇô RSA (MTN Qhubeka) @ 16:44
7 Darren Lill ÔÇô RSA @ 26:57
8 Mannie Heymans ÔÇô NAM (Garmin adidas) @ 31:34
9 Francois Theron ÔÇô RSA (Garmin adidas) @ 31:36
10 Grieg Knox ÔÇô RSA @ 39:10