Kevin Evans continued his reign as the king of the MTN Crater Cruise marathon mountain bike race in Parys, Free State on Saturday, when he became the first three-time winner of South Africa’s richest one-day mountain bike race.
Jacques Rossouw (ITEC Connect-Kathea) finished second and Evans’s Nedbank 360Life teammate, David George, was third, which was enough for him to secure the prestigious 2011 MTN National Series overall title. Brandon Stewart (ITEC Connect-Kathea) and former winner, Melt Swanepoel (Specialized), rounded out the top five places respectively.
ÔÇ£It was hard as usual. This race is always hard. The last 30-odd kays is gradual uphill and I know that bit so well,ÔÇØ smiled a relieved Evans, who has finished in the first two places at the Crater Cruise six times.
An early break comprising Mannie Heymans (Garmin adidas), Pieter Seyffert (Matlosana) and Jock Green (Ghost Do-It-Now) shaped the early part of the 107 kilometre race, but it came back together before the riders reached the technical section after 50km where the relentless pace set by the stronger riders blew the field apart and a group of 12 remained at the front.
At 60km, Stewart put in an attack to which nobody responded. The KwaZulu-Natalian held a lead on his own for close to 10km before the pack reeled him in with just over 35km to go. Stewart’s ITEC Connect-Kathea teammate, Rossouw, immediately counter-attacked and only Evans responded.
ÔÇ£I saw we were getting a reasonable gap and I told Jacques we need to go for it as this could be the winning move if we got a decent lead quickly. Jacques was strong and I felt good. What was actually a soft break turned out to be the winning break,ÔÇØ explained Evans.
With 12km remaining Evans attacked Rossouw and got a gap, but then crashed, which allowed Rossouw to close him down again.
ÔÇ£As he caught me, Jacques stopped to inflate a slow puncture and that allowed me to get my gap back again and I really just maintained focus until the finish. It’s good to be the first to win three in a row here. And it was a double bonus that Dave won the Series,ÔÇØ said Evans, winner of the National Series for the past six years.
ÔÇ£I finished strong today because with Kevin up the road, it was up to the others to chase which put less pressure on me. Winning this series is my first real mountain bike racing milestone,ÔÇØ said George, a former road cycling professional.
ÔÇ£My only real threat for the Series title was Adrien (Niyonshuti), but I could see he was scratching a bit early on. Then when Kevin and Jacques were up the road, I could relax a bit. I have to mention how important it is to have supportive sponsors and the best equipment. Those are two key elements that have made this Series win possible.ÔÇØ
For Nedbank 360Life, it was a fitting end to the 2011 edition of Africa’s largest bicycle racing series. George won the opening round of the eight-event series, the MTN Attakwas near Oudtshoorn, in January, giving the new, ambitious team a confidence-boosting early victory.
Evans was a spectator that day, still recovering from a near-death experience following infection caused by a leaking appendix. He then suffered a broken collarbone in a crash early on at the 2011 Cape Epic two months later, sinking any hope of becoming the first South African team to win the event.
ÔÇ£It’s been a rollercoaster year for us, but there were more ups than downs. It’s great to finish the Series on an up. But our season isn’t over yet. Still some tough races to come and we’re aiming for more ups!ÔÇØ grinned George.
MTN Crater Cruise
1 Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life) 3hr 27min 51sec
2 Jacques Rossouw (ITEC Connect-Kathea) 3:29:54
3 David George (Nedbank 360Life) 3:30:05
4 Brandon Stewart (ITEC Connect-Kathea) 3:31:20
5 Ben Melt Swanepoel (Specialized) 3:31:23
6 Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN Qhubeka) 3:31:27
7 Nico Bell 3:31:27
8 Neil MacDonald (Team RE:CM) 3:33:05
9 Mannie Heymans (Garmin adidas) 3:33:43
10 Philip Buys (Garmin adidas) 3:34:08