Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade) notched up another first in his illustrious cycling career at the weekend when he won the four day Clover Tour in the Lowveld.
It is the first time that a mountain biker has managed to win a local road tour. Earlier this year Evans also made South African cycling history when he won the pro-elite time trial at the national road championship in Klerksdorp. He also finished second overall in the Giro del Capo.
Evans’s overall winning time was 15 hours 20 minutes and 39 seconds. Shaun Ward (Panda) finished second overall in 15:21:49 and Jason Bakke (House of Paints) was third in 15:21:54.
Evans refused to take all the credit for winning the Clover Tour. ÔÇ£It was a brilliant team effort. If you have three teammates that put their bodies on the line for four days in what certainly was one of the toughest tours you owe it to them to win. If I did not win, it would have been difficult afterwards for me to look them in the eye.
ÔÇ£I am going to give Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Bradley Potgieter and Stanley Namanyane each one of my red jerseys (overall leader) as a small token of appreciation.ÔÇØ
According to Evans he did some mathematical calculations as to the amount of the climbing they had to during the Clover Tour. ÔÇ£At a rough calculation I worked out that we climbed about 9 000 meters which in theory means that in four days we rode to the top of Mount Everest.ÔÇØ
Evans’ praise for his teammates is definitely justified. Potgieter and Namanyane did the hard “donkey” work early on during each of the stages while Janse van Rensburg’s performance can only be described as brilliant. There is no arguing the fact that he was the strongest rider in the tour.
During Sunday’s last stage Janse van Rensburg grinded away for the whole 100 kilometres at the front of the peloton which made it near impossible for Jason Bakke (House of Paints), Paul van Zweel (Cyclelab-Toyota) and Jason Ward (Panda) to try and take away the red jersey from Evans.
One of the noteworthy moments of the tour happened during the last stage on one off the steepest climbs near the finish when the chain of Janse van Rensburg’s bike came off. Suddenly Evans was vulnerable because if Janse van Rensburg had been dropped at the time he might have had some difficulties as he would have been outnumbered three to one by the House of Paint team.
But to MTN-Energade’s credit neither van Rensburg nor the team mechanic panicked and within seconds he joined up to resume his team duties as protector of the ÔÇ£red jerseyÔÇØ’.
Janse van Rensburg’s best performance was during Saturday’s third stage on the hilly God Window’s circuit. After making sure that Evans had everything under control, he powered away from the rest of the riders with brute strength to catch up with the breakaway. It was a classic scenario of ÔÇ£hello and goodbyeÔÇØ because there was just no stopping Janse van Rensburg.
His last challenge was catching Dawid Maree (House of Paint) which he also did with about seven to eight kilometers to go. It was in the last two hundred metres that Janse van Rensburg made his only mistake by being too hesitant in when he should launch his final assault to the line.
Maree, who is certainly not known for his sprinting abilities, made the most of Janse van Rensburg’s hesitation by accelerating and catching Janse van Rensburg totally off guard. The big rider was not even in the right gear when Maree started sprinting and Maree won the stage.
Maree is also one of the tour’s revelations. During the first stage going up Kowyns-pass he just did not have the legs to get to the top by himself which led to him taking a tow by holding onto a truck. He was caught out and given a time penalty.
To Maree’s credit he came back fighting. Over the next three days he just became stronger and stronger, winning the third stage and finishing second in the fourth stage.
The 20-year Bakke is another of the tour’s big heroes. His biggest highlight was beating Evans in the Kowyns-pass hillclimb-timetrial (7.3km) in the process becoming the first rider to finish under 20 minutes. His winning time was 19:40. Evans finished second in 19:51.
What makes his tour-performance even more special is the fact that in the beginning of the year he was involved in what could have been a career-finishing crash while being out on a training ride in Johannesburg.
To cut a long story short. Bakke crashed at high speed into the back of a motor vehicle, flying right though the rear window. He was badly cut up. One piece of glass missed his aorta by a mere 8mm. His one lung collapsed which meant that he ended up for four days in ICU. It took four months before he was racing fit again.
Bakke described the accident as one the best things that could have happened to his cycling career.
ÔÇ£Nearly losing everything made me realise how much cycling means to me and how quickly a cycling career could be over. I am now more motivated than ever before to make the most of every moment on my bicycle.ÔÇØ
The Cyclelab-Toyota youngsters – Shaun-Nick Bester, HB Kruger and Dawid Brown ÔÇô all impressed┬á in different ways during the tour as has Richard Baxter (House of Paints) and Luthando Kaka (Medscheme).
Kaka actually deserve a special mention for the way he rode during the last two days first finishing fourth and then third proving that he has the makings to become a good tour rider.
Gawie Combrink who is essentially an amateur cyclist won the last stage in impressive style when rode out in front for nearly 90km.