Above: Ladies winner Eszter Erdelyu Cluer
Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) proved the truth of this on Saturday, 15 May, at the Saasveld track just outside George, when he outsprinted Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade) to win the third pro-elite race in the MTN National Cross-country Series.
For two years people have been predicting that Buys has what it takes to win a cross-country race, but it simply did not happen. When Buys competed in the MTN series he finished second, then third, and second again, but never first. But Buys never gave up hope.
“I will just have to try harder,” was his response when he was asked about his results.
During Saturday’s race it was clear right from the start that Buys had no intention of finishing second again. He and Evans managed to get away early during the second lap and from then on the two of them were involved in a ‘ding dong’ battle, with the lead continually switching between them.
According to Buys he tried to rid himself of Evans during the third lap, but his efforts were to no avail. In the fourth lap Buys decided to change his tactics.
“I decided to allow Kevin to take the lead but to stay as closely as possible to him, hoping to put enough pressure on him to induce him to make a mistake. Again Kevin surprised me. His technical abilities have definitely improved and my tactics did not work. At the end of the fourth lap we were still racing shoulder to shoulder.”
During the 5th lap things started to go wrong for Evans.
Buys said: “One moment we were still racing close together, but then I suddenly became aware that Kevin was no longer sitting on my wheel. I quickly glanced over my shoulder and saw a cloud of dust. I realized that Kevin must have gone down. His fall was a blessing in disguise for me, because the fast pace of the race was beginning to take its toll. I could feel that I was tiring. Kevin’s accident gave me an opportunity to slow down and recover.
“I was impressed by how quickly Kevin got back on his bike and racing again. When he caught up with me again, I realized that the race was inevitably going to finish in a sprint to the line.”
According to Evans his accident happened in the blink of an eye.
“One moment I was racing flat out, but the next moment I hit the ‘deck’. I am not sure what happened. I think I probably clipped a tree root or something else. My first reaction when I was on my feet again, was to feel whether I had broken my collar-bone. Luckily I had not.
“Two of the spokes on my bike’s wheel had broken during the crash. I had to wind them around each other to keep them out of the way.
“It was only when I was racing again that I realized that there was something seriously wrong with my pinky. It was bluish purple in colour and quite swollen, but at that stage there was nothing that I could do about it.”
According to Evans, his battle with Buys boiled down to him attacking on the climbs, while Buys was in command during the technical sections.
“What counted against me, was that the climbs on the course were not steep and long enough to give me a clear advantage.”
Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized/Mr Price) finished 3rd overall.
“My race progressed pretty well, despite a terrible third lap in which I managed to be dumped in a corner and also dropped a chain. I steadily moved up the field,” is how Swanepoel remembers his race.
Despite some rough laps in the middle of the race, Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin-adidas) hung tough and managed to finish fourth overall.
Rourke Croeser (DCM) finished fifth, which meant that he was also second in the u.23 category. Francois Theron (Garmin-adidas) was sixth overall and third in the u.23 category.
Matthys Beukes (Scott), who was one of the pre-race favourites, unfortunately became ill and had to withdraw.
The women’s pro-elite race was won by Esther Cluer (Jeep), with Mariske Strauss (MTN-Energade) second and Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Energade) third.
Images Courtesy Zoon Cronje