It was third time lucky for MTN-Energade’s Kevin Evans as he soloed to his first victory in the Mondi Herald Addo Mountain Bike Challenge on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
Evans (3:15:07) made the most of the tough conditions on a breezy, overcast day to stretch his lead to three minutes at the Addo Polo Club finish.
DCM’s Brandon Stewart (3:18:07) – who won in 2008 – was second after sprinting clear of Mr Price-GT’s former u/23 national cross country silver medallist Renay Gouwstra.
Evans, 32, who was beaten in the sprint the previous two years, took charge of the 85km Extreme Challenge – the day’s feature race – at the King of the Mountains prime after about 30km.
“Renay attacked at the bottom and that split the group completely,” said Evans, who hails from Plettenberg Bay. “But he went a bit too early and ran out of gas before the summit.
“I passed him and from then on I was unlucky enough to be on my own. With my track record here, I wasn’t going to leave it to chance so I pushed hard,” said the six-time MTN Series champion, who announced earlier this week that he would be joining Team 360Life in 2011.
Shortly afterwards, Evans consolidated his advantage on the steep and rocky gradients of Fig Tree Hill – the highest point on the course – to open up a margin of almost two minutes on his pursuers.
“I managed to maintain my momentum and pedal up the entire climb, which really gave me a boost. I think the guys who did the Pioneer had an advantage on that type of ascent.”
Stewart, another rider fresh from the Pioneer, also managed to stay on his bike on the “slippery” climb, hauling himself back into contention after losing ground early on.
“I started the climb eighth and was second to the top. From there Renay and I basically rode together until the finish. I knew I was the stronger sprinter and that was that.”
The race got off to a super quick start as the main contenders jockeyed for position heading to the sprint prime – won by Evans – at 9km.
The sprint served as a launch pad for the first major move as four riders – Evans, Gouwstra, Charles Keey (Blend Properties) and local rider Conrad Viljoen (Mecer-NMMU) – moved clear.
Stewart was the major absentee as he struggled to get on terms with the early speed. “I didn’t panic and just kind of rode my own pace until we hit Fig Tree,” he explained at the finish.
After the climb, he and Gouwstra set off after Evans and reduced the deficit by 30 seconds before the latter managed to pull away again. “I thought that if I kept the gap at about a minute I would stand a good chance,” said Evans.
“I must say, the last 10km felt extremely long. It is only in the Eastern Cape where you can race in circles and it feels like a headwind all the way.”
Evans said the up and down nature of the new course made it tougher than in previous years. “I’m extremely happy to win this race at last. Now I can tick this box and go on vacation.”
Former Olympian Erica Green (4:08:45) made it a hat-trick of wins in the women’s section. She was followed by PE riders Gail Willimot (4:10:04) and Andrea von Holdt (4:28:22).
Gert Heyns (2:21:23), Marthinus Esmeyer (2:27:20) and Jason Meaton (2:27:22) were the first three men in the 60km Herald Challenge while Linda van Wyk (2:55:14), Lynette Rust (3:13:59) and Lizelle Britz (3:15:56) were the leading women.
The 30km Capespan Schools’ Challenge & Family Fun Ride was won by Marco Joubert (1:11:09) and Ancherien du Plessis (1:23:01) respectively.
Image courtesy Coetzee Gouws