By outsprinting Kevin Evans (Nedbank360Life) to win the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest on Sunday (23 September), Max Knox (Specialized) clinched an overall victory in the MTN National MTB Series.
It was definitely one of the best races of the series.
It could be compared to a boxing match on wheels with Knox, the aggressor, continuing to dish out ‘punishment’ and Evans simply refusing to give up.
Even though Evans took some real strain, he never stopped chasing down a determined Knox.
Afterwards Knox graciously praised Evans for the way he raced. “I expected it to be a tough race, and Kevin did not disappoint me. In the end I had to race smart to beat him.” According to Knox nothing much happened during the first 40 kilometres.
“There was a big group of us riding at a steady, hard pace. Some tactical moves were initiated but none of them succeeded. I made my first attack with 40 kilometres to go. I think I caught everybody off guard when I accelerated on one of the straight flat sections.
“I managed to open quite a comfortable lead and Kevin had to work hard to catch up with me. When we were level, I attacked again. Kevin could not keep up, so I was on my own out in front once again. The time gap between us hovered around 25 seconds all the time.”
Evans admitted that he suffered.
“I was close to giving up, but I persisted and slowly clawed my way back to him just after the second tech zone. Once I had caught him, I was adamant to stay there, and we exchanged a few ‘blows’.”
Knox and Evans admitted that, when going into the last 10 kilometre lap, both of them knew that the race would be decided by a sprint to the line. Just before the finish they had to race through a tight corner. The slippery and muddy conditions complicated matters. That was where the race was destined to be won or lost.
Evans went to inspect the corner before the race in order to decide what the best line of action would be. Unfortunately for him when he reached the corner spectators were standing exactly where he was planning to ride.
“I lost the race in that split second because Max shot through on my inside and there was no way for me to catch up again.” Knox said he knew that it was important to be the first rider through the corner.
“I timed it just perfectly.”
Not surprisingly, Evans was disappointed with the way in which the race ended. “It is not easy to accept that I have lost a whole series because of one corner of a race. But I can take some comfort from the way in which my racing has improved over the past few weeks.
“My main focus is to be at my best at the UCI World Marathon Championship which will take place two weeks from now in Ornans, France. If I use Max as a benchmark, it seems as if I am steadily improving.
“In the MTN Gravel Travel Max beat me by more than 12 minutes. At the Hill2Hill the time gap between us was down to three minutes and now, a week later, it is down to mere seconds.”
Evans predicts that there is an excellent chance that, between him, Knox, David George and Nico Bell, they will get three top-ten finishes at the World Championship.
Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN-Qhubeka) beat George (Nedbank360Life) in a sprint to finish third in the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest.
Knox was full of praise for the course that was designed by the organizers of the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest. “I would put money on it that everybody who competed will describe their racing experience as exciting. The muddy conditions made for some tricky and challenging riding, but it was doable and most enjoyable.”
Ryan Gould GM for MTN Sponsorships commented after the race that MTN is proud to be associated with yet another world class event showcasing our local talent. “We would like to congratulate everyone for conquering the challenging course and especially our new champions. We look forward to see you at the final round of the MTN National MTB Series with the MTN Ride Crater Cruise in Parys” Gould added.