The title is mine! No it’s mine! No it’s mine!
This is what happened over the past four years whenever Kevin Evans (360Life) and Burry Stander (Specialized) battle it out for the honour of being called South Africa’s top marathon rider.
In 2008 Evans won the title. Since then it has become a tit-for-tat battle between the two of them. Stander won in 2009 with Evans finishing second. Last year Evans won, while Stander came second. On Sunday (20 March), at the Inanda Dam in KwaZulu-Natal’s Valley of a Thousand Hills, Stander kept his cool when it mattered most and won his second SA Marathon title in three years.
He outsprinted Evans going through the last sharp corner to win the race over 80 kilometers in 3 hours 25 minutes and 20 seconds. With a gutsy ride Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) ensured that the bronze medal remained his to keep.
An interesting aspect about this epic duel between Stander and Evans is that it seems as if Evans wins on the even years and Stander on the uneven years.
Another interesting cycling statistic is that, by winning on Sunday, Stander joined the elite group of South African mountain bikers who managed twice to win the marathon and cross-country titles in the same calendar year. He made the coveted double gold his by also winning the SA pro-elite cross-country title last weekend in Stellenbosch.
Stander did the same in 2009.
Regarding Sunday’s race, it would seem that Stander and Evans chose to play the waiting game at first, allowing riders such as Buys, Rourke Croeser, Brandon Stewart (DCM) and Paul Cordes (MTN/Qhubeka) to set the pace and be the early aggressors.
Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka) and Mannie Heymans (Garmin-adidas) were the unlucky riders as far as mechanical problems were concerned.
Niyonshuti punctured three times, which effectively meant race over for him, and the seat post clamp of Heymans’s mountain bike came loose, making it difficult for him to sit properly.
About halfway through the race, Evans had an anxious moment when he made a judgemental error while racing at high speed through one of the sharp bends on a single-track section. The price he had to pay was flying through the air across his handle bars and doing a crash landing among the bushes.
Being a seasoned mountain-bike professional, it took Evans only a few seconds to gather his wits and get back on his mountain bike, but he had to chase hard to catch up with the leaders.
Stander said that he decided halfway through the race to increase the pace because he did not want the race to end in a bunch sprint to the line.
“I had one of those perfect racing days when it felt as if I could do nothing wrong and could just go on racing for another hour or two without even getting tired. It is a pity that the race was not a bit longer, to the credit of the organisers, I must admit that it was a true mountain biker’s race with a lot of technical single-track sections.”
Evans was the only rider who managed to stay with Stander, proving that South Africa’s two top mountain bikers are definitely ready for the Cape Epic that begins this coming weekend (26 March).
Evans also expressed surprise that the marathon race for pro-elite riders was not longer.
Catherine Williamson (Bizhub) won the women’s marathon, Karien van Jaarsveld (USN) finished second and Cherise Taylor (USN) third.
Because Williams is a British rider, Van Jaarsveld is the South African champion.