Kevin Evans says he would give up every one of his four national marathon titles to win the ABSA Cape Epic mountain bike race just once. Was it perhaps a good omen then that South Africa’s most prolific marathon race winner over the past half a decade narrowly missed winning the 2011 national marathon title this past Sunday?
The 2011 ABSA Cape Epic is the eighth edition of the world’s most prestigious mountain bike stage race. Evans and his Team 360Life teammate, David George, will be in the company of the best mountain bike racers in the world when the gruelling eight-day, 707km race starts in Cape Town on Sunday.
The pair finished third in 2008 and fourth in 2009. Last year, representing separate sponsors, they raced with different partners (the Cape Epic is a two-rider team race), but failed to find the success they both crave. Actually crave is not a strong enough word to describe their single-minded desire to win a race that has become close to an obsession.
This extremely demanding race, which has brought both of them joy and disappointment, pleasure and pain, has teased and taunted them for years (Evans has done all seven and George the last five). It’s a race victory that’s eluded them and it’s making their impressive CVs look incomplete.
They return this time as well-matched teammates with renewed focus and unlimited support, made possible by a unique sponsorship from Nedbank as part of its promotion of 360Life, an innovative new life assurance product. Should they win, Evans and George will be the first South Africans to win what’s become one of the most sought after endurance sport titles in the world.
Nedbank, one of the major banking groups in South Africa, is the newest addition to the financial institutions that have embraced mountain biking as a property worth sponsoring (ABSA, the race’s title sponsor, is a banking group), partly because of the strong, sustainable community upliftment projects associated with the sport in South Africa and partly because of the high average LSM of mountain bikers.
Team 360Life isn’t your run-of-the-mill racing team. Comprising just Evans and George, the team’s budget has been structured to ensure any limitation that might occur in their quest for success has been eliminated. No cost has been spared – it’s a sizable budget that gives the riders freedom and peace of mind. No demands from anyone – George manages the team himself. No packed racing schedules – George and Evans choose the races they compete in. And no obligations in terms of equipment – George and Evans were able to choose their bikes and accessories.
“We wanted to be able to race the Cape Epic on our terms,” explained George. “In the past we’d arrive at this race far from fresh and focussed, having been compelled to race virtually every weekend on either road mountain bikes from mid-January during the South African peak racing season.
“360Life has given us this rare opportunity for which we are grateful. We believe we have the ability to win this race, but we needed to prepare perfectly and we have now done that. We did a few build-up races to fine-tune our form as well as finalise choices of bike, parts and nutrition strategy.”
Team 360Life will be racing SCOTT Scale 29 RC models, hardtail carbon fibre framed bikes with large diameter 29-inch wheels. Swiss-based SCOTT is one of the world’s largest bicycle brands.
Evans showed that he’s peaking at just the right time, with his second place in a sprint finish to Burry Stander at last weekend’s National Marathon Champs and overall victory at the Columbia Grape Escape, a three-day mountain bike race that attracted some world-class riders a fortnight ago. George won the MTN Attakwas Ultra-marathon in January and the final stage of the Grape Escape, indicating his fine-tuned condition going into the 2011 Cape Epic.
But while their preparation has been unrestricted, George and Evans have had their share of bad lack. Just before Christmas 2010, during a high-mileage, high-intensity segment in his schedule, Evans discovered that his appendix had perforated and caused infection in his stomach lining, a potentially fatal condition. His appendix was urgently removed, but his recovery was far from urgent and he was only able to begin riding again in late January.
Last week Friday, while doing a course recce ahead of the National Marathon Championships, George crashed and sustained a serious gash in his arm that required 30 stitches.
But as both riders know, bad luck is the one factor in mountain bike racing in general, but the Cape Epic in particular that’s always in the mix, no matter how well prepared you are.
“Despite some unexpected setbacks, we have done everything the way we believe it should be done to prepare ourselves perfectly for the Cape Epic,” said Evans. “We’ve also put ourselves under a lot of pressure to produce the first South African win in this race. We have put everything we can into getting ready and now, its show time!”
• South African Marathon Champion: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010
• South African Elite men’s Cross-country Champion: 2006, 2007
• South African National Marathon Series Champion: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
• Marathon World Championships: 2009 – 8th
• Cape Epic: 2005 – 3rd; 2007 – 7th; 2008 – 3rd; 2009 – 4th, 2010 – 3rd
• South African Elite men’s Individual Time Trial Champion: 2010
• 19th Tour of Britain: 2008
• 9th Tour of Ireland: 2008
• 2nd overall and King of the Mountains, Giro del Capo: 2010
• 1st Clover Lowveld Tour: 2010
• Cape Epic: 2008 – 3rd; 2009 – 4th
• MTN Attakwas Ultra-marathon: 2011 – 1st
• 2nd overall and 1 stage win, Columbia Grape Escape: 2011
• Bronze medal Under-23 World Time Trial Championships: 1997
• Bronze medal Commonwealth Games Time Trial: 1998
• Silver medal Commonwealth Games Road Race: 2006
• Giro del Capo Champion: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2010
• Five-time South African Time Trial Champion
• South African Road Champion: 2003
• Tour de Langkawi Champion: 2006
• Olympic Games 1996 (track), 2000, 2008
For further information, follow the team via facebook/twitter ‘team360life’ or visit www.team360life.co.za.