Kevin Evans and David George look set for their second title as a unit after winning the tough second stage of the three-day Subaru sani2c mountain bike race between Ixopo and Highflats on Friday.
Taking advantage of near-perfect conditions, the Nedbank 360Life pair blitzed the 96-kilometre course in 3:48:18 to extend their six-second overnight advantage over MTN-DoItNow’s Max Knox and Adrien Niyonshuti (3:50:28) to 2:16.
RE:CM’s Neil MacDonald and Waylon Woolcock were third in 3:52:35 for a repeat of the opening day’s podium.
The favourites were bunched together after the technical descent into the Umkomaas Valley, which was a welcome change for Evans and George who lost two minutes to their opposition on the same stretch the last time they rode together.
“We did our usual hard pull out of the Umkomaas and that split the field,” said Evans, a four-time champion with as many partners.
Itec Connect’s Brandon Stewart and Darren Lill established a small lead over 360Life and MTN-DoItNow going through the river crossings but a technical issue slowed their progress. “I think Brandon had a slow puncture and had to stop briefly,” said Evans.
“I went as hard as possible on the two climbs before the second waterpoint expecting the traditional compulsory 10-minute rest, but had a rude awakening when we got there and realised this was no longer the case. I must’ve been sleeping at race briefing.”
The 32-year-old from George said that effectively meant the technical ascent after the waterpoint became part of the preceding climbs to form one long one, which made it extremely tough.
“We opened a minute’s lead on MTN by the waterpoint and knew we just had to maintain that until the district roads where we felt our 29ers would roll better.”
Evans said all that was now required on the final stage between Highflats and Scottburgh was to follow wheels while hoping for no bad luck. “In this game, you never know what will happen next.”
George, now 35, said he felt stronger and stronger as the race homed in on the coast. “Being from Cape Town, I tend to struggle at high altitude – more so than Kevin.”
He said it was now up to the other contenders to try and take the lead away from them and he expected another hard day in the saddle, especially the final push to the finish.
“We could see them up ahead, but couldn’t pull them back,” said Knox, a three-time sani2c runner-up. “Once you give guys like them a lead, it becomes almost impossible to close the gap.”
Knox said this month’s Fairbairn Capital/Old Mutual joBerg2c and MTN Tulbagh ultra-marathon had finally caught up with him. “At the moment, my legs only seem to go one speed.”
He was full of praise for Niyonshuti, who is now fully recovered from his crash at joBerg2c. “He’s in top form – I’m sure he would’ve been able to race at the front today.”
Knox said they had not lost all hope and remained positive. “We will give it another bash tomorrow. Perhaps it’s our turn.”
The women’s section saw a change in the overall standings when Team bizhub’s Catherine Williamson and Candice Neethling turned the tables on USN’s Cherise Taylor and Karien van Jaarsveld to win the stage in 4:36:15.
The overnight leaders slumped to second overall after finishing runners-up in 4:44:23. Salomon’s Hanlie Booyens and Michelle Lombardi were third in 4:59:03.