Former champion Kevin Evans and new partner Max Knox will be aiming to stay the course to victory in the nine-day joBerg2c mountain bike race that starts on the outskirts of Johannesburg on Friday.
Evans, who rides in the colours of Itec, is aiming to make amends for last month’s Cape Epic disaster where an illegal shortcut cost them an hour time penalty and their lead in the African jersey category.
“Staying the course will be a relative term this year,” said Evans wryly, “especially in a race that’s now self-navigated. I can apparently hardly find my way around a marked course!”
The 880km race from Heidelberg in Gauteng to Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast will employ GPS navigation instead of traditional route marking for the first time this year.
“This could be the biggest factor to influence our race upfront,” said Evans, who won the 2012 event alongside former teammate David George.
“Whether it’s a good change or not, we’re sure to find out soon enough. But given my apparent fondness for ‘shortcuts’, this new format might just be right up my alley.”
The fifth joBerg2c will see 750 riders roll out from the Karan Beef feedlot and cross the Vaal Dam on a 400m pallet bridge during the neutral opening stage.
The journey continues across the Free State before dropping off the escarpment into KZN and finishing on Scottburgh’s main beach next Saturday.
The last three days trace the world famous Nedbank sani2c route but Evans, a five-time winner, said the race could be won or lost from the outset.
“In 2012 we arguably won the joBerg2c on the first stage. But I do think that endurance counts and you need to conserve over the nine days.”
With the national and world marathon championships still in their sights this year, Evans and Knox are set to adopt a more conservative approach.
“From a form point of view, it’s a bit of a balancing act but I think we’re both on the same page in terms of what we want from the event – and what we’ll get out of it.”
The sometime adversaries teamed up for the first time at Epic, with cross-country specialist Knox surprising his new partner with his performance in the endurance event.
“I saw a side to Max in the Epic that I’ve never seen before and it was an absolute pleasure to race alongside him.
“I was very disappointed in the outcome and my mistake that saw our chances taken away from us. But, on the plus side, we got to see how compatible we are.”
As former national marathon champions, Evans said their riding and racing styles were very similar and that their combination could only improve with more racing opportunities.
The Plettenberg Bay-based rider said he expected stiff opposition from the likes of Johann Rabie and Gawie Combrinck (EAI Cycling) as well as Darren Lill and another former joBerg2c winner Waylon Woolcock (Cannondale-Blend).
Also in the mix are the Contego pairing of Louis-Bresler Knipe and Craig Boyes, and Karan Beef’s Chris Wolhuter and Hanco Kachelhoffer.
“Any of them could be potential winners and I would never count anyone out. But, from what I saw at Epic, both Johann and Darren are very strong.”