Evans leads South African medal charge at Maccabi Games

    Kevin Evans (centre) celebrates his victory in the Elite men's road race at the 2013 Maccabi Games. Ukraine's Dmytro Grabovskyy (right) claimed the silver medal and Israel's Paz Bash (left) secured the bronze. Photo: Release Centre

    Kevin Evans, a multiple South African champion, finished the cycling segment of the 2013 Maccabi Games on a high note when he claimed victory in the Elite men’s road race on Thursday. Evans’s gold medal brought to four the total medal count for the small South African cycling team.

    In the individual time trail at the weekend, Evans (Elite men) and Benjy Stoch (Veteran men 40-49) claimed silver medals, while on Thursday, Issy Zimmerman secured the road race bronze medal in the Veteran men’s 40-49 category.

    Following his defeat by almost two minutes in the individual time trial to Ukraine’s former Under-23 road race world champion, Dmytro Grabovskyy, the 35-year-old Evans went into Thursday’s road race as the underdog. But the course – 110km with a high percentage of climbing (3 300m in total) and a number of fast, tight turns – suited the professional mountain bike racer from Plettenberg Bay.

    Evans let South African teammate, Simon Adler, infiltrate the early break, which comprised four Israeli team members, forcing Grabovskyy to respond and lead the pursuit of the escapees. That worked in Evans’s favour as the field steadily thinned out in the 44 degrees Celsius heat as they tried to stay with the Ukranian powerhouse.

    South Africa's Benjy Stoch claimed the silver medal in the 40-49-year individual time trial at the 2013 Maccabi Games. Photo: Release Centre

    Once Grabovskyy had reeled in the break though, Evans went on the attack and stayed out front on his own with around a 20 second lead for two laps of the 11-lap race.

    “I forced the Ukrainian to chase me but realised I couldn’t stay out front like that until the end. So I decided to sit up and wait for them to catch me,” said Evans.

    Only Grabovskyy and two Israeli team members were left in the front group when they caught Evans, who then consolidated his energy for a while before launching his quest for the title.

    “I upped the pace on one of the climbs on the final lap. The Israeli guys weren’t able to stay with me, but Grabovskyy hung on. He’d be difficult to beat in sprint, so I didn’t want to take him to the line and kept the pace high.

    “He won the King of the Mountains title at the 2010 Tirreno Adriatico, so I knew he’d be hard to shed on the climb. But I could hear him breathing heavily next to me and when I heard him shift off the big chainring into an easier gear, I knew he was taking strain and that was really the moment I won the race,” said Evans.

    South Africa's Issy Zimmerman overcame an early crash to secure the bronze medal in the 40-49-year road race at the 2013 Maccabi Games. Photo: Release Centre

    With eight kilometres to the finish line, Evans pushed on alone, gradually extending his lead over the Ukranian to claim the title and reverse the result from the time trial, with Grabovskyy taking the silver medal. Israeli road race champion, Paz Bash, secured the bronze.

    “That was one of the best wins of my career,” beamed Evans at the finish. “I have to say that I was disappointed at being beaten so convincingly in the time trial, the event where I thought I had my best shot at a title. In the time trial you have a lot of control, whereas in the road race, anything can happen. There are so many variables to manage. But today it was my turn for success.

    “The course suited me as did the hot weather. It was pretty emotional too because our small team – there are just seven of us – have become a really close-knit bunch and my dad was also at the finish. I have to thank my team, FedGroup Itec, for supporting me throughout all the downs I’ve been through with my health in the past year and my South African teammates who made this trip to the Maccabi Games possible,” said Evans.

    “South Africa finished fifth overall in the cycling team competition, which, considering we only had seven riders, is impressive,” said Zimmerman, the team captain. “A few nations have between 12 and 20 riders and of course in the road race, it’s a numbers game. To get two road race medals and two time trial medals is very special.”

    There are over 9 000 athletes from 71 countries competing at the 2013 Maccabi Games, which are held for Jewish athletes every four years in Israel. The 2013 South African cycling team comprised Kevin Evans, Simon Adler (Elite), Rabi Levi Popack (30-39 years), Issy Zimmerman, Benjy Stoch, Brad Waksman (40-49 years) and Dan Chait (50-and-over).

    South African cycling medals:

    Kevin Evans, Elite – gold, road race; silver, individual time trial

    Benjy Stoch, 40-49 – silver, individual time trial

    Issy Zimmerman, 40-49 – bronze, road race