By Sean Badenhorst

Kevin Evans revealed his big match temperament while Yolande Speedy put on a display of gutsy perseverance to become the 2007 South African Elite men’s and women’s mountain bike champions respectively at the Mazda Big Induna event in Hazyview at the weekend.

An ecstatic Kevin Evans celebrates his victory and the retention of his South African title at the Mazda Big Induna in Hazyview at the weekend.

Defending both his SA title and the Mazda Series leadership, Evans (Raleigh MTN Energade) took the racing to his rivals with an impressive display of confidence and control to earn the right to wear mountain biking’s most coveted jersey for another year.

Evans was quick to thank his teammate Melt Swanepoel, who rode unselfishly to set up the platform from which Evans launched his race-winning move on the challenging 75km route.

Kevin Evans, in the orange Mazda Series leader’s jersey, poses for the media following his victory at the 2007 SA marathon championships along with Melt Swanepoel (left), who was runner-up and John Paul Pearton (right) who finished third.

“Melt was simply awesome today,” said a beaming Evans. “He softened the others up and at the right moment, I made my move and got clear on my own. It showed that team tactics can actually play a part in mountain bike racing. Melt sacrificed himself for me today. I hope I can repay him some day.”

Max Knox (Adidas William Simpson) set the early pace on a technically challenging opening 40km loop through the lowveld fruit plantations and indigenous forest. Evans was ever vigilant though, placing himself on Knox’s wheel with Swanepoel, Renay Goustra (Mongoose) and John Paul Pearton (Mazda Merida) in tow.

The chase group comprised Shan Wilson (Adidas William Simpson), Arno Viljoen (Mr Price GT), Brandon Stewart and Mannie Heymans (both Raleigh MTN Energade) and David George, 2006 Commonwealth Games road race silver medallist, giving the off-road scene a bash.

As the lead group began the first big climb of the day at the 41km mark, Swanepoel, appropriately wearing the polka-dot Velotex King of the Mountain competition leader’s jersey, began to set a blistering pace on the 5km ascent which dispatched first Goustra and then Knox, leaving just himself, Evans and Pearton at the head of affairs.

But even after, the climb, Swanepoel kept the pace high on the front to ensure none of the riders behind would be able to rejoin the leaders. Evans and Pearton simply sat in Swanepoel's slipstream until a steep 4km climb 12km from the finish when Evans put in a fierce attack that launched him clear, despite a brave effort by Pearton to close him down.

Evans then rode on alone to finish in a fast 2hrs 52min 05sec and secure the national marathon title for the second year in succession. Swanepoel was later able to ride away of Pearton and claimed the silver medal in 02:53:26 with Pearton rounding out the year’s most important podium in 02:54:18. Viljoen, winner of this race in 2006, put in a late surge to claim fourth place with Heymans fifth and George, completing an impressive marathon debut, to secure sixth place.

In the women’s race, the eagerly anticipated tussle between Yolande Speedy and Yolande de Villiers appeared doomed early on. While De Villiers (Mazda Merida) was forging into an early lead, Speedy (IMC Mongoose) was floundering in fifth place after just 10km.

“My legs felt terrible. Like they were full of lactic acid and I just couldn’t get going at a decent pace,” explained Speedy, who’d flown home from Europe just two days earlier to compete in the national championships.

But the 31-year-old Speedy steadily began to find her rhythm and, one-by-one, began closing the other women down. She eventually caught De Villiers with just 15km remaining but, shortly after passing her, crashed.

“I jumped up quickly and tried to get going again, but my calves were both cramping as I tried to get my shoes back into the pedals,” recalled Speedy afterwards. "There were a few tense moments!"

After a poor start, Yolande Speedy surprised herself when she went on to recover and win the SA marathon title at the Mazda Big Induna in Hazyview at the weekend.

But she managed to remount and re-pass De Villiers just before the long, fast final stretch down to the finish. Speedy is known for her superb technical skills and she used the winding 6km downhill to carve out a healthy lead, allowing her to enjoy the feeling of claiming her first marathon SA title in 03:21:51, and giving her an impressive 22nd place overall.

Yolande Speedy (left) is all smiles after winning her first SA marathon title at the weekend. Speedy finished just over a minute ahead of archrival, Yolande de Villiers (right), at the Mazda Big Induna event in Hazyview.

De Villiers, still sporting a bandage after fracturing her left elbow in early May, rolled home second in 03:23:10 with national cross country champion, Amy Jane Mundy (Jeep Specialized) a distant third in 03:33:23.

Evans’ win helped him extend his lead in the men’s category of the 2007 Mazda Series, while Tania Raats still leads the women’s rankings, despite finishing fourth at the weekend.

The fifth leg of the 2007 Mazda Series takes place in Knysna on 7 July.

Mazda Big Induna 75km, incorporating the 2007 South African Marathon Championships.
Leading results:
Overall Men
1 Kevin Evans (Raleigh MTN Energade) 02hrs52min05sec
2 Melt Swanepoel (Raleigh MTN Energade) 02:53:26
3 John Paul Pearton (Mazda Merida) 02:54:18
4 Arno Viljoen (Mr Price GT) 02:57:44
5 Mannie Heymans (Raleigh MTN Energade) 02:59:34
6 David George 03:00:10
7 Brandon Stewart (Raleigh MTN Energade) 03:00:51
8 Francois Theron (Mazda Merida) 03:01:29
9 Oliver Munnik (Adidas William Simpson) 03:01:40
10 Shan Wilson (Adidas William Simpson) 03:01:47

Overall Women
1 Yolande Speedy (IMC Mongoose) 03:21:51
2 Yolande de Villiers (Mazda Merida) 03:23:10
3 Amy Jane Mundy (Jeep Specialized) 03:33:23
4 Tania Raats (Maverick Momentum) 03:40:05
5 Angelique van Zyl 03:47:16