By Bardy the Action Scribe

The influence of David George’s arrival on the MTN Energade mountain bike team for 2008 has already become evident, just by looking at the physical appearance of Kevin Evans, George’s Absa Cape Epic partner.

Probably South Africa’s current top stage racer, George, the 2006 Commonwealth Games road race silver medallist, has begun to impart his knowledge and experience on his teammate, the reigning South African marathon mountain bike champion, as they prepare for a top finish at the 2008 Cape Epic.

Evans has dropped more than three kilograms and more than six percent body fat compared to the same time last year, mainly as a result of George’s stage-race training strategy and a disciplined nutrition plan.

“We’re aiming for a podium finish at the Epic and the way our preparation has gone so far, I’m pretty confident we can do it,” said Evans, who is still the only South African to have finished on the Cape Epic podium (third with Austrian partner Silvio Weltschnig in 2005).

George, who won the Tour de Langkawi, Asia’s biggest stage race in 2006 and is a three-time winner of the Giro del Capo, South Africa’s most prestigious stage race, is relatively new to mountain biking, having only switched to the fat-tyred bikes sporadically in 2007. But he showed glimpses of impressive potential at the 2007 Cape Epic when he and current world champion, Christoph Sauser, paired up to complete the race unofficially among the leaders following the withdrawal of their respective original partners.

“We’re combining my mountain bike racing and Cape Epic experience – this will be my fifth Epic – with David’s knowledge of stage racing preparation and nutrition and are hoping that will help us achieve our goal,” explained Evans. “As part of our build-up, in February, David will race on the South African national team at the Tour de Langkawi and I will race on the MTN Energade road team at the Tour of Egypt. In March we’ll both race the Giro del Capo. These road stage races will help get us accustomed to consecutive days of hard racing.”

Along with Evans, also returning to the MTN Energade team for 2008 are Melt Swanepoel and Mannie Heymans. Swanepoel had a successful 2007, with among other victories, the Elite Men’s African Cross-Country title and finishing runner-up to Evans at the South African marathon championships. Heymans, a Namibian national who is a two-time Olympian and multiple African champion, continued to recover from a serious shoulder injury with some solid performances in both stage races and marathon events and won his seventh Subaru Sabie Classic title.

Carla Rowley, who started with the team as a marathon-racing novice in 2007, has been retained following a successful first year, which saw her finish regularly in the top 10, including a few podium positions.

2008 MTN ENERGADE MOUNTAIN BIKE TEAM: Kevin Evans, David George, Mannie Heymans, Melt Swanepoel, Carla Rowley.