John Paul Pearton and Kevin Evans took their rivalry to a new level at the Colorpress Crater Cruise mountain bike race in Parys at the weekend when their 100km race-long battle ended in an exciting sprint finish.

Kevin Evans, wearing the orange Mazda Series leader’s jersey, leads John Paul Pearton up a steep rock-slab climb four kilometres from the finish of the Colorpress Crater Cruise.

Pearton managed to edge out Evans in the dash for the line to claim the R45000 cash prize, the biggest prize purse in any single-day mountain bike race in South Africa. But it was Evans, by virtue of his consistency throughout the year, who secured the prestigious Mazda Series title.

It was Evans’s third runner-up race result in the 2007 Series, which also saw him secure three wins and a third place, giving him the overall title for an unprecedented third successive year. The Crater Cruise doubles as the 10th and final leg of the Mazda Series and with a R250 000 prize purse, attracted all the country’s top mountain bikers, and most of the leading road riders too.

For Pearton, it was a perfect race after his frustrating effort in 2006 when he and top road rider Robert Hunter out-duelled each other in the early stages and essentially cancelled one another out of a shot at the victory.

“This year I adopted my old style of racing. Hanging off the back and watching and waiting for the others to make the moves. It’s a defensive approach but it worked out well in the end,” explained Pearton.

Derek Edwards of Merida Bicycles South Africa helps steady a shattered John Paul Pearton moments after he sprinted to victory at the Colorpress Crater Cruise at the weekend.

Previously, the Crater Cruise was classified as a ‘hybrid’ race, taking place predominantly on gravel roads along the Vaal River basin, giving road cyclists a rare opportunity to challenge the mountain bikers. But changes to the route this year eliminated a 5km tar road section in the middle of the race and replaced it with some tough, technical climbing and descending over rocky terrain that swung the race classification from ‘hybrid’ to ‘mountain bike’.

The ‘roadies’ didn’t go down without a fight though with Nico Bell (Hi Q Supercycling) taking a risk from an early move to find himself out front alone for most of the race. But a chase group comprising eight riders – Evans, Mannie Heymans (both Raleigh MTN Energade), Pearton, Francois Theron (both Mazda Merida), Jaco van Zyl, Jacques Jansen van Rensburg (both Neotel), Marc Bassingthwaighte (Mr Price GT) and David George – set about closing the gap.

“There wasn’t a lot of cohesion in the chase group, so Nico managed to extend his lead to about 2min30sec at one stage,” explained Pearton. “At about 25km to go, Kevin attacked which split our group up a bit and after a while it was just he and I chasing Nico.”

The pair caught Bell with 20km remaining and the Hi Q rider managed to hang on tenaciously for a few kilometres until they reached a technical section where he dropped off the pace.

“I knew from experience that a lone rider couldn’t win this race with such a long break, especially not with the wind we had today, so it was a matter of being patient,” said Pearton.

Pearton and Evans took turns attacking each other in the final 15km, but Pearton began to cramp and let Evans set the pace for the final three kilometres.

“I’d been to check out the finish before the race and knew that who ever got onto the singletrack section about 200m from the finish should win so I snuck around Kevin there and just went as hard as I could to the line.”

Evans tried to respond to Pearton’s surge, but was unable to close down his wily rival who clocked three hours, 30 minutes and five seconds, almost half-an-hour slower than the previous year’s winning time, undoubtedly as a result of the changes to the route.

Evans finished two seconds later with Venter and Heymans riding strongly in the final stages to pass Bell and claim third and fourth positions respectively. Bell finished fifth with George claiming sixth.

“It’s kind of weird, but last year I was in much better form for Crater Cruise, but burnt myself out early on. This year I suffered tremendously, but tactically it was spot on which makes it very rewarding,” said Pearton.

Notable by their absence in the podium hunt in the final stages were African cross-country champion, Burry Stander (puncture) who was eighth and defending Crater Cruise champion, Melt Swanepoel (crash and mechanical trouble) who was 25th.

The top three finishers in the overall Mazda Series rankings after the Crater Cruise were Evans, Swanepoel and Pearton respectively.

Leading results: Colorpress Crater Cruise 100km mountain bike race
Saturday 13 October 2007
1 John Paul Pearton (Mazda Merida) 03:30:05
2 Kevin Evans (Raleigh MTN Energade) 03:30:07
3 Jaco Venter (Neotel) 03:31:16
4 Mannie Heymans (Raleigh MTN Energade) 03:32:13
5 Nico Bell (Hi Q Supercycling) 03:32:40
6 David George 03:33:42
7 Francois Theron (Mazda Merida) 03:34:13
8 Burry Stander (Mr Price GT) 03:37:39
9 Chris Froome (Konica Minolta) 03:39:44
10 Dana Coetzee (Super C Academy) 03:40:47

Youth (15-16 years)
1 Rourke Crouser (Mongoose Red) 03:46:49
2 Douw du Preez (Select) 04:39:45
3 Neil Fourie 04:53:02

Junior (17-18 years)
1 Danie Steyn (Harmony) 03:53:53
2 Bradley Potgieter (Telkom Cycling Club) 04:00:18
3 Jaco du Toit 04:04:31

Senior (19-29 years)
1 John Paul Pearton (Mazda Merida) 03:30:05
2 Kevin Evans (Raleigh MTN Energade) 03:30:07
3 Jaco Venter (Neotel) 03:31:16

Sub-Veteran (30-39 years)
1 4 Mannie Heymans (Raleigh MTN Energade) 03:32:13
2 David George 03:33:42
3 Herman van der Westhuizen 03:44:59

Veteran (40-49 years)
1 Andrew McLean (Cycle Lab Supercycling) 03:45:07
2 Nick Bester (Harmony) 03:52:05
3 Richard Marshall (Linden Cycles) 03:52:50

Master (50-59 years)
1 Cobus Slabbert (Pretoria MTB Club) 04:10:09
2 Barend Bester (Select Cycling) 04:15:28
3 Jan Lamberts (Queens Wheelers) 04:15:59

Grand Master (60-plus years)
1 Johan Botes (Fritz Pienaar Cycles) 05:12:04
2 Sart Stokoe 05:23:58
3 Clive Stokoe (Cycle Lab Supercycling) 05:45:59

All the fantastic photos on this page were provided by Warren Hayward; mtb photographer extrordinaire