By Sean Badenhorst

Kevin Evans will start Saturday’s South African mountain bike championships with a little more pressure on his shoulders than his rivals. He is the 2006 national champion so a title defence is high on his list of priorities, while there will be additional expectations for the 28-year-old Knynsa resident to defend his lead in the 2007 Mazda Series.

Despite having had a successful season so far, Evans, who races for the Raleigh MTN Energade team, hasn’t topped the podium at an individual marathon race since January. He won the first leg of the 2007 Mazda Series at Barberton, followed by second places at the second and third Series events, Dirty Harry and Forest to Falls, and he was second at the Subaru Sabie Classic and fourth at the Mr Price Karkloof Classic.

Kevin Evans will be out to defend his South African title and retain his lead in the Mazda Series at the Mazda Big Induna in Hazyview on Saturday.

“There’s really only one reason to be going to Hazyview,” said Evans. “I’ll obviously be looking to retain the Mazda Series lead with a good performance, but the SA title is significant; something special. It’s my main goal. To be honest, I’m not worrying about any of the other riders. I can only worry about myself. I’ll give it my best shot and if someone beats me then so be it.”

Evans denies his powerful team will be racing tactically throughout the race. “To a point you can have a strategy, but after that it’s each man for himself really. It’s more like a time trial than a bunch race so tactics don’t really play a big role.”

A star-studded field will be out to dethrone Evans of his national title at the Mazda Big Induna 75km event. John Paul Pearton (Mazda Merida) has been ominously quiet of late, which according to his rivals, usually means he’s putting in some serious training. Pearton won the Karkloof Classic four weeks ago, leading from start to finish. Should he be in peak form on Saturday, Pearton will no doubt use the same all-or-nothing strategy.

Evans can also expect a challenge from his own Raleigh MTN Energade teammates, Melt Swanepoel and Brandon Stewart. Both have played supporting roles to Evans in the Mazda Series so far this year, but Stewart’s second place finish at Karkloof was an indication that he is approaching his best form. Swanepoel meanwhile was looking dangerous at both Dirty Harry and Forest to Falls before his potential victory assaults were curbed by mechanical problems.

Mountain bike legend, Mannie Heymans, is also on the Raleigh MTN Energade team and will be looking for a good result after a break in his racing schedule. Heymans is Namibian so cannot qualify for a national championships medal, but that won’t stop the wily 35-year-old mixing it up at the sharp end of the race, with the long climbs in the latter half sure to suit him.

David George, a big name in cycling, but a relatively unknown factor in mountain biking, will line up at the start too. George recently won gold (time trial) and silver (road race) at the national road championships, so his form is undoubtedly superb. However, he’s done very little mountain biking since he competed with some distinction in the 2007 Absa Cape Epic so may find the technical sections in the first 40km more challenging than most.

The absence of Burry Stander and Marc Bassingthwaighte (both Mr Price GT), as a result of their international racing commitments, will obviously be a loss for the race, but their teammates, Johan van Zyl and Arno Viljoen, last year’s Big Induna winner, are expected to fulfil the team’s podium contender duties on Saturday. Others also sure to be in the medal mix are the Adidas William Simpson pair of Shan Wilson and Max Knox.

The Big Induna 75km event offers a very balanced course with the first 40km taking the riders over undulating terrain with some technical sections through the forests. The last 35km is more open with some relatively long climbs. There is a good balance of singletrack, quad track and dirt roads and a total of 1820 metres of climbing.

The 40km event doubles as the fifth leg of the Fritz Pienaar Cycle Half-marathon Series and is expected to attract a large field. There will also be a 15km fun ride. Online entries have closed but late entries will be taken on Friday at the race registration at Induna Adventures between 14h00 and 20h00. Induna Adventures is situated 10km from Hazyview on the Sabie road, the R536. For more information, visit