By Bardy the Action Scribe

The only South African ever to stand on the final podium at the Absa Cape Epic, the world’s most prestigious mountain bike stage race, is Kevin Evans. And he badly wants to return.

In fact so great is Evans’ desire to stand on that podium again that he’s (purposely) lost 5 kilograms since the 2007 Cape Epic, has trimmed almost one kilogram off his Raleigh RM Team bicycle and has gained the confidence required to beat the world’s best mountain bikers.

He’s also gained a new teammate in current Commonwealth Games road racing silver medallist, David George, one of South Africa’s best ever road cyclists that’s turned his attention from the predictability of tar to the lottery of grit, gravel and, well, grime.

“David has had a huge influence on my preparation for this Epic and I can easily say that I have never been this prepared for this race,” said Evans. “My body is right. My equipment is right. And most importantly, my head is right.”

Evans, the current South African marathon mountain bike champion, admits that in the past, he’s been somewhat intimidated by the international riders that have come and dominated the Cape Epic. But that has changed this year.

“David and I have been training very scientifically and the figures don’t lie. We are in peak form and the figures show that we are able to be competitive against the best cyclists in the world,” explained Evans, who finished third in the 2005 Cape Epic with Austrian partner, Silvio Wieltschnig.

George, also a qualified Level 2 international cycling coach, is a graduate from the only school that matters in cycling – the Power-to-Weigh Ratio College. Cyclists like George live by their power-to-weight ratio figures, continually trying to improve them using hi-tech power measuring devices and following stringent eating plans, where every gram is weighed and every kilojoule of carbs, proteins and fats is noted.

“We did some tests last week and our power-to-weight ratio at present puts us into the top percentage of cyclists in the world. On our eight-minute tests, Kevin is on 6.3 and I am on 6.5 Watts per kilogram which is really confidence inspiring,” said George.

For comparison, at his Tour de France-winning peak, Lance Armstrong was at 6.8 Watts per kg, while the average Cape Epic participant will produce around 4 Watts per kg.

But power-to-weight ratio is only one element in a race that covers some of the most rugged terrain in the country over a distance of 950km in nine days with a total elevation of 18000 metres (more that twice the height of Mt Everest).

For George, a relative novice to mountain biking, his skill levels compared to those of Evans are a world away. As a result, George, with the support of his team’s bike sponsor, Raleigh, has sourced a 2009 prototype dual suspension bike. Dual suspension is more forgiving than the standard hardtail (front suspension only) bikes most of the top riders choose. But this comes at a weight cost.

“We’ve managed to get the bike down to 10.5kg, which compared to Kevin’s hardtail at 9.2kg is heavyish, but what I lose in weight, I undoubtedly have gained in handling. I’m a different beast on a dual suspension bike! I also think that a quality dual suspension bike is the best weapon for a race like the Epic as power loss is minimised by the rear suspension,” explained George.

George completed last year’s Cape Epic, but was listed as an unofficial finisher after his original partner fell ill after Stage 3 and was forced to withdraw. George then paired up with Swiss 2006 Epic champion Christoph Sauser, who’d also lost his partner on Stage 3 and the duo were seen riding comfortably among the leaders on most of the remaining stages, easing up in the final kilometres so as not to interfere with the official results.

By contrast, Evans has completed all four Epics so far and has the unique advantage of being the son of the race’s course designer, Leon Evans. Both deny there’s any detailed discussion of the route (most of which is relatively guarded information) at family gatherings. But even if Evans Snr was to tell Evans Jnr about every single challenge on the route, it’s still got to be ridden, at pace, against the best mountain bike racers in the world. And that’s what Kevin Evans has been preparing for since November 2007. Dreaming of a return to that coveted podium.

Team: MTN Energade 1
Nationality: South African
Date of birth: 6 June 1978
Born in: Johannesburg
Lives in: Plettenberg Bay
Career highlights
Mazda Drifter Series overall winner 2005, 2006, 2007
South African Elite marathon champion 2006, 2007
South African Elite cross-country champion 2006, 2007
3rd place Cape Epic 2005 with Silvio Wieltschnig
Absa Cape Epic record
2004: 4th with Geddan Ruddock
2005: 3rd with Silvio Wieltschnig
2006: 4th with Mannie Heymans
2007: 7th with Brandon Stewart

Team: MTN Energade 1
Date of birth: 23 February 1976
Born in: Cape Town
Lives in: Cape Town
Career highlights
Bronze medal Under-23 world championships (individual time trial) 1997
Olympic Games 1996, 2000
Bronze medal Commonwealth Games (individual time trial) 1998
Silver medal Commonwealth Games (road race) 2006
Winner MTN Giro del Capo 2002, 2003, 2004
Winner Tour de Langkawi 2006
Five-time winner South African individual time trial championships
South African road race champion 2003
Absa Cape Epic record
2007: Partner, Rupert Rheeder, DNF