By Bardy the Action Scribe

South African champion, Kevin Evans, is bristling with anticipation for Saturday’s 2008 UCI Marathon Mountain Bike World Championships, which take place at Villabassa in the Italian Dolomites.

The 30-year-old MTN Energade team rider is in the best form of his career, confirmed by his second place finish at last weekend’s Kitzalpbike Marathon in Austria. Evans has undergone a rather dramatic physical transformation since he began training under the guidance of his Absa Cape Epic teammate, David George, last October and his improved results against international riders in recent months have been a sure reflection of that.

At the 2007 Marathon World Championships in Belgium last August, Evans finished 47th, 38 minutes behind winner, Christoph Sauser. But Evans Version 2.0 is lighter, leaner and more powerful and a very likely top-10 contender over the gruelling 120km route on Saturday.

Due to a more specialised diet prescribed by George, Evans’s weight dropped to 62kg from 68kg and his body fat is currently at 5%, from 10%. As a result of his lower body mass, his power-to-weight ratio, the most crucial baseline factor in cycling success, has improved too. Two stage wins and third place overall at the 2008 Cape Epic with George, confirmed Evans’s improved form against some of the strongest marathon racers in the world.

“Yes, my condition is very good and that second place to Leonardo Peaz (Columbia) last weekend was a good confidence booster,” said a relaxed Evans on Thursday. “Peaz was the silver medallist at the 2006 world champs and has won World Cup races before. I made an error in not recognising him last weekend when he made a break early on which I didn’t respond to, allowing him to get bigger time gap than he deserved!”

Evans believes that with almost 4000 metres of climbing, Saturday’s course suits him and that a top-10 finish is realistic.

“I have not got the best starting position. I have number 88 so will have to spend some pennies early on to get near the front of the race, whilst going up the first climb. But besides that, I fancy a top-10 position. A top five or podium would be a stretch but I’m absolutely going to give it a shot from the get go.”

Evans is the most successful South African in the Elite men’s marathon world champs, his best result being 29th in Norway in 2005 where he was 10 minutes off the winner. He is joined this weekend by fellow Southern Africans Melt Swanepoel (MTN Energade), Brandon Stewart (USN), Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade) and Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin DCM). Heymans and Bassingthwaighte will be representing Namibia.

Heymans is the most experienced of the Southern Africans having spent the bulk of his professional career in Europe, where the very long climbs suit his riding style. He was third behind Paez and Evans at the Kitzalpbike Marathon last weekend and could also be in line for a top-10 finish.

Firm medal favourites for Saturday’s race include defending champion, Christoph Sauser and his Swiss compatriot and the 2006 champion, Ralf Naef. Columbian Leonardo Peaz, Frenchman Thomas Dietch and the Italian pair of Massimo De Bertolis, the 2004 winner and Gilberto Simoni are also certain to be medal contenders.

In the women’s race over 88km, South Africa is represented by Carla Rowley (MTN Energade) and Samantha Oosthuizen (Garmin DCM). They will climb 3040 metres in what promises to be a demanding event in which Germany’s Sabine Spitz, Finland’s Pia Sundstedt and Norway’s three-time winner, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa, are the favourites.