By Bardy the Action Scribe

Seven-time champion Mannie Heymans was unable to win his eighth Subaru Sabie Classic at the weekend, but he did help teammate Kevin Evans claim the coveted title at one of the country’s biggest and most prestigious mountain bike races.

In a classic display of tactical teamwork more reminiscent of a road cycling race, Heymans and Evans (both MTN Energade) took the early initiative, gained control of the tough event and then went on to finish first and second to keep the race title within the team for another year.

“It was not quite as we had planned as, being an seven-time winner, this is Mannie’s race and we wanted him to win again, but it worked out this way and at least we still got the top two places again,” said the ever-modest Evans, who was runner-up to Heymans in 2007.

With sharp form following their participation at the recent Tour d’Egypte road stage race, Evans, in the white, green and gold strip denoting his South African marathon champion status, and Heymans were quickly on the attack on the first of five major climbs. Evans rode clear with the intention of getting at least one of his teammates to ride across the gap to him.

“Mannie rode across to me on the second climb and he won the King of the Mountains prize at the summit. We were cautious on the technical singletrack descent as we wanted to avoid any problems, but Johan van Zyl (Mr Price GT) came flying down the mountain and caught us!”

With Van Zyl in the mix, Evans and Heymans decided to use their numerical superiority to their advantage. Heymans put in a few attacks but Van Zyl responded each time and was able to close any gaps on the veteran Namibian. Then with 30km remaining, Evans attacked and Van Zyl was unable to respond, leaving Evans to carve out a lead.

“Mannie gave me a bit of time then attacked Johan and tried to ride across to me,” explained Evans. “But at this late stage, we were among the riders that were finishing the short race and it was very confusing to see who was behind me. I didn’t want our team to lose out on the win so just kept it steady. Had I known Mannie was alone two minutes behind be, I would have waited for him, but it was better to be sure the team got the victory.”

Evans finished the race in a fast 2hr48min with Heymans claiming second place in 2:50. Van Zyl faded somewhat to finish fifth, watching first Marc Bassingthwaighte (Trek Garmin) and then visiting Swiss rider, Philippe Vullioud (USN) pass him to claim third and fourth places respectively. Melt Swanepoel (MTN Energade) was sixth.