Evans and George successfully defend Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek title

Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek, 7days, 534km, 11500m

Photos Karin Shermbrucker. Kevin Evans

After a frantic finish to the MTN Series in Parys, we caught a flight from Warwick Langebrink, a mate of mine who flew us down directly to Oudtshoorn in his Cesna210, and we were there late Saturday afternoon to start the Bridge CPT on Sunday with us much recovery time as possible thanks to him.

Prologue, Oudtshoorn, 15km, 330m 

The first stage on Sunday would feature a short prologue around Matthys Beukes’s farm, just outside town, where he has a number of awesome hand built trails. No doubt he would be the favorite together with his partner for the event, Melt Swanepoel, to win the opener. Dave and I managed a flawless run though the tight and technical course, but the track was in great condition and flowed beautifully. Times were becoming faster with every team that that was setting off, and Matthys and Melt held the fastest time until we managed to edge them out by a mere 22seconds. Dave and I are both really well matched, and prologues suit us, so we were happy to start the race with the leaders jersey on Monday. Team Contego, Louis Knibe and Craig Boyes posted the third fastest time of the day in the open category.

Stage 1, Oudtshoorn-Calitzdorp, 103km, 1750m

The first stage to Calitzdorp would incorporate some new jeep tracks, and some amazing singletracks, which the organizers had found/made in the middle of the Karoo. The bunch stayed together for the first 40-50km, mostly due to fresh legs and a nice flowing track. The rugged terrain would slowly take its toll on equipment and tires, mostly the European riders learning the hard way. Two of the worst incidents, one involved a group of riders being attacked by a huge swarm of angry bees, causing carnage at the back, and very nearly ended a life or two. Thanks to Drylands quick response for evacuating the riders to hospital and re-routing the remaining riders, all riders were treated safely and reinstated into the race as soon as they had recovered. Another casualty for the day was Louise Knibe who took a bad fall and landed up in hospital, Contego’s race over for them.Meanwhile Dave and I rode a perfect stage, made it count when the route got hard and rode away from the small group  with around 25km to go. We were chased hard by Westvaal/Columbia’s Nico Bell and Gawie Combrink, who at the end of the stage had finished around 40seconds behind us, with Cango-MTB’s Melt and Matthys coming in third not to far behind them. It was a hard day, and recovery for the next day would be key. Again, thanks to Dryland for rolling out the red carpet for us with Guesthouse accommodation as opposed to camping, whilst the weather all the while was looking ominous.

Stage 2, Calitzdorp-Swartberg Pass, 85km, 2800m

This was the stage that had the mountain bike community buzzing, with a mountain top finish on the Swartberg Pass, a huge climb of 1100m over 9km, winning team to the top taking R10000-00! This was provided you finished the race and met the criteria of a point system to ensure you were competitive throughout the race.With 1700m of climbing before we even got to the pass, Dave and I raced hard from the front, opening a gap on the field, putting our heads down and opening a lead of around 3minutes going into the final climb, ahead of Melt and Matthys. Unfortunately Nico and Gawie had broken a hanger and were loosing time due to having to fix the problem. We continued to set a hard tempo up the climb I know so well, and at the top, we had won the stage by 8minutes, and were close to hundred thousand rand richer, unheard of in mountain biking in South Africa, and creating an iconic stage which will take a fair amount to surpass.

R100 000!

Stage 4, Prince Albert- De Rust, 109km, 1750m

Our race tactics would take a slight change from now on. Key would be safety, to finish each stage without hassles and avoid any mishaps. Having said that, we would remain always at the head of the race, as we still wanted to defend our 2011 title. But with no pressure, it would be fun riding from here on. Near the latter half of the stage, Cango-MTB and we had ridden away from Westvaal/Columbia as they had tire issues. The beautiful tracks took us through the Great Karoo and finally through the scenic and majestic Meiringspoort to the finish in the small town of De Rust. Melt and Matthys made sure of a solid sprint to the line to take the stage win, whilst we cruised in for second place on the day, and Westvaal/Columbia making up huge time to finish third about a minute later.

Stage 5, De Rust-Herold, 64km, 1650m

Although the shortest stage on paper, by no means the easiest, with the small task of having to ride through the infamous Kamannasie Mountains. Our Scott Sparks were absolutely in a league of their own here, and we simply used them to the max as we peddled away from the competition on the rugged jeep trails. Once safely through the harsh terrain, Westvaal/Columbia joined us, and this suited us perfectly as they were racing for second place on general classification. We got a ‘free ride’ to the finish, where they took their first well earned stage win, and reduced their deficit to second place to a mere 30seconds, whilst we had extended our overall lead to a healthy gap over second place.

Stage 6, Herold-George, 73km, 1700m

Rain had put a serious damper on the moods of the riders, and the organizers were forced to cut out a start loop of about 15km around Louvain, but obviously putting the safety and enjoyment of the riders first. The delayed start was great for Dave and I as we crept back into our warm beds, not so cool though for Swen as he was beginning to suffer from post camping/hypothermic/mud depression!Again we had a plan, and it worked perfectly, as we set the tempo up the first climb, taking Nico and Gawie with us, and once we had safely negotiated the technical descend of the ‘Duiwelskloof Pass’, Nico and Gawie did all the work into George, securing their second place on GC, whilst Dave and I had another free ride to the finish, coming in second for the stage again behind them. We would now go into the final stage with a lead of around 24minutes, and everything looking on track!

Stage 7, George- Oudtshoorn, 84km, 1580m

The final stage, and again, not an easy one, with riders having to tackle the Montagu Pass in the first 20km. Again the weather was miserable, and the back markers of the race would feel the worst of the bad weather as it seemed to get worse as the day went on. Dave and I were keen to bookmark our race with a win, and we set a hard pace right from the start. At first I felt fine, but then the fatigue of a hectic last two weeks kicked in, and I was forced to have to battle with myself to stay on Dave’s wheel. In fact halfway up the climb, I had a few choice words with him, for whom I then apologized, and he politely offered to carry my water bottle up the climb, which saved me about five watts, but I was grateful. Westvaal/Columbia weren’t keen on letting us go, and they were chasing hard around 90seconds behind us. Dave was doing all the work, and I was constantly forcing myself to dig a little more, whilst at one stage, he said lets wait up. After he had worked for around 65km, I couldn’t let him down, got angry and mashed the peddles, only just enough to help us open a gap to around 2minutes, where we could really enjoy our ride up to the finish of the Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek, and successfully defend our title form last year.

Mission accomplished!

I have to make special mention to Henco, Carel and the Dryland crew. One for putting together my most enjoyable Pioneer yet, having found the correct balance of testing routes and some of the best trails the Karoo has to offer. Also for them hosting us and looking after Nedbank 360life like true professional sportsmen, which reflects on their race and organization. For this reason, we will be first to sign up for 2013. It seems they will continue to use these routes, and develop them, so the riders can expect for fun, and even better trails!Then special thanks to Bridge their new sponsor, with your generous prize money that will no doubt attract bigger names next year. Bridge will always stand out now as great sponsor who supports our sport.

So that’s a wrap for the 2012 season, and what a great year we had with Nedbank 360life. We had our fair share of ups and downs, but with their continued support throughout the season, meant we could focus solely at the job on hand, riding our bikes, and having fun. Thanks to all the rest of our sponsors for the super season, its time now for a well earned break, before preparation for 2013 gets underway. That’s me, tapping out. Perhaps you will see me on a golf course soon!Till then, Cheers, 

Kevin Evans

Provisional results: MTB
1st Evans/George (Team Nedbank 360life) 20hrs56
2nd Bell/Combrink (Westvaal/Columbia) 21hr21
3rd Beukes/Swanepoel (Cango-MTB) 21hr51

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