Widely regarded as one of the best days you’ll ever spend on a mountain bike, the 99km queen stage of the three-day Nedbank sani2c offers both literal and figurative highs and lows.
While many amateur riders may struggle to hold their line and nerve on the high-speed switchback descent into the Umkomaas River Valley, the pros often appear to sail down the single-track and barely register the climb out on the other side.
Having browsed his racing data on www.strava.com, Cyclingnews sought out six-time champion Kevin Evans, who won the stage and overall race alongside Max Knox, for his take on day two.
Evans’s data reveals that he reached top speeds of 62.6km per hour and averaged 27.2 to finish the stage in a record time of 3:36:58.
“I felt good throughout the stage,” says the FedGroup-Itec rider, who knew what to expect after riding the same route as part of the Old Mutual joBerg2c ten days earlier.
“I knew to eat and drink a lot to fuel up for the effort, as we were planning on attacking out of the Umko Valley.
“It was a fast start to the stage and I only activated the unit after the first kilometre.”
Young cross-country specialists Rourke Croeser and Travis Walker (Kargo Pro) as well as Arno du Toit and Brendon Davids (Trek Racing) were firing on all cylinders as they led the charge into the valley, forcing Evans and Knox and the other pro teams to give chase.
Descending 715m over 19.2km, Evans clocked an average speed of 30.4km per hour, with a power output of 201 watts and heart-rate of 142 beats per minute.
On the valley floor his heart rate dropped by around 10 beats per minute before a collision with Andrew Hill (Red-E/TIB) brought them both up short at the 40km mark.
“I had a bad crash behind another rider falling heavily onto my bad shoulder and hurting my ribs. You might see on the graph where the speed obviously stops, I guess about 5km after waterpoint one,” said Evans.
“It was mentally tough from there to keep my head intact while trying not to push too hard to catch the small group we were with at that stage.”
Evans and Knox kept it steady on the long climb out of the valley as they chased back to close the three-minute gap between them and the leaders.
At around the 55km mark, Evans’s power output spikes as he and Knox launched their planned attack on the category four climb.
“We caught the lead group and put our effort in on the big climb as soon as we exited the Umko Valley. From there we rode a very hard but steady tempo, feeling good.”
Evans’s average heart rate (161bpm) and power output (308W) reflect the push they made on the steep Nando’s Climb leading up to the second feeding station at 67km.
By then Du Toit and Davids had blown, leaving just the FedGroup-Itec duo and RECM’s Erik Kleinhans and Nico Bell 40 seconds adrift of Croeser and Walker.
“Unfortunately,” said Evans, “we couldn’t stop to fuel up at the second waterpoint and raced hard until the third, where we refuelled.”
At that point Evans and Knox were alone with the lead pair, who could not keep up after pacing out front all day.
“We had a two-minute gap over our nearest challengers but this had been chased down to 20 seconds with 10km remaining.”
Little knowing that second-placed Bell and Kleinhans had suffered a severe crash on Charlie’s Catwalk that left Kleinhans with a torn shoulder joint, the champions turned on the afterburners in the closing kilometres.
With power outputs peaking at over 1 100W and a heart rate spiking to 164bpm, the two sprinted towards the finish line at Jolivet farm near Highflats.
“You will see the heart rate graph should increase again in the final 10km as we pushed hard to try extend our lead, which we managed to do and win the stage by around a minute,” says Evans.
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