Dr Evil Classic stage race – a coastal forest experience
15 August 2016
You can also listen to these podcasts directly from the Old Mutual app, which is available here.
Well, hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, I’m Gerald de Kock and for the next 10 minutes or so we’re talking mountain biking. We meet the people who ride the bikes, we meet the people who fix the bikes, who make the bikes and the people who make the trails and most importantly, the people who give us an opportunity to ride those trails in the events. That’s where we’re going to be on this next 10 minutes or so.
Because we’re talking about an event that takes place down in the Garden Route area. Starts just outside Plettenberg Bay and it’s called the Dr Evil Classic. Its name comes from the man who set the event up, Leon Evans. As you might or might not know, his nickname comes from a time as a route planner and builder round about the Absa Cape Epic or the Cape Epic a few years ago.
He now runs his own event – apart from being heavily involved in a bike shop, The Bike Shop in Plettenberg Bay. Leon is with me now. Leon, thanks for joining me. Tell us about the Dr Evil Classic, where did that come from in terms of the first event, what were you thinking?
Leon Evans: Well, it came about, I was always asked: Why don’t we put up a stage race in Plettenberg Bay, why not, why not? So I um’d and ah’d for three years and eventually I thought look, I can’t get nagged any longer, I must just do it. We just put our heads together and we put an event together.
GDK: That first year, when was it and how many riders did you have?
LE: The first year we had about 200 riders, it was four years ago, this year will be the fifth edition. The event was pretty much based on the beginner type stage racer, not too difficult stages, not too much technical stuff. It was more scenic and more for the, as I say, for the first time stage type rider.
GDK: You talk about it saying it was like that, has it evolved over the years as the riders have? I think more and more riders are getting more capable at riding technical stuff and so they’re looking for events that maybe test them more?
LE: It has definitely evolved. I don’t think there are too many first time stage racers anymore and on request, the guys want more single track, they want more this, they want more that. We’ve tried to accommodate them in that respect.
Where the route takes you
GDK: Tell us where it starts and where you take the riders?
LE: The first three years, or four years started and finished at Wittedrift, at the school there, it’s a fundraiser for the high school there. We had three days out and back from the school. This year, however, we’ve digressed a bit and we’re trying something totally different.
We’ve got three totally separate venues, to give the guys three totally different types of riding. Day One will be more forestry type riding. Day Two will be coastal, scenic routes and Day Three will be a lot of indigenous type forest riding. The three days are totally different, totally versatile.
GDK: What sort of distances will they be?
LE: Day One is about 70km, about 1300m of climbing. Day Two will be 50km, and Day Three about 40km.
GDK: It is manageable for those who are still sort of cutting their teeth in mountain bike stage racing.
LE: Very much so. I’ve based the route on what I can do, if I can ride it comfortably, then it’s fine.
GDK: I’ve seen you ride, I know you can ride, so it’ll be challenging nevertheless. You obviously know the trails here, you’ve been intimately involved in creating and opening up so many of the trails here. Each year the event comes around, do you go back to the well, do you go back to those same trails most often?
LE: We have been in the past but this year, as I say, we’ve diversified a bit. We’re trying some new areas and three different stage locations –
GDK: But completely new trail?
LE: Two days are completely new.
GDK: That’s challenging in finding those trails and getting out there?
Establishing new routes on the Garden Route
LE: Look, I’ve been riding those trails for the last number of years, so I found them many years ago. But it’s just now that we’re going this route and there’s some great stuff out there, really. The more we ride, the more there is to see and the more we discover.
GDK: However, in the more we ride and the more we discover, we do find more fences and more gates that we’re coming to nowadays? People/landowners are becoming more private, they’re wanting to be more secure. It means a lot of knocking on doors and perhaps a few evenings over a glass of red wine to convince the farmers?
LE: Not so much so in the Garden Route. The cities are different, the Garden Route, as I say, there are three or four major land owners. We’ve got access to probably 20 000km of jeep tracks and forestry. So we have really, in that respect, we’re quite privileged.
GDK: Where do we go with the stage racing? Your numbers are steady, maybe increasing this year?
LE: We’re limited to about 300 riders, otherwise it gets a little bit impersonal. Look, there’s a lot of competition out there at the moment, so stage races, there’s probably one or two every weekend somewhere.
GDK: There are, do you feel there are too many?
LE: Look, competition is good, but there are too many. For the riders it’s a hard choice, you can’t ride everything. You’ve got to select two or three a year and I think a lot of riders these days are chopping and changing. So they don’t want to do the same stage race year in and year out, they want to do something different.
GDK: You might still have some riders who come back and have done every one of your events?
LE: We have a couple, people have got homes in this area, they come down on holiday, so they’re here anyway. They always enter and there’s a handful of locals that are stuck on the event.
Where to stay and when?
GDK: When the rider comes and rides, you’ve changed your format quite significantly, will they stay at the campsites or must they look after their own accommodation?
LE: We don’t offer accommodation, the only accommodation we offer is at the school hostel, so a fundraiser for the school, it works out to about R100 a person per night. But most people want to stay in their homes or fill up the B&B’s in the surrounding areas.
GDK: What are the dates?
LE: 15th, 16th, 17th of September.
GDK: It leans on that other event that takes place around here at that time of the year?
LE: It’s the Karoo to Coast is the day after, that’s why we have our last day is only 40km, so those people that still want to go and do Karoo to Coast and there are quite a number of them. They get a guaranteed entry into Karoo to Coast and they get a guaranteed seeded start if you do the Dr Evil.
GDK: There’s plenty to be gained from riding the Dr Evil, not least of which finding out about these incredible trails in this beautiful part of the world. It is a magical place for bikes isn’t it?
LE: It’s fantastic. As I say, there are no marked trails, not many marked trails in this area and it’s a great way to discover the area and the mountain biking routes.
GDK: It’s quite remarkable and the event is quite a special event here. You’ve changed it this year, other people fiddle with their events and risk perhaps losing riders cause they liked what they had before. You’re happy to look for something different to energise the riders?
LE: Yes, we try and make it a little bit different every year to change the routes a bit, but look, there are only so many routes. I don’t know how many times I can find you routes, we run out of options.
GDK: You still enjoy that, going to discover and find new routes?
LE: I love it, I get on my bike and go and discover.
GDK: You’ve been here in Plett 30 years and I think you still live quite deep in the forest don’t you?
LE: We live on the edge of the Harkerville Forest, so we’re privileged in that way, we can just get on our bikes and within 100m, we’re on the finest trails.
Are niche events becoming the way to go?
GDK: I just want to go back to the stage race thing and there are a few thousand plus rider events, but increasingly with all the number of stage races they’ve got. Are you finding that niche type event that you’ve got restricted entries is the way to go?
LE: Look, as I say, the competition is very tough out there and being in Plettenberg Bay, it’s not close to the cities, so getting entries is always going to be a little bit of a challenge. Look, it is what it is.
GDK: What could you say to someone to encourage them to say, make the choice to come down and ride this, what would you give them, the advice?
LE: To come down and ride where they’re going to ride something completely different and I can guarantee that they would love it.
GDK: You can’t guarantee the weather here can you?
LE: No, out of four years, we’ve had three fantastic weather years, last year was very wet. So hopefully our wet one is every five years, the same as an other event that’s just been, once in five years we have a wet one.
GDK: Leon, thanks for talking to us, good luck with it this year.
LE: Thanks very much and thanks for having me.
GDK: Leon Evans who runs the Dr Evil Classic Mountain Bike Stage Race, three days of mountain bike stage racing in September here. If you haven’t done it, come and take it on, get down to Plettenberg Bay, beautiful part of the world. It’s been another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, thanks for joining us, until next time, cheers.