A victory in the 2012 ABSA Cape Epic is the only thing on the minds of Kevin Evans and David George of Team Nedbank 360Life. The South African pair have been preparing meticulously for the world’s most prestigious mountain bike stage race for the past eleven-and-a-half months. And on Sunday, their quest will begin when the race starts with a 27km prologue time trial at Meerendal Wine Estate in South Africa’s Western Cape province.

Evans and George have partnered three times previously for the Cape Epic, each time in a serious bid to become the first South African team to win the demanding race, which this year covers a distance of 781km with 16 300m of vertical ascent.

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Kevin Evans (right) and David George of Team Nedbank 360Life as shot by Greg Beadle for the cover of TREAD magazine, Issue 17.

In 2008 they were third and in 2009 fourth. They raced on different teams in 2010 and last year, racing for the first time as Team Nedbank 360Life, their bid ended suddenly on Day 2 when Evans crashed on a descent and smashed his left collarbone. George continued to finish solo, but from the minute Evans woke from the anaesthetic following the surgery to repair his collarbone, their sights were adjusted to achieving victory in the 2012 edition.

Last year they embraced the shift towards the 29-inch wheel platform and competed on hardtail SCOTT Scale 29 RC bikes. But in mid 2011 they’d been flown to Europe where they test rode and declared their satisfaction at the new SCOTT Spark RC 29, a state-of-the-art dual suspension 29er, the ideal bike for the rugged South African conditions. They raced to a number of podiums in late 2011 and early 2012 on the Spark RC 29 and also won the gruelling Cape Pioneer Trek six-day stage race over murderous terrain on the Spark RC 29 last October.

Equipment has always been a priority for George, who has won Evans over to a similar mindset. The pair have a sponsorship budget from Nedbank 360Life, which allows them to choose their equipment. They have chosen the best they can find, leaving nothing to chance in pursuit of their dream.

SCOTT didn’t just end its development of racing mountain bikes at the 29-inch platform. It has continued to innovate, as became evident when Swiss star Nino Schurter raced to victory over both 29-inch and 26-inch platforms at the opening round of the UCI Cross-country World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on a SCOTT 650b wheel bike (approximately a 27.5-inch wheel size). Evans and George have been privy to SCOTT’s innovation as the brand’s leading marathon and stage racers. After the extensive wheel size testing by SCOTT, Evans and George will start the Cape Epic on the size most suited to this race…

The distance and elevation of the Cape Epic is one thing, but it’s the brutal terrain that causes the most damage to both riders and bikes. The Western Cape region is very stony and rocky and it has some steep and long ascents and descents. It’s also very dry during the South African summer, which makes it sketchy and unpredictable. The combination of these factors results in a relentless landscape that’s claimed many a Cape Epic dream.

For Evans and George though, they have spent hours test-riding various options in an effort to ensure they conquer both the terrain and their rivals. And it all comes together over the next 10 days.

Speaking of rivals, on the start list are some of the biggest names in the sport. Defending champions, Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander of Team 36One Songo/Specialized will go into the race as favourites. Multiple champions Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm of Team Bulls are back to try and claim a fourth title together and Hannes Genze, runner-up last year, has partnered with Andreas Kuglser, sixth last year, for Team Multivan Merida. And that’s just a handful of teams in a field of over 600 pairs.

The eight-day race begins with a prologue time trial that will take riders over 27 challenging kilometres to the event’s first ever mountaintop finish. Views of the Cape Winelands and Table Mountain as well as special permission to race through protected Renosterveld vegetation, create a spectacular backdrop to the event’s opening stanza.

The riders then face five successive stages longer than 100km, including the Cape Epic’s longest ever stage, a 147km 2900m haul on Day 4. The last two days are shorter, but no less demanding. Course designer, Leon Evans, aka Dr Evil, has declared that he believes this is the hardest Cape Epic course he has ever designed. A fact that’s given many a novice a sleepless night, but which has added to the intrigue of the world’s most televised mountain bike event.

360Life is a new-generation, flexible life insurance solution, developed by Nedgroup Life, which is a division of Nedbank, one of South Africa’s largest banking organisations.

Nedgroup Life commissioned a movie crew to document Evans and George’s quest to win the 2011 Cape Epic. The movie, An Epic Tale, has been screening over the past two weeks to sold-out cinemas in South Africa. It’s essentially a tale of bad luck, brilliantly capturing the pain and sacrifice these two riders have endured in what has essentially been their failure – so far – to win the race they most want to win.

This year there is no movie crew following them. This year Evans and George have learned from their mistakes and prepared even more meticulously. But this is mountain biking where anything can happen. This is also the Cape Epic where many dreams are dashed, but where many others also come true. There may be no movie crew this year, but you can be sure that Evans and George have set their minds and hearts on that elusive happy ending.

For detailed ABSA Cape Epic information, visit www.cape-epic.com. To track the progress of Evans and George throughout the 2012 ABSA Cape Epic, follow @Nedbank360Life on twitter and ‘Like’ the Team 360 Life Facebook page.