Evans, who started his mountain biking career in Port Elizabeth, has joined FedGroup-Itec Connect in the wake of the much-publicised demise of his former team and will bring teammates Brandon Stewart, who won in 2011, and Bridgette Minnaar-Stewart along for the ride.

“It’s very early in the season for us but it will be great preparation for the racing to come later in the season.”

The Plettenberg Bay-based rider said his training was going well despite recovering from abdominal surgery in early December. “I’m about a month behind but should be back to full strength by mid-February.”

A mud-spattered Kevin Evans crosses the line to take the 80km Extreme mountain bike challenge, which forms part of The Herald VW Cycle Tour, in Addo last year. Photo: Coetzee Gouws/Fullstop

He said he was looking forward to competing on the uncharted territory of the new course, after torrential downpours forced a last-minute route change last year. “It will be nice to race over some new terrain.”

The four-time national marathon champion said he was expecting strong opposition from the likes of Team Blend Properties’ Charles Keey and possibly former Tour de France rider John-Lee Augustyn, who has made a return to racing following an extended injury-induced layoff.

He will also be facing ex-teammate James Reid, former national road champion Darren Lill and cross-country racer Oliver Munnik.

Evans will also take part in the 106km Classic road race in PE on the Sunday, which will put the 34-year-old in contention for the newly introduced Ultimate Quest category, which rewards riders with the shortest combined time across both events.

Evans, who finished fifth in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour last year, said the super-category gave mountain bikers like himself and Stewart a distinct advantage over their road counterparts.

“It will most certainly favour the mountain bikers, as the time gaps are always much bigger off-road than on.”

Evans said he was looking forward to a fresh start after his former Nedbank 360Life partner David George tested positive for the banned substance EPO late last year.

In 2012, the two won the African jersey at the Absa Cape Epic, the Old Mutual joBerg2c and Nedbank sani2c.

“Initially I was concerned (about public perceptions), but I moved on from worrying about what other people think. My consistent history should prove itself.”

The women’s race will be strengthened by the presence of British national road rider and recent mountain bike convert Catherine Williamson.

The multi-talented Williamson, who finished second in both the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in March and the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge in November last year, will be the woman to beat for the Ultimate Quest title.

She will vie against the likes of Mariske Strauss and Candice Neethling.

Riders will be able to donate school uniforms, shoes and stationery at race registration as part of the metro’s city-wide initiative to uplift and support children in need.

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