On a cold winter’s morning in the month of July 2009, I won the first major race of my cycling career, the Jock Classic in the beautiful and mountainous province of Mpumalanga. Just under three years later, I find myself winning my first National title in the same area. I think it’s no surprise when I say that the province of Mpumalanga holds a very special place in my heart!
Ever since finishing second to teammate Lynette Burger at the 2009 National Championships in Oudtshoorn, I have dreamed of winning the very prestigious National title and the right to wear the green and gold stripes. It has taken me three years to realise my dream and I couldn’t be more delighted than to do so in what I see as a very big year, an Olympic year!
The 2012 South African National Championships took place in the Mpumalanga Province on Saturday, 3 March. The race consisted of a tough 55km lap, which we did twice, to make up a total race distance of 110km. The race started and finished at the very striking Mombelo Stadium, just outside the city of Nelspruit.
Each lap started with a long, 12km climb out of the city of Nelspruit towards White River, and it is this very climb that turned out to play a vital part in the race tactics and results.
My team, Momemtum Toyota, came to the National Championships with a very strong team. We have been dominant in the racing at the beginning of this year, winning every race we have started. Our goal for the National Champs was to win and that’s exactly what we set out to do from the word go!
On the very first climb of the day, starting a mere 5 kilometers into the race; Cherise Taylor, Jo van de Winkel, Robyn de Groot and I got onto the front of the peloton and we started to drive the pace, with the goal to make the race as hard as possible. It was not long before we had managed to drop more than half of the field.
About mid way up the climb, Lise Olivier (MTN Quebeka) launched an attack. I followed directly on her wheel and we were quickly joined by my teammate Jo van de Winkel. I was very surprised when I looked over my shoulder and noticed that we had escaped the peloton, and this turned out to be the move of the day.
Jo, Lise and I worked well together, each taking our turn on the front and we quickly extended our lead to the chasing peloton by a fair margin. This time margin fluctuated between 45 seconds and 2 minutes during the course of the race, but on entering the final 20km with a time gap of over 2 minutes, I was certain we would not be caught.
Jo and I, being dominant in numbers, tried to drop Lise on the second lap. But with a strong head wind, we quickly realised that this was not going to be easy. Lise was strong and it was not likely that both of us would be able to get away from her. Being the better sprinter, this is when I decided I was confident to take it to the line.
Nearing the Mombelo Stadium, teammate Jo did a fantastic job of driving hard on the front to keep Lise under pressure. I took Lise’s wheel. Approaching the line, Lise launched her sprint quite early and I managed to come past her to take the win and the National title! Lise finished 2nd and Jo 3rd.
Hats off to both Lise and Jo for their exceptional riding and strength on the day! I look forward to racing together with the both of them in Europe, where we will be joining forces, racing for the Lotto Belisol Ladies team. Jo is an incredibly talented cyclist and a fantastic teammate! She played a crucial part in my win on Saturday and I am ever grateful for her sacrifice to assist me on the day, especially in the last 2km!
What an honour to win the National Championships! I am proudly South African and I look forward to wearing the green and gold stripes as I campaign in Europe in the build up to the 2012 London Olympic Games.
All photo’s courtesy of Cycle Nation. For full South African Championships Elite Women’s Road Race gallery 2012 click here.