The annual South African National Road, Time Trial and Para-cycling Championships were held around Mbombela stadium on the outskirts of Nelspruit. This prestigious event ran from the 2nd until the 8th of February and promised to showcase the top South African athletes battling for the coveted national titles.
After my performance at Meerendal I was a bit apprehensive about my participation at SA Champs, but every cloud has a silver lining and with the advice and unwavering support of my back-up team I regained the courage to start the elite ladies event.
The undulating 14km road race lap contained 3 hills followed by steep descents which we would cover 8 times for a total of 112km with 1896m of climbing. At the bottom of each descent a traffic circle would steer the course in a new direction and the sweeping bends were the highlight of my race. With full road closure, newly tarred roads and the accumulated speed from the descent, one could really dive into the corners without reservation.
The elite ladies set off at 1pm on Saturday afternoon and if the racing wasn’t going to be aggressive the route and soaring temperature would definitely make it a race of attrition.
The undisputed favourite in our race was world class cyclist Ashleigh Moolman Passio. The moment we left the start line she was marked so closely that some riders would literally be following her around in the bunch, pulling brakes to make sure they could stay behind her.
Despite this Ashleigh kept her head and actually lay her cards on the table every time we hit an incline. She would attack from the bottom of the steepest drag out on course and keep the pace high until reaching the summit. Doing this repeatedly, she sapped the field’s energy and on the final lap she put this blue print in ink by breaking clear from the field to solo in for a well-deserved victory.
I went into the race knowing that I’m not fully prepared for a road race. You can carry your fitness across from mountain biking, but the race intensity is quite different. In a mountain bike race you ride at a constant high tempo whereas in a road race there are a lot of surges. With this in mind I made my goal to go out, give my best and race positively. For this reason my emphasis wasn’t on Ashleigh but on the racing that lay ahead of us.
I tried to animate the race as best as I could and paid for it at times by getting dropped and having to chase back to the leaders. In contrast to the previous week, my body embraced the suffering this time around and I was able to get back to the front each time. On the final lap I was still in the front group of eight riders and by just being there, it meant I had exceeded all my expectations. I crossed the finish line in eighth place, while An-Li Kacheloffer went on the finish in 2nd place with Lynette Pieterse in 3rd.
I’ve been to a few South African National Road Championships albeit a couple of years ago and the 2015 edition was definitely one of the better ones. A big thanks to the organisers for doing an excellent job in hosting the event and even more so for having it in the beautiful Lowveld region.