The Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge is by far the biggest road cycling event in Gauteng and the 2nd biggest in South Africa. Now in its 19th year of existence, the race attracts well over 33 000 participants and these cyclists get to ride or race their bikes for 94.7 km on closed roads through the streets of Johannesburg.
This year there was a lot of excitement around the ladies race and for good reason. A first of its kind on South African soil, the ladies race was granted UCI 1.1 status. This meant valuable UCI points were up for grabs for female racers and countries wanting to strengthen their chances for a place at the 2016 Olympics and this was sure to attract a strong local and international field.
Even though my main focus has been on mountain biking the last few years, I couldn’t let the opportunity to race in a local, ‘international’, event go by and I relished the opportunity to race on skinny tires against strong competition.
With UCI status comes UCI rules to which the event and its contestants had to conform. Any female who wanted to race in the UCI Elite Ladies event had to be part of a 4-6 member team. The South African Woman’s commission went about organizing these composite teams so that more ladies could be part of the race. I formed part of a team consisting mainly of ladies mountain bikers and it was nice to be in their company as we lined up for the start.
Multiple previous winner, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, was the hot favourite on the day and her teammates played their roles as domestiques (a cyclist who works for the benefit of his/her team and leader, often sacrificing their own chances to win) perfectly. They kept the race together, nullified attacks and upped the pace where needed while Ashleigh only used her energy when it was really required. Despite crashing during the race Ashleigh went on to confirm her role as leader by taking a superb win for her Bigla team after all their efforts.
In my entire road cycling career I could never just sit in a bunch and wait for the sprint. I find it much more rewarding to finish an event knowing I gave everything on the day instead of saving energy and gambling for the win in the finale. This means I end up animating the race whenever possible and it was good to see that it was still the case, although I did regret not riding a touch more conservatively in order to have a bit more energy for the tough finish. In the end I crossed the finish line at the back of the leading break to finish just outside the top 10 in 11th place.
I could only be pleased with my result considering the calibre of international competition and the amount of road racing I’ve been doing lately (or the lack thereof). More importantly, I really enjoyed the experience and it was nice to represent Garmin on the road for a change.
It was great to be in an event where the girls raced positively, due in a large part to the international riders. I really hope the event will keep the format and international flavour for 2016. If they do, I will be back and do my best to keep my powder dry for that demanding finish!