Germany’s Charlotte Becker celebrated with a whoop and a holler as she won the UCI 1.1 women’s race at the 20th edition of the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge at the Riversands Commercial Park on Sunday.
Becker, riding for the Norwegian-based Hitec Products team, outsprinted Spanish national champion Mavvi Garcia (Bizkaia-Durango) and South Africa’s Lise Olivier (Time Freight), who were second and third respectively. Officials had to consult the finish-line camera to decide which of Garcia and Olivier had taken the first runners-up spot. For Becker, though, it was a great end to a successful week for her and her team in South Africa.
“It was a good end to a really good week in this country,” said Becker, who had competed in the KZN Summer Series that preceded the Cycle Challenge. “We took three wins from three starts. Winning the Cycle Challenge was the perfect end to our stay here. It’s my first time in South Africa. I cannot wait to come back.”
Becker had broken clear with a group of six riders on the climb up Cedar Road, along with Garcia, Olivier, Carla Oberholzer (Demacon), Ethiopian Birhan Khadu Abrha (WWC1), Andrea Steyn (Bestmed ASG). There had been several attacks in the final 30km of the race, but as the race turned towards Riversands, Becker was watching.
“It was not my plan, actually. I just followed. Our plan was to make it hard and to attack, and that is what we did. In the final move, the other girls who tried to escape there and I just made it across to them, because I was happy about that they went really fast uphill and it was really hard.
Cashandra Slingerland (Cycle Nation) had been the first to get into a proper break in the race, time trialling away on the M1 South to go one-and-a-half minutes clear. The M1 South also saw the sad withdrawal of South African champion AnLi Kachelhoffer (Pretoria Box), who abandoned after coming into the race with an illness. She had been the South African favourite to take on Finland’s Lotta Lepisto (Cervelo-Bigla), who had taken bronze in the world championships. Cervelo-Bigla had been hoping to defend the title won by their South African star, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, in the inaugural women’s UCI race last year. Moolman-Pasio did not take part this year as she had crashed heavily before the event.
“To have a race of this stature in South Africa is really something special, so we just went out there and did our best,” said Olivier. “At this point the future of our team is a bit uncertain, so it was quite emotional and everyone did an incredible job to get me into the break.
“I was surprised that the race was so quick because at times I thought we were going quite slowly, but that was deceptive. I think everyone knew from last year that the race would come down to the last 10km. And that is where it actually happened. We’ve been racing with the Europeans at the KZN Summer Series earlier this week, so I think everyone had an idea of who was strong and where. It was always going to split up on the climbs, and I barely made it in there.”
Garcia, the current Spanish champion, admitted that she rode on instinct and, like Becker, also did not have a plan. “I was very glad that everything went okay. The team was on the front all the time, fighting in all the attacks. When I saw the opportunity to go, I went, and was happy that I just managed to beat Lise for second. I didn’t have a plan, but when I saw the opportunity, I knew that I am a very good climber and that I could attack and it paid off. It’s my first time in South Africa. I must say that I love the country now.”