New World Champs battle heat and wind to claim titles at UWCT Final Road Race

More than a dozen new amateur road cycling world champions were crowned at Alexandra Park late on Saturday afternoon after coming up trumps against a very strong field from 32 nations at the 2012 UWCT Final road race.

Competitors faced searing heat and howling winds on the out-and-back course to Wartburg.

There were scenes of jubilation at medal ceremonies as South Africa celebrated four new world champions, topping the results in the 61km and 96 road races with gold medals for Pauline Cound (women 50-54), Anette Loubscher (women 40-44), Lynette Burger (women 30-34) and a late 50th birthday present for the iconic Gary Beneke (men 50-54).

“It is absolutely fantastic to have won – it is something I have always aspired to,” said Beneke. “I can now imagine how the guys feel at the Olympics.”

There were tears of joy and released emotion for South Africa's Lynette Burger when she clinched her world title, edging home just ahead of American Molly van Houweling who took the rainbow jersey in the 35-39 class.

Unable to hold back the tears, Burger explained that she had been riding for her late grandfather who died in the past year. “He was my greatest fan and greatest supporter,” said Burger. “It really felt like he was with me all the way today. This is the greatest moment of my career.”

The women's race was complex as the splintered group that raced into Wartburg had riders from three different classes and four nationalities. However aggressive riding at the turn at Wartburg saw Burger and van Houweling take charge of the front of the race, and they raced away to the finish together.

“She (Burger) was too strong for me in the end sprint and I think she is the better climber,” said the Californian, who was delighted to be the new world champion in her age group. “In the last two miles I was cramping so badly. Thank goodness the race wasn't any longer!”

With racing more than hot enough to match the 40-degree plus temperatures out on the road, the battles for the rainbow jerseys were brutal, none more so that the riveting tactical battle in the men's 45-49 age group where local icon Andrew Mclean was pipped at the post by the wily French rider Gregoire Balland.

It was bitter pill for Mclean to swallow, having being narrowly beaten to the rainbow jersey in Thursday's time trial. “It was tough out there but in the sprint he had the legs and I couldn't get rid of him,” said a disappointed Mclean.

Italian rider Daniella Passalacqua was the star of the morning’s 61km race that started in Wartburg and wound back into the city, winning the UCI rainbow jersey in her 45-49 year age group and posting the fastest time of the morning.

While Passalacqua won comfortably in her age group, the women's 50-54 age group saw a ding-dong duel between local rider Pauline Cound and Norwegian Sissel Vien, with the pair trading the lead throughout until Cound found that little bit extra in the final few kilometres to prevail over Vien.

Similarly American master Ann Marie Miller won her first world title after managing to out sprint the gutsy Dutch woman Marti Valks in the closing stages of their 55-59 year age group race.

The men's 65+ age group produced similarly ferocious racing with tough Belgian rider Herman van der Borre leading for most of the latter stages of the race to edge out English rider Jimmy Young on the home straight.

The final day of the UCI World Cycling Tour Final will see the veteran men’s age group battling it out over the 112km road race, starting at Alexandra Park at 10am.

More information can be found at www.uwctfinal.co.za.

Photo: Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media