Team South Africa’s four road cyclists have showed their quality, class and professionalism in the opening days of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 August. Team Manager Douglas Ryder was full of praise for Louis Meintjes, Daryl Impey, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and An-Li Kachelhoffer after competing as teams of two against the world’s strongest cycling nations, some of which had teams of four or five riders.
The Men’s Road Race was the first event to go on Saturday morning, with Meintjes finishing in an incredible seventh place and Impey attaining a top-30 result with 28th place. There was no doubt about it – the route was technical and hard and the heat and humidity was telling on the bodies, and the end result showed that the technical nature of the route claimed the world’s best riders with some damaging consequences. But Meintjes and Impey remained out of trouble and safely crossed the finish line. Greg van Avermaet (BEL) was the eventual winner with Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) second and Rafal Majka (POL) third.
Meintjes (24) said: “I think we had a very good race. It was a pretty technical course and very hard, and it was really hot out there that day. In the end I think Daryl and I worked well together. In general the tactics were pretty good as well. Daryl was there and making sure that no dangerous moves broke away and he supported me into the final climb, where I bridged to the front group. Right until the end we were a small group fighting for the medals and unfortunately it was just seventh for me, but I think we can be happy with that.”
Impey (31) showed his class by supporting Louis for most of the race, into the final climb. He shared his experience of the Olympic race and what it meant to him. “The Olympics is a unique event and one of a kind. Although the course didn't entirely suit me I came here with the idea of giving it my best and preparing as best I could, knowing that representing my country at an event of this quality deserves that. I was really happy with my performance and my early mechanical may have taken that final edge needed to push further into the final but near the end I spoke with Louis and he was feeling good. We decided the best tactic for us would be for him to try ride away on the final climb and so I positioned him well going into it before my day was over.
“It was an incredible performance from him and a highly credible ride. I would like to thank all our staff here that made our lives as easy as possible and also everyone for their words of encouragement afterwards. I am proud to be an Olympian and to have played a role in Louis’ great ride. Being here in Rio is an achievement in its own right and definitely a career highlight.”
Sunday afternoon saw the Women’s Road Race take to the streets of Fort Copacabana in strong windy conditions. Moolman-Pasio finished in an amazing 10th place, with An-Li Kachelhoffer crossing the line in 39th place. As with the Men’s race, the course was treacherous and the technical descent claimed the Dutch leader, Annemiek van Vleuten, who crashed incredibly hard and lay concussed against the side of the road for quite some time. This must’ve been a shock to the riders who passed her soon afterwards. Anna van der Breggen (NED) claimed the gold medal, with Emma Johansson (SWE) second and Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA) third.
An-Li Kachelhoffer (28) shared how the race unfolded. “Going into the race, I knew that it was a climber’s course. For me the tactic was to support Ashleigh as best as I could before the last climb. The first two laps were fine and the weather conditions felt okay – I didn't really notice the wind because I was so focused on the race. The wind however, did play a part with the speed going out and coming back.
“The main thing was not to let a break gain more than a minute. We had to look at the other teams as well because some of them had more riders and if they had no-one in the break, they could work as well to bring the break back.”
Speaking about her first Olympic experience, An-Li said: “It’s a lifelong dream! I told my dad when I was four-years-old that I was going to be here one day. If you haven’t changed as a person coming into the Olympic Games, then it wouldn’t mean anything. I am really content and it is everything that I have hoped for. The support from South Africa has been over the top! The messages have been incredible – thank you!”
A disheartened Moolman-Pasio (30) had prepared for an Olympic medal, but it wasn’t meant to be. “To say that I am not disappointed would be a complete lie. A top-10 result is a good result but I was after a medal and unfortunately that didn't happen. I’ve said this many times before; road cycling is a very strange sport. You can do everything in your power to be on the start line in the best possible shape and condition and mindset to go for the win but so much can happen on the day. There are so many variables that can go wrong and everything adds up at the end of the day.
“For me to get a medal, everything must’ve gone 100% according to plan. Unfortunately that was not the case. Some things went wrong which cost me on that final climb. I didn't get the result that I wanted but I am incredibly grateful for the support that I received from home. I can’t even get through all the messages, Facebook messages and Tweets. I can feel the spirit from home and all the support and I’m very grateful for that, and to be in one piece and to be healthy and strong, especially after seeing the horrific accident that my teammate from last year Annemiek had. I am happy to hear that she is ok. It was a crazy day out there and a tough race.”
She bumped into an Egyptian female rider in the eating hall who pleaded with Ashleigh to get a medal in the Time Trial, “not just for South Africa but Africa needs a medal” she said. Refocused and recovered, Moolman-Pasio went for one last shot at the medal on Wednesday 10 August, but after a great start and lying in second place early along the 29.7-kilometre Individual Time Trial route, she unfortunately crashed after slipping out on an oil slick, which cost her valuable time. She eventually finished in 12th place. The winner was Kristin Armstrong (USA) with Olga Zabelinskaya (RUS) second and Anna van der Breggen (NED), third.
Fabian Cancellara (SUI) won the Men’s Individual Time Trial, followed by Tom Dumoulin (NED) second and Chris Froome (GBR), third.
Douglas Ryder was extremely proud of the team and their achievements. “The Olympic Road Race was an exceptional event for the National Team. The men’s race was a super hard, super technical course. Daryl and Louis – wow what a team effort by the two of them. In the beginning part of the first lap of the first circuit, Daryl had a bike change because he had caught his chain on the cobble section, which was chaos. We managed to get him back into the race and after that he was able to look after Louis the whole time. It was like an elimination race, and Daryl looked after Louis until the final climb at 25 kilometres to go. For Daryl to finish in 28th overall was an exceptional performance - he really committed 100% to Louis and it shows the incredible condition that he is in. And Louis, riding with the best in the world! Unfortunately he missed a little move that went with Fuglsang and Van Avermaet. Louis’ experience will come in one-day races because he is a conservative guy who is good at conserving his energy for tours. His experience and aggression will come for one-day races. His seventh place is phenomenal and he could’ve got third or fourth even, if he was a little more lucky in the end. Everyone was super tired and cramping at the end because of the heat and humidity.”
Recapping the Women’s race, Ryder said: “Ashleigh and An-Li were unbelievable too. The race was really windy and Ashleigh took charge and closed the breakaway of six riders down on the climb. An-Li struggled a bit on the cobbles but came back and gave Ashleigh some support, feeding her between the two circuits. On the final climb, it looked like Ashleigh was in a really good position but didn't seem to have the legs to go with some of the front riders, which was unfortunate. She was really focused on the event and really wanted to do incredibly well. She was going for a win, and when you’re one of the favourites going into a race, it is really difficult. To end 10th in an Olympic Games is a really great achievement and she should be super proud.”
Summary of Results – 2016 Rio Olympic Games
Men’s Road Race – Saturday 6 August
1.Greg van Avermaet (BEL) 6:10:05
2.Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) 6:10:05
3.Rafal Majka (POL) 6:10:10
7.Louis Meintjes (RSA) 6:10:27
28.Daryl Impey (RSA) 6:19:43
Women’s Road Race – Sunday 7 August
1.Anna van der Breggen (NED) 3:51:27
2.Emma Johannson (SWE) 3:51:27
3.Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA) 3:51:27
10.Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) 3:52:41
39.An-Li Kachelhoffer (RSA) 4:01:29
Women’s Individual Time Trial – Wednesday 10 August
1.Kristen Armstrong (USA) 44:26.42
2.Olga Zabelinskaya (RUS) 44:31.97
3.Anna van der Breggen (NED) 44:37:80
12.Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) 46:29.11
Men’s Individual Time Trial – Wednesday 10 August
1.Fabian Cancellara (SUI) 1:12:15
2.Tom Dumoulin (FRA) 1:13:02
3.Chris Froome (GBR) 1:13:17