The dry Middle Eastern heat was not enough to overpower Team South Africa, as they rode their hearts out at the 2016 UCI Road World Championships, which took place in Doha, Qatar from 9-16 October.
The week of racing kicked off with the Team Time Trial, where trade teams participated for the World Championship stripes. In the Men’s and Women’s races, two South Africans had the opportunity to stand on the podium when the Australian-based Orica-BikeExchange with Daryl Impey did enough to secure the bronze medal, squeezing Team Sky out of the podium placings; Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio’s effort with her Cervelo Bigla Pro Cycling teammates also won a bronze medal for the German-based team.
Nicolas Dougall, who rode into an impressive 18th place in the Elite Men’s Road Race (which also included Ryan Gibbons and Clint Hendricks) said: “If you had told me two days before the race that I would finish in the top 20, I probably would have laughed you out of the room.”
At the same time Dougall knew that if he could make his way into the early breakaway and get up the road, he could go deep into the race and possibly even to the final. “That was always going to be the plan, and luckily it worked out,” he said.
The African continent had a very big impact in the blue-ribbon event when three African riders made the decisive break early in the race, and remained in the lead group until the very end. Eritrean Natnael Berhane, Morrocan Anasse Ait El Abdia and Dougall contributed massively to the efforts of the race in the Qatar heat.
The course suited Dougall well. “I thought that the course was really interesting and produced a fairly exciting race. I'm a bigger rider and on a flat course in the wind, where raw power matters, we can really shine,” he added.
Dougall mentioned that he drank over 20 bottles of water, and used 15 stockings of ice throughout the day to cool down his core temperature. “We had really great support out on the road from all the South Africa staff. Even the riders from the junior and under-23 races were helping to get bottles and ice to me on the course,” he said.
The ‘vibe’ in the team, according to Dougall, was something special and he enjoyed getting to know his fellow South African riders more as friends.
For Stefan de Bod, who rode in the u23 Men’s Road Race and spent some time in the break, said the experience for him was an amazing one. “The city was quite something to see. I don't think I have ever seen as many skyscrapers and sports cars in one place,” he added.
De Bod said that he wasn’t completely happy with his results, but that he is looking forward to putting in the hard work in order to be able to stand on the podium in the next few years. “The flat circuit didn't suit me that well, but it was a great learning experience for me - I'd never raced World Champs before,” he said.
De Bod described the racing as “crazy”. “It seemed to me that when the rainbow stripes were up for grabs, everyone raced with their whole hearts to get the jersey,” he said.
De Bod also extended his thanks to Robbie Hunter, Bosseau Bosshoff and all of the South African staff for their support in Qatar.
Carla Oberholzer took part in the Elite Women’s Road Race, along with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Heidi Dalton, Anriette Schoeman, Zanele Tshoko and Samantha Sanders, but experienced two unfortunate punctures straight after each other. “That was the end of the race for me,” she said.
Oberholzer offered her view on the race and what she learnt as a whole: “From a racing point of view, correct positioning in the bunch was once again highlighted as being extremely important. The greatest lesson I learnt was a more humane one however. I learnt that as human beings, we have the potential to overcome obstacles, especially if we make the choice to overcome.”
On the whole and taking all aspects into account, Oberholzer felt that for her it was a positive experience. “There are some very passionate people who sacrifice a lot and who do massive amounts of work behind the scenes. It's not easy to race with such a varied age group of cyclists over multiple days with limited staff and recourses, so I think everyone did a great job.”
There was very positive feedback from most of the riders about the team, and the teamwork, camaraderie and support felt throughout the duration of their stay was one for the books.
Cycling South Africa’s Road Commission Director, Bosseau Boshoff said: “This was the first time we have sent such a large team, but it was certainly worth it.”
Boshoff mentioned that although the Junior Women were a little bit off the pace, they learnt a lot and had a great international experience. “The track was really tight and technical, and it was very hot,” he said.
“Both girls did really well, and although Lynette (Benson) got stuck behind a crash and punctured as well, she rode her heart out, and Nicolene (Marais) impressed us with her bunch-racing skills,” he said.
“In the Junior Men’s Road Race, Devin Shortt and Jason Oosthuizen had both positioned themselves well, and Damean unfortunately lost contact of the bunch due to a technical.
“Samantha Sanders and Heidi Dalton really displayed magnificent teamwork by helping out Ashleigh (Moolman-Pasio) with her bottles as well. Anriette and Zanele tried their utmost, and rode hard,” he added.
In the Elite Men’s Road Race, Bosshoff also mentioned that to get Dougall into the break had always been the plan. “If there was anybody who didn’t know who Nicholas Dougall was before Worlds, they certainly know now,” he said.
“One thing that was remarkable, was the help that we received from Raymond and Donna Andre – Saffas who live over there and are just so passionate about the sport. They helped us out so much,” he said.
Bosshoff extended his gratitude to the team, and management, and commended them all on such great work. “Everybody rode hard and well and they all proved themselves worthy – especially in those conditions. Everybody had a job to do, and they did it.”