It was blood, sweat and gears for some of the world’s top women cyclists today as they battled the elements along the 105-kilometre route, with Norwegian Vita Heine (HITEC Products) grabbing a decisive victory in the Queen Nandi Challenge in a time of three hours 16 minutes and 17 seconds at Midmar Dam on Wednesday 16 November. Spaniard Margarita Garcia (Bizkaia-Durango) finished second in 03:16:37 and German Charlotte Becker (HITEC Products) rounded out the podium in 03:18:33.
The nine o’clock start was a rude awakening as the African sun bore down on the riders and the heat set in as they prepared for the challenge ahead. At 30 kilometres into the race, a group of 19 riders formed, with a smaller group of seven riders breaking away, including Heine, Garcia, South Africans An-Li Kachelhoffer (Pretoria Box Pro Cycling), Samantha Sanders and Carla Oberholzer (Demacon Cycling Team), Lise Olivier (Time Freight eTeam) and Ethiopian Eyeru Tesfoam (World Cycling Centre Africa 1).
Becker then bridged the 30-metre gap to the lead group, bringing the group to eight. On the exceptionally hilly route, Olivier claimed to “take one for the team” as her strength in hill climbing came to the fore and she broke away from the lead group at the 45-kilometre mark, holding the sole lead for the next 11 kilometres, at times with a gap of 50-seconds to the group.
The chase group worked hard to close the gap to Olivier and caught her halfway into the race. The lead group – now including Becker, Sanders, Heine, Garcia, Olivier and Dane Marie Vilmann (Cervelo Bigla) – rode at a comfortable pace, making the climbing look easy. Two attacks came from Garcia with under 10 kilometres to go where she gained 18 seconds on the bunch. The group caught her and she attacked again at five kilometres to go. With a 30-second lead in the race, Heine counterattacked and caught her and they raced the final kilometers to Midmar Dam together, with the Norwegian surging in the final metres to take the victory from the Spaniard.
Race winner Vita Heine (HITEC Products) said: “My attack at the end was actually decided very late. We were seven girls in a breakaway until about five kilometres to go and then everybody started attacking a little bit. I attacked and joined Garcia and I was preparing for the sprint, so I didn’t want to go too early. But she was attacking and I was on her wheel so I just counter-attacked because it was a great moment to do it. She just couldn’t follow. It’s very nice to win here.”
Speaking of her African experience so far, Heine said, “This is the first time for the whole team to be here and we are enjoying many things for the first time. The nature, culture, and food are very nice. The people here have been amazing.”
Lise Olivier of the Time Freight eTeam said: “This race is such a big opportunity for anybody in Africa to race against world-class professionals. For me and my teammate Kim Le Court, it is extra special to have Bizkaia-Durango here, which we raced for in Europe for three months. There’s some good camaraderie and I think we all suffered together. All in all it was an incredibly well organised event and I am very happy to be part of it.
“Today’s race was much tougher than I expected. We lost our sponsor recently so the whole team has been very emotional but we just came out here wanting to give it our all and take some chances and I think that’s what we did. I kind of had to put my hand up for the race today because of all the climbing, but we have a strong team for tomorrow and we’ll go out there and do the same. We just have to be active in the racing and show the organisers appreciation for what they’ve done for us in hosting these events.”
Eyeru Tesfoam of the World Cycling Centre Africa 1 Team said: “The competition is very hard, but I am happy because I stayed with them for a long time. I am ready for tomorrow and to do even better than today.”
From a management perspective, Cervelo Bigla Pro Team Manager Thomas Campana gave his input on the racing today. ““The race was much harder than expected. It was really hard because what we don’t consider is that this is higher altitude. For us, coming from Europe in the off-season, experiencing high humidity and high altitudes, is really hard for us.
“This is the second time that the team is in the country to compete. We came and took part in the 947 Cycle Challenge last year, with the victory of Ashleigh (Moolmen-Pasio). Ashleigh is a major player and brings a lot of African culture to the team, which is very nice. It was very clear that we were coming to Africa – especially with three UCI races in a row.”
The RTI traffic authorities and marshals from Out On A Limb did a superb job keeping the goats and cows from the road and bringing the riders home safely.
As part of the on going UCI Bike City project in conjunction with KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation and Msunduzi Municipality, the KZN Summer Series for Women will be staged on 16 and 17 November 2016 and is made up of two international UCI 1.2 races that will take place on these dates. The races are both one-day races and will be staged in the vicinity of Pietermaritzburg and surrounds. The two races will be known as The Queen Nandi Challenge and The Queen Sibiya Classic respectively – as these are women’s only races, and the first time that women’s only races have been staged here in South Africa without a men’s race also taking place we want to have strong women icons attached to the races and also identifiable with the Zulu nation and the region.
For more information and full results from the KZN Summer Series, click here: www.cyclingsa.com/2016-kzn-summer-series/
Summary of Results – 2016 KZN Summer Series Women’s Race (UCI 1.2)
Queen Nandi Challenge – 105km – 16 November 2016
1.Vita HEINE (NOR) HITEC Products 03:16:17
2.Margarita GARCIA (ESP) Bizkaia-Durango 03:16:37
3.Charlotte BECKER (GER) HITEC Products 03:18:33
4.An-li KACHELHOFFER (RSA) Pretoria Box Pro Cycling 03:18:34
5.Samantha SANDERS (RSA) Demacon Cycling Team 03:18:36
6.Marie VILMANN (DEN) Cervelo Bigla 03:18:36
7.Lise Olivier (RSA) Time Freight eTeam 03:18:36
8.Clara KOPPENBURG (GER) Cervelo Bigla 03:23:50
9.Eyeru TESFOAM (ETH) World Cycling Centre Africa 1 03:24:02
10.Anriette SCHOEMAN (RSA) Team Bestmed ASG 03:24:24
11.Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (NOR) HITEC Products 03:24:25
12.Roos HOOGEBOOM (NED) Bizkaia-Durango 03:24:25
13.Gabrielle PILOT-FORTIN (CAN) Cervelo Bigla 03:24:25
14.Vera ADRIAN (NAM) Time Freight eTeam 03:24:26
15.Heidi Dalton (RSA) Demacon Cycling Team 03:24:28
16.Eden BEKELE HAILEMARIYAN (ETH) World Cycling Centre Africa 1 03:24:29
17.Carla OBERHOLZER (RSA) Demacon Cycling Team 03:24:33
18.Candice NEETHLING (RSA) Pretoria Box Pro Cycling 03:24:40
19.Cecilie UTTROP LUDWIG (DEN) Cervelo Bigla 03:24:45
20.Yessica PEREZ (ESP) Bizkaia-Durango 03:31:40
21.Yzette OELOFSE (RSA) Pretoria Box Pro Cycling 03:31:42
22.Desray SEBREGTS (RSA) Demacon Cycling Team 03:31:42
23.Kim LE COURT (MRI) Time Freight eTeam 03:31:42
24.Michelle BENSON (RSA) Pretoria Box Pro Cycling 03:31:44
25.Simona FRAPPORTI (ITA) HITEC Products 03:31:44
26.Skye DAVIDSON (ZIM) World Cycling Centre Africa 1 03:31:45
27.Emilie MOBERG (NOR) HITEC Products 03:31:46