Cycling South Africa’s Elite Women’s National Team claimed gold at the opening day of the 2016 CAC (African Cycling Confederation) Road Cycling Championships in Benslimane, Morocco, on 21 February.
An-Li Kachelhoffer, Lise Olivier, Anriette Schoeman and Samantha Sanders tackled the out-and-back 38-kilometre route in a tailwind to start with, which resulted in clocking speeds of over 50-55km/hour. At the turnaround point, Team South Africa had recorded the same time as the Eritrean team and the tough return in the head wind saw the South African women make up good time on the other teams.
The morning started off in very cool conditions and soon after their arrival in Benslimane, the all-important team talk with Steve Sergeant ahead of the 11:00 start stressed the importance of keeping the pace steady as this team was not used to riding Team Time Trials together.
“We placed emphasis on the communication along the route so that small mistakes could be eliminated in order to gain valuable time,” said Sergeant. “The team found a great rhythm quite quickly after the start and I could see from the car behind that everything worked smoothly. The pace we set was maintained well throughout the whole race.”
The Moroccan team had been reduced to three riders and their firepower was not evident. “The same could not be said of the Ethiopian women,” continued Sergeant. “At the turnaround point they were hot-on-our-heels time-wise and we could see that the Eritreans had a fast team on the road as well! But as a team we kept a precious bullet in our back pocket and now was the time to use it!”
Each member of Team South Africa took shorter turns on the front through the prevailing head wind, which added extra power on the up hills and resulted in a deserved victory by more than three minutes over Ethiopia and Eritrea!
“The plan worked out well and I can be very proud of each one of them! An-Li, Anriette, Lise and Sam are the new African TTT Champs!” exclaimed Sergeant.
Speaking about the African competition, Olivier said: “From the African Games in Brazzaville, Congo, the main contenders were expected to be Nigeria (who won the TTT), Eritrea and Ethiopia. Sadly the Nigerian Federation did not bring a women's team, which is still a problem in African women's cycling. The medals were going to certainly come from SA, Eritrea and Ethiopia.”
Talking about the camaraderie in the team, Olivier said, “It was a proper team effort to get visas and everything else done in time before we left and we bonded as a team even before we got on the aeroplane. Camaraderie is such an important part of any team's success and all the riders on the team are experienced and understand that. We have incredible riders as well as international-level support staff with Steven Sergeant and Jill Bezuidenhout. This makes a massive difference. Steven has taken it to the next level with professionalism that I have not experienced before on a National Team. His knowledge of cycling and race tactics is incredible and to have someone like that take the time to transfer that knowledge is much appreciated. It shows with massive respect between riders and staff. It is an environment that encourages success and I believe that we are in good hands for the rest of the races.”
Olivier and Sanders will compete in the Individual Time Trial (ITT) on Tuesday 23 February with all four riders competing in the Road Race to follow on Thursday 25 February.
“There will be serious competition from again Eritrea (gold and silver in Congo), Namibia and Rwanda in the Individual Time Trial tomorrow,” said Olivier. “Samantha proved she is a force to be reckoned with when she finished second at the SA National Championships last week.”