South Africa’s master cyclists turn local knowledge into medals

2012-08-29 00:00

LOCAL road cyclists topped the medal haul at the UCI World Cycling Tour (UWCT) Final at the weekend and helped entrench the confidence the sport’s international governing body has in top-level events being staged by Cycling South Africa.

South Africa’s competitors flew the country’s flag high in the event — formerly known as the Masters World Championships — when they claimed an impressive 35 of the 94 medals on offer across the various age categories, of which a staggering seven were gold.

The event, held in Pietermaritzburg from Thursday to Sunday, saw amateur masters cyclists from around the world converge on South Africa’s “Cycle City” as they sought a gold medal and the coveted rainbow jersey in their age group in either the time trial or road race events.

South Africa’s talent weren’t about to go down without a fight, and after drawing on their local knowledge of the course and the will to impress on home turf, the effort and determination of the group of 169 local riders who took part were well rewarded as seven gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze medals went the way of the host nation.

South African women’s star, Lynette Burger, who claimed both the time trial and road race in the women’s 30-34 category, and popular local master Gary Beneke, who won the men’s 50-54 road race, were just two outstanding South African performers in the event.

Christiaan Rossouw (men’s 60-64, time trial), Jeremy Maartens (men’s 30-34, time trial), Pauline Cound (women’s 50-54, road race) and Annette Loubser (women’s 40-44, road race) also made the top step of the podium.

“To get those stripes means everything,” said Burger shortly after claiming her time trial title.

“I have been the South African champion in the elite category, but to now win the rainbow stripes means everything.

“This is the greatest moment of my career,” she added after completing her domination of the women’s 30-34 road race just two days later.

It also was a special victory for Beneke who, having not been able to compete internationally in his prime due to international restrictions, was able to give himself the perfect 50th birthday present.

“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.”

Local cycling legend Andrew McLean also had a memorable few days in the saddle, although the men’s 40-44 competitor narrowly missed out on gold by less than a second in both the time trial and the road race.

Although South Africa palmed the most medals and finished second in the golds table, the impact of hosting an event of this stature had even greater ramifications and will be a notable highlight on South Africa’s road cycling timeline for many years to come.

“It has been the most wonderful experience,” said Ann Marie Miller of the United States, winner of the women’s 50-54 road race. “The city and the people have opened their arms to us and the hospitality and organisation has been overwhelming.

“As riders we travel all over the world, and I can tell you we’ve been overwhelmed by the welcome we’ve received and the city’s willingness to accommodate road cyclists.”

“It is excellent to have had this event here in South African and the vibe was fantastic,” said Rossouw.

“It has also helped lift the standard of amateur cycling in South Africa immensely.”

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