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An All-Star Cast: Lining up with the Pros at Die Burger

 Die Burger Cycle Tour: Sharon Laws and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.

Die Burger Cycle Tour: Sharon Laws and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.                                       [photo courtesy:]

It was a little easier to get at 4am on Sunday for Die Burger Cycle Tour knowing I would have the privilege of lining up with some world-class athletes:  Sharon Laws, British National Road Champ; Jennie Stenerhag, former Swedish National Champ; Anriette Schoeman, a well-known successful SA pro; and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who I just interviewed about winning double gold at African Continental Champs.  Comparing the rankings and grand tour results of Laws and Moolman-Pasio to the world tour elite men, it would be the equivalent of racing with the likes of Robert Gesink, Michael Rogers, Maxime Monfort, or Janez Brajkovic.  While the all-star cast was lined up across the front of the bunch on the start line, probably thinking race tactics, I was thinking about what a great opportunity it was for us local amateur women to race with such accomplished strong riders. Then again, staring at the legs of Olympians waiting for the start gun was a little nerve-racking.

With the start only about 1km from the big climb of the day, it felt like about a minute before I was going flat-box to stay in the bunch.  Old Hellshoogte Road is a winding 3.6km climb that averages 4.4%.  My experience felt more like 8km at 10% but I was determined to stay with the pro-ladies as long as I could.  After the first few corners I had already slid back to the middle of the pack but I could still see the stripes of the national jerseys who were setting the pace.  I tried to keep up and keep my position but, about half way up the climb, I started to suffer.  Knowing I had way more to give, I quickly shifted and picked up my cadence.  To my disbelief, I could still see the front ladies and I was still in contact with the strung out peloton.  With about 1km to the top, I cracked but, not knowing the climb well, I convinced myself it was only 2 more corners.  Four corners laters, pulling a shamefully Thomas Voeckler-style pain face, I was hurting. I was standing quickly, changing gears, pulling on my bars, and doing everything I could to crest in contact of the bunch.

I turned the last corner onto the connecting main road to see the lead bunch summit about 10 seconds in front of me.  I knew it was “now or never,” so I gave everything I could to the top.  Frustratingly close, I set about chasing with a few other riders but we just couldn’t make contact. Our group of 4 eventually merged into a bunch of 50 and after about 10km of chasing, we hit a series of corners that broke focus.  Afterwards, we settled into a good tempo pace and awaited the decisive big rollers towards the end of the race.

Racing through the winelands outside Stellenbosch in Die Burger Cycle Tour.

Racing through the winelands outside Stellenbosch in Die Burger Cycle Tour.                         [photo courtesy:]

When we finally turned back towards Stellenbosch, there was 10km to go and 2 big rollers between us and the finish line.  The bunch scattered on each climb but I fought my way over both and managed to stay with at the front.  Finally, the last corner of the day, a sharp left onto a rise, was upon us.  I had the finishing straight all mapped out in my mind but as I turned the corner to sprint up the small rise, lack of experience left me caught out in the strong crosswind and I went backwards fast!  I struggled to get back into slip and by the time I did I was off the back of my group.  No matter at this point, I gave it all to line and took 7th overall in the elite women’s category.

Only 10 minutes down from 2 Olympians…a win in my book!

In a photo finish, Laws took the win with Moolman-Pasio and Jennie Stenerhag taking 2nd and 3rd respectively. 

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