SA’s third big cycling race

3 November 2004

South Africa boasts the two largest individually timed cycle races in the world, the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour and the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge. The former is contested around the picturesque Cape Point, the latter is raced in and around Johannesburg. Now Durban is getting in on the act.

The Amashovashova Pick ‘n Pay National Classic has been raced in Kwazulu-Natal since 1986, but it is only in recent years that the field has started to really bulk up. Now it is reaching serious proportions: close on 9 000 people took part in the latest edition of the race, held over the weekend.

While this pales a bit compared to the Argus and the 94.7, it is clear that the trend in the Amashovashova is up and up, and 9 000 contestants is not a number to be sneezed at.

Much in common with the Comrades
The race route has much in common with the Comrades Marathon, starting, as does the world-famous ultra-marathon, outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. Departing the KZN capital, the cyclists immediately encounter the most serious hills of the roughly 100 kilometre distance.

Personally, having ridden the race myself, I found it very useful that the toughest climbs happened when people were fresh – remembering that the greater part of the field are simply taking part in the event to complete it. It also served to sort out the wheat from the chaff; the stronger cyclists moved towards the front of the field, while the weaker riders fell towards the back.

Once the early Fox Hill climb – covering eight kilometres – is over, it is a wonderful flowing route all the way to Durban, for the most part mimicking the Comrades Marathon route. The early climbing eliminates Polly Shorts, which someone said to me was because of the danger of cycling in such great numbers on a very steep descent; some time back, so I was told, a cyclist was killed descending it.

Overall, the race route is a big descent, with Pietermaritzburg at an altitude of 721 metres, while Durban is at sea level. The final 30 kilometres into the coastal city are characterised by a nice sweeping run into the finish line, and the stage of the race at which these gentle descents occur is, no doubt, appreciated by a large part of the field.

Cream of SA’s pro cyclists
This year’s race attracted the cream of South Africa’s professional cyclists, but windy conditions prevented a really fast pace over the 106-kilometre route.

Ian McLeod of HSBC captured the first King of the Mountain hot spot at the top of Fox Hill, as his team attempted to set the early pace.

Leon Nel of Minolta claimed the second hot spot, with a nice breakaway on the flat at Umlaas Road. His teammate, Jacque Fullard, then won the second King of the Mountain hot spot, heading up out of Drummond, well known as the halfway mark of the Comrades Marathon.

Seven-man break
Heading into Pinetown, there was a seven-man break, with Excel’s Nolan Hoffman used his track sprinting speed to annex the hot spot. However, the strong headwind prevented the breakaway from escaping the chasing pack.

At the top of Cowies Hill there was a third win for Minolta as Reinhardt du Plessis took the hot spot.

With the wind playing a big role in keeping the pack intact, it all rested on a bunch sprint for honours, and Jacques Fullard, the form man in recent weeks, took the win, but only after a photo finish and several re-runs of the finish video. It was his third win in eight days. Excel’s Hoffman settled for second.

Women’s race
In the women’s race it came down to a battle between four stars of South African road cycling, Anke Erlank, Ronel van Wyk, Elsa Karsten and Dianne Emery.

It was Karsten who managed to edge out Van Wyk for the win, with Erlank taking third. Emery had to content herself with two wins in the Queen of the Mountains competition.

Tragedy
On a sad note, a cyclist from Pretoria was killed after she crashed into a rock wall on the side of the road while descending Inchanga into Drummond. 45-year-old Cornelia Putter of Pretoria died within minutes of the collision, despite receiving attention from six advanced life-support paramedics.

Neil Noble, a spokesman for Netcare 911, said the paramedics managed to resuscitate her, but her injuries were too severe and there was nothing they could do. She passed away as a rescue helicopter hovered overhead.