South African cycling in 2013

18 December 2013

South African cycling enjoyed an excellent year in 2013. Daryl Impey became the first South African in the 100 year history of the Tour de France to pull on the famous yellow jersey, while South African educated Chris Froome won the Tour. In mountain biking, Greg Minnaar won a third downhill World Championship title, this time in his home town of Pietermaritzburg.

Tour de France yellow jersey

Daryl Impey, riding for Oreca-GreenEdge, showed up strongly in the opening week of the Tour de France, helping his team-mate Simon Gerrans into the famous yellow jersey. Then, on 4 July in Montpellier, where Robbie Hunter had won a stage of the Tour de France six years earlier, Impey’s hard work to lead out Matt Goss was rewarded when he took over the race lead from Gerrans.

“If you told me that I would experience this moment in my life, I would tell you you were lying,” Impey said in an interview after the stage.

“It’s a dream come true, a magical moment. It’s a big day for South African and African cycling. This is a special day.”

Impey held the jersey for two days before Chris Froome won the eighth stage and with it the yellow jersey, which he did not relinquish the rest of the way to Paris.

Tour de France champion

With Froome not only having been educated in South Africa, but also having begun his professional cycling career in the country, it was another big moment for South African cycling.

Robbie Hunter retired from professional cycling in 2013, but not before he had won the inaugural Mzansi Tour. He showed his class and experience to take the overall victory by almost six minutes, thanks mostly to a solo breakaway on the second stage.

UCI MTB Masters World Championships

The UCI MTB and Trials World Championships, which were preceded by the UCI MTB Masters World Championships were held on the African continent for the first time when Pietermaritzburg served as the host city in August and September.

South African competitors shone in the Masters World Champs, claiming 10 gold, eight silver and 10 bronze medals.

Nico Pfitzenmaier, Paul Furbank and Linus Van Onselen won gold in their age groups in the cross-country, while Nedene Cahill, Geneveive Weber and Natalie Bergstrom did the trick in the women’s competition.

In the downhill, Chris Nixon, Myles Kelsey and course designer Nigel Hicks came away with gold medals, while Rike Olivier added a further gold in the women’s downhill.

UCI MTB World Championships

The UCI MTB and Trials World Champs followed on from the Masters Worlds and there was intense pressure on Greg Minnaar, in his home town, to defend the title. In three previous World Cup events at the Cascades MTB Park, he had twice won and finished second on the other occasions, so the expectations were huge that he could win the sought after rainbow-striped jersey in front of a patriotic South African crowd.

While riders from other countries picked up medals in the cross-country, trials and cross-country eliminator events, there was still a feeling among South African fans that their time would come on the final day of competition, when Minnaar would blast down the mountain in the downhill. He did not disappoint.

Wild celebrations

Going down third last, Minnaar led at the first split, but by the second split he trailed Australia’s Mick Hannah. With a massive crowd urging him on, he powered to the finish, sustaining a puncture, but keeping his head down, to better Hannah’s leading time by four-tenths of a second. The crowd erupted in cheers, but there were still two riders to come down the hill. Neither could match Minnaar and a wild celebration followed as the result he and his supporters had so wanted was achieved.

Minnaar’s third World Championship title matched his three overall World Cup titles and confirmed his standing as one of the all-time greats of the sport.

Burry Stander’s passing

On a sad note, South Africa should have had a strong challenger for the men’s cross-country title, but Burry Stander, second in the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg in 2012, was tragically killed in an accident while training early in January. His loss stunned the South African and international mountain biking communities.

The former under-23 world champion was a much-loved and respected figure and his passing was observed by the establishment of a commemorative garden at the Cascades MTB Park in his remembrance, which was officially opened during the World Championships.

Following Stander’s passing, his Team Specialized team-mate and Olympic cross- country champion Jaroslav Kulhavy teamed up with the South African’s regular Absa Cape Epic partner Christoph Sauser to win the Epic in Stander’s memory.

World Championships silver medal

At the end of September, at the UCI World Championships in Florence, Louis Meintjies starred in the under-23 road race. He claimed the silver medal, finishing just three seconds behind the winner, and clear of the chasing peleton.

Meintjies races professionally with Team MTN-Qhubeka, the first ever Professional Continental cycling team from South Africa, which made a big splash in its first season in those ranks.

Memorable win

Most memorably, Gerald Ciolek scored the team’s biggest win of the season in March when he overcame snow and rain to capture the Milan-San Remo Classic ahead of Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara. That victory announced MTN-Qhubeka as a team to be respected.

“When Gerald won the Milan-San Remo, we were on the front page of La Gazzetta della Sport, Italy’s biggest sports newspaper. We were on the front page of Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium. We were in the Korean Times in Korea. It was phenomenal,” Team Principal Douglas Ryder said in an interview with SAinfo.

South African-based Team Bonitas made history when they appointed Luthando Kaka their team captain in August, making him the first black South African to lead a professional cycling team.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio flew the women’s flag high. She achieved a first ever podium finish for a South African road cyclist in the UCI World Cup at the prestigious La Fleche Wallonne Feminine in Belgium, won the Boels Rental Hills Classic in The Netherlands, and finished a career high eighth in the Giro d’Italia Femminile, recognised as the toughest women’s stage race in the world.

At home, early in the year, she confirmed her dominance by winning national titles in both the road race and time trial. Towards the end of the year she repeated the feat at the African Continental Championships.

Para-cycling

South African para-cyclists excelled at World Cup events and at the Para-cycling Road World Championships in Canada, where Ernst van Dyk won two silver medals. Other top performers during the World Cup season included T1 tricyclist George Rex, C4 cyclist Roxy Burns and H2 cyclist Justine Asher.