23 June 2009
Shaun-Nick Bester, racing for the national team, became the first South African junior male to finish on an overall podium at a top-graded international road cycling tour, when he claimed second place at the Vuelta al Besaya in Spain on the weekend.
At the end of the four-stage International Cycling Union 2.1-graded tour, Bester, the son of former Comrades Marathon star Nick Bester, was in fact tied on time with Ibai Salas of the Navalcarnero team, but the Spaniard was awarded first place based on the fact that he’d had better stage placings than Bester.
Salas and Bester both had a final time of eight hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, with Bester’s third place on stage one his highest finish. Salas was third on stage two and second on stage three.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said a disappointed Bester. “To lose the race on the final stage only by a count back was heart-breaking.
‘We’re making an impression’
“But I’m still happy with second in such high quality company,” Bester said. “My teammates were great with their support, and the Europeans are all talking about the South Africans now, so we’re making an impression.”
On the final category two climb on the last stage, Salas attacked Bester, who was isolated from his teammates after they’d buried themselves for him earlier on. Bester thought his hopes of victory had vanished until his teammate Johann van Zyl rode across to him at the summit and helped pace Bester to the finish.
Salas had a 45-second lead on Bester at the base of the descent, which Van Zyl and Bester reduced to 12 seconds at the finish.
“We rode so hard for the last 10 Ks. We just couldn’t ride any harder,” explained Bester. “But in the end it just wasn’t enough. One second quicker and I would have held onto yellow.”
Bester and his South African teammates started the high-profile event off by stunning the European riders, mostly from Spain and Italy, when they took the first three places on stage one, an 85.6-kilometre leg from Los Corrales to Mercadal. Van Zyl secured the win ahead of Christopher Jennings and Bester.
That gave the South Africans all the major jerseys – yellow and points (both Van Zyl) and King of the Mountains (Jennings) – as well as the lead in the team competition.
Stage two was a nightmare in comparison. Van Zyl and Jennings both fell ill overnight with food poisoning and Jennings, along with teammates HB Kruger and Rian Gouws, all went down in the same crash!
Bester managed to avoid the illness and the crash and held his own against some aggressive opposition to finish ninth on the stage to take over the race lead.
Despite their illness and injuries, the South African team helped Bester as best they could to hold onto the yellow jersey for stage three. With a 12-second advantage over Salas the scene was set for a dramatic final stage, an 84.9km leg from San Felices to Los Corrales. But it was to be the Spaniard’s day and he finished fifth, exactly 12 seconds ahead of Bester.
“The team worked very hard for Shaun-Nick and it was amazing to see how big junior cycling is here. The entire race was broadcast live on national radio and got plenty of TV and print media coverage,” remarked Nick Bester, who was in Spain to assist with team support.
Shaun-Nick Bester is a member of the Toyota Supercycling Academy and the Academy’s manager, Ian Wilson, was thrilled by his outstanding performance: “This is great news for the Academy and junior cycling in South Africa!” he said.
Up there with the best in the world
“We have thought, but not known for sure that our riders are up there with the best in the world and now we have proof!’
“Shaun-Nick is a dedicated and extremely talented rider. His hard work is paying off and we look forward to more great results from him and the rest of the squad on their European campaign.
“Congratulations too to those riders who helped make this effort a team contribution and well done to Louis Meintjes and HB Kruger, also of the Toyota Supercycling Academy, who also finished the tour.
Hendrik Lemmer, Director of the Cycling South Africa Road Commission, said: “It is great to see riders from all three big junior teams in South Africa putting local rivalries aside and working as one for success as a national team in Europe.
“We realise this is a ‘special vintage’ and we need to look after these riders now and into the future.”
The team, which comprised Bester, Kruger, Meintjes, Van Zyl, Gouws, Jennings, Stefano Maiorana and Bradley Mitchell, ended third in the team competition.
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