17 August 2010
Another chapter in the fast-growing success story of South African cycling was written at the 2010 UCI Junior World Track Championships in Montichiari, Italy when Bernard Esterhuizen won gold in the one-kilometre time trial.
Within the space of the last year, South Africans in the sport of cycling, in its various forms, have excelled on the world stage: think of Greg Minnaar and Burry Stander in mountain biking, Sifiso Nhlapo in BMX, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio on the road, and a number of juniors in road events in Europe. And don’t forget that Ernst van Dyk is the Paralympic champion in hand-cycling.
Esterhuizen is the latest South African to shine and this time the success is in yet another discipline: track cycling.
JP van Zyl, who finished fifth in the sprints at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, spoke to Cycling South Africa about Esterhuizen’s victory at the championships, which ended on Sunday.
‘The Real Deal’
“Bernard Esterhuizen is the ‘Real Deal’ of South African track cycling,” he told Cycling South Africa. “I can only hope that Sascoc (the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) also realises this.”
He continued: “Bernard’s winning performance in the one-kilometre time trial is something else. It is an unbelievable performance. Nobody can doubt any longer that Bernard is the ‘Real Deal’ of SA track cycling.
“His winning time of 1:03.265 is world class. In my opinion, it is lightning fast.
“It must be a new South African junior record and very close to the SA senior record.”
Sean Badenhorst, the editor of TREAD cycling magazine, told Sascoc: “The one-kilometre time trial is no longer an Olympic event, but what this event does is give an idea of Bernard’s pedigree.
“He was previously a good sprinter, but this event is so much more of a mental and physical test and shows that he has the talent to diversify, and he should definitely be in the 2012 Olympic frame of things.”
Esterhuizen is based at the UCI’s World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland. It is obviously something that he has benefited from, especially when one also considers his results in the Kierin and sprint finals in which he finished fourth and sixth respectively.
Van Zyl told Cycling South Africa he was concerned about Esterhuizen being based in Switzerland before the World Championships. “Believe me, it can become lonely in Europe,” he explained.
“Therefore, I was slightly worried about Bernard before the beginning of the World Championship. One of two things could happen. He could either totally crack due to homesickness, or he could ride like a true champion. He did the latter and that tells me much about his character. He had proven himself to be a true fighter of the same caliber as a Robert Hunter.”
“The UCI Cycling Academy should also receive credit for Bernard’s victory. He would certainly not have won if he had stayed in South Africa,” he opined.
With that in mind, he plans to propose an arrangement with the UCI Training Academy that would allow Esterhuizen to remain and train there until the 2012 London Olympic Games.
‘A certain medal contender’
“Bernard is, without a doubt, a certain medal contender,” he said. “Remember, I was only 20 when I finished 5th at 1996 Olympic Games.”
Dean Edwards, a long time star of South African track cycling, said he hoped Esterhuizen’s victory would open the door for other South African track cyclists.
He said: “Hopefully Bernard’s victory has proven once and for all that South Africa’s track cyclists can compete with the best if they are given the right opportunities.
“I can only hope that Bernard has opened the door for a complete track cycling development programme. There are more medals to be won at future World Championships.”
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