6 August 2012
South Africa’s Cherise Stander created a piece of history on Sunday when she raced to victory on the first stage of the women’s version of the Tour de France, the Route de France.
It was the first time that a South African woman had won a stage of an international 2.1 graded event, the highest grade, in Europe.
The 22-year-old Stander, who recently married South African mountain biking star Burry Stander, was a hard to understand and controversial omission from the South African Olympic team. She was the second highest ranked rider in the country, but was not given a place among the three open to South African women at the Olympics.
Stander races for the Momentum Toyota professional team in South Africa. On Sunday, though, she was in the colours of the Belgium-based Lotto-Beliso team as part of a rider trade arrangement with the Momentum Toyota squad.
The 102.4-kilometre stage came down to a sprint finish and it was Stander who outsprinted a large bunch to claim victory in two hours, 48 minutes and 32 seconds.
Australian Chloe Hosking (Specialized Lululemon) finished second with Kazakhstan’s Olena Andruk (Diadora Pasta Zara) rounding out the podium places.
Belarussian racer Alena Amialyusik (Be Pink), who won the opening prologue time trial stage on Saturday, retained the overall race lead after finishing in the front pack.
“I’m very happy with that win!” beamed Stander afterwards.
‘The biggest win of my career’
“The last few weeks have been so up and down emotionally – very low lows and now this amazing high. It’s definitely the biggest win of my career so far.”
Stander’s team approached the relatively flat stage with aggression, sending Ann Sophie Duyck up the road in the first kilometre on her own. The Belgian managed to stay clear until 68km when she was finally reeled in.
With no pressure to chase, the other Lotto-Belisol team members, which included Stander and fellow South Africans Lise Oliver, Robyn de Groot and Joanna van de Winkel, were able to sit in the peleton and save energy.
“I know that the Australian, Hoskins, is a quick sprinter so I tried to stay with her through what was a chaotic finale,” related Stander.
“As it usually is with the European bunch sprints, the pace was super-fast and it became very hectic in the sprint. I think my guardian angel helped get me through that safely. It was pretty scary!”
She added: “We don’t really have a general classification rider in our team for this race, so stage wins has been our aim. It’s good to have achieved one.
“It’s a nice statement to make and I really have to thank everyone that’s been so supportive to me personally and to South African women’s cycling in general.”
The nine-stage Route de France continues through until Sunday. It covers a total distance of 930 kilometres.
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