Success for SA cyclists at UWCT Final

27 August 2012

Former South African and African Elite road cycling champion Lynette Burger bookended her racing career with two world championship titles at the 2012 UCI World Cycling Tour Final in Pietermaritzburg on the weekend. She was one of four South Africans to be crowned world champion.

With South Africa hosting the World Championships, Burger, who had retired from professional racing at the end of 2011, decided to enter the 30-34 year age category. It proved to be a great decision.

The 31-year-old Boksburg resident secured gold medals in both the individual time trial and the road race in what she describes as the highlight of her racing career.

“I wore the stripes of national champion and African champion as a professional racer, but to wear the rainbow stripes of world champion is simply the best accomplishment for me,” beamed Burger.

Unable to hold back the tears, she also explained that she had been riding for her late grandfather who died in the past year. “He was my greatest fan and greatest supporter,” said Burger. “It really felt like he was with me all the way today. This is the greatest moment of my career.”

Scenes of jubilation

There were scenes of jubilation at the medal ceremonies as South Africa celebrated four new world champions, topping the results in the 61km and 96 road races with gold medals for Pauline Cound (women 50-54), Anette Loubscher (women 40-44), Burger (women 30-34) and a late 50th birthday present for Gary Beneke (men 50-54).

“It is absolutely fantastic to have won. It is something I have always aspired to,” said Beneke. “I can now imagine how the guys feel at the Olympics.”

The women’s race was complex as the splintered group that raced into Wartburg included riders from three different classes and four nationalities. However, aggressive riding at the turn at Wartburg saw Burger and van Houweling take charge of the front of the race, and they raced away to the finish together.

“She (Burger) was too strong for me in the end sprint and I think she is the better climber,” said the Californian, who was delighted to be the new world champion in her age group. “In the last two miles I was cramping so badly. Thank goodness the race wasn’t any longer!”

Brutal

With racing more than hot enough to match the 40-degree plus temperatures out on the road, the battles for the rainbow jerseys were brutal, none more so that the riveting tactical battle in the men’s 45-49 age group where local icon Andrew McLean was pipped at the post by the wily French rider Gregoire Balland.

It was bitter pill for McLean to swallow as he had been narrowly beaten to the rainbow jersey in Thursday’s time trial. “It was tough out there, but in the sprint he had the legs and I couldn’t get rid of him,’ he said.

Italian rider Daniella Passalacqua was the star of the morning’s 61km race that started in Wartburg and wound back into the city, winning the UCI rainbow jersey in her 45-49 year age group as she posted the fastest time of the morning.

While Passalacqua won comfortably in her age group, the women’s 50-54 age group saw a ding-dong duel between local rider Pauline Cound and Norwegian Sissel Vien, with the pair trading the lead throughout until Cound found that little bit extra in the final few kilometres to prevail over Vien.

Similarly American master Ann Marie Miller won her first world title after managing to outsprint the gutsy Dutch woman Marti Valks in the closing stages of their 55-59 year age group race.

The men’s 65+ age group produced similarly ferocious racing with tough Belgian rider Herman van der Borre leading for most of the latter stages of the race to edge out English rider Jimmy Young on the home straight.

Italian success

On Sunday, the final day of racing, the Italian flag flew enthusiastically in the wind at Alexandra Park after the 112km road race brought down the curtain on the UCI World Cycling Tour Final as two of the three world titles on offer went to Italians.

D’Andrea Allesandro won a thrilling three-way dice to the line to snatch the coveted UCI rainbow jersey away from local riders JC Jooste and Jaco Ferreira in the 30-34 year class, while his compatriot Gabriele Clementoni capped a tactically astute race with an imposing victory in the men’s 40-44 class.

“Of course it is a great honour to have won,” said Allesandro. “Cycling is a hobby for me now. I used to be a pro, but now I have a full time job. But my whole season has been focussed on this and winning was my main goal.”

“We are a little disappointed,” said JC Jooste. “At 35km to go, myself and Jaco Ferreira had a gap of two minutes and when one of the 16-29 youngsters bridged the gap the Italian had a lot of help closing in on us.”

“To get two South Africans on the podium is great,” added Ferreira. “We obviously would have liked top spot but we are still very happy.”

Dramatic crash

The day will also be remembered for the dramatic crash 50 metres from the line by Slovenian rider Igor Kopše who had dominated the 35-39 year class to the extent that he was able to enter the home straight alone, and he started to celebrate as he entered the straight.

The move proved costly because as Kopše threw his arms aloft and punched the air he lost control of his bike and crashed hard into the tarmac.

As he got up, he glanced back to see where second placed Jone Ellinsen was and tried to remount his bike, only to discover the he had smashed the gear off his back wheel in the crash, and he had no option but to pick up his bike and run to the line.

“I probably tried to salute too much when I got it wrong, but none of that matters now because I am so happy to have won,” said Kopše.

“I have been working for this the entire season trying to push the limit,” he said. “Yesterday my derailleur broke and we tried to repair it until 8pm last night. Just before we started, I had to put a new chain on and I was very nervous that it wouldn’t working properly.”

“On the last descent there were three or four times when I nearly fell, but somehow I managed to survive and I attacked on the downhill. I am not a sprinter but I can push it when I need to and that gave me the gap over the others,” he explained.

Second placed Ellinsen cottoned onto the dramatic developments too late as he too was coasting into the finish, and his late charge was not enough to keep a relieved Kopše from the rainbow jersey.

16-29 age group

The 16-29 year age group Challenger class produced breakneck racing in the cool overcast conditions until the sun burnt off the clouds, creating ideal conditions for very fast times.

Belgian Simon Collard, 27, retained his title in the class, which is the only age group not eligible for Masters’ world champion rainbow jerseys as he crossed the line first in a four-way sprint finish with Allesandro, Jooste and Ferreira.

“I am very happy to have defended my title,” said Collard afterwards. “Four of us got away and were coming in together and I wanted to win overall, and my sprint is good so I went with about 300 metres to go.”

The event concluded with warm praise from the riders for the standard of organisation and the hospitality shown by the residents and fellow riders in Pietermaritzburg. It was the first time that the UWCT Final has been held outside of Europe.

SAinfo reporter

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