Simply outnumbered in Eritrea, Team South Africa still topped the medals table at the African Continental road cycling championships in Asmara that ended on Sunday.
South Africa took only seven riders to the championships but come back with 11 medals in their baggage. Of these three were gold, five silver and three bronze.
That saw them getting the better of Eritrea (six medals in total) while Morocco and Mauritius ended with two apiece.
The championships were an eye-opener for team manager Barry Austin in more ways than one. “We arrived in Asmara, Eritrea, pleasantly surprised by the hospitality and friendliness of the people. And soon we found out that cycling is the most popular sport in Eritrea, with the capital of Asmara having around 800 competitive cyclists across three divisions.
“The men’s team met the day before the time trials for the first time and went on the course and got a feel for each other as well as the course. On the day we started very fast and it was looking good for the first quarter. But we quickly learnt the effects of the altitude and the good feeling in the legs soon disappeared and the lack of oxygen took its toll.”
SA went on to end second in the time trial, behind the host nation.
On to the women’s individual time trial, and the women showed their class with Cherise Taylor and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio taking first and second. “This year we fielded our top riders as part of our drive to gain enough UCI points for maximum team size at the London Olympics in 2012.”
In the men’s time trial home town hero Daniel Teklehaymanot had a super ride to beat Louis Meintjes and Reinardt Janse van Rensburg into second and third but with the SA riders both still being in the Under-23 ranks it was gold and silver in that category.
Sunday saw the final two events in the championships, the women’s road race over 63.7 kilometers and the men’s 10-lap affair over 146.3km. “Our dominance in Africa clearly showed with Ashleigh getting a gap just after the start. She was joined by Cherise Taylor to later gain an unassailable gap.
“At the back it was very negative against Jo van de Winkel as she managed to get a gap a few times, but was brought back by combined efforts from Eritrea and Mauritius. Ashleigh took first with Cherise second and Aurelie Halbwachs outsprinted Jo for the third place, rounding off the podium.”
The final race of the day was the men’s and as Austin points out South Africa were always going to find the going uphill. “It was a tough one – Eritrea, Morocco and Algeria all fielded eight-man teams and with the easy profile of the course it meant that having the numbers was going to be the name of the game. Our four men, Jaco Venter, Reinardt Janse ven Rensburg, Louis Meintjes and Herman Fouche would have their work cut out for them.
“Our tactic was to have a smaller group get away with two or more South Africans, but outnumbered by one or two of the main countries and having to drive the break and attack them again for the last part of the race. The fear of us was evident, as they never drove any move with South Africans in them, even if we were outnumbered.
“Already on the limit, being outnumbered, Herman punctured and after a slow change it took him very long to get back into the front group. That left the other three covering the almost impossible barrage of attacks. With Herman back, we got a bit of a breather, but it didn’t last long and the attacks started again. Jaco made it into a good looking move and it was looking good, but there was no collaboration in the front and he clearly posed a big threat being there. Algeria and Eritrea reacted with force, taking a group containing Reinardt over towards Jaco’s group with about 15km to go.
“But as this group went clear, Reinardt punctured. The wheel change was fast and Reinardt fought hard to catch this group, leaving two of our guys, Venter and Janse van Rensburg in a group of 17 off the front. On the run into the finish Jaco covered the moves to set Reinardt up for the sprint. Reinie went a few metres too early and this left the door open for two Eritreans to pass him and he had to settle for third behind them.
Summing up the championships, Austin said: “Considering that SA only sent a total of seven athletes compared to the 12 of Eritrea, our results weren’t bad at all! At the closing ceremony the South Africans joined the Eritreans in the celebrations. This was such a great feeling to be truly part of the host nation’s celebrations and it made me proud to be South African, showing that we are one with Eritrea.”
Team Time Trial:
2. South Africa
Women’s Time Trial:
1. Cherise Taylor (RSA)
2. Ashleigh Moolman (RSA)
3. Aurelie Halbwachs (Mauritius)
Men’s Time Trial:
1. Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eritrea)
2. Louis Meintjes (RSA)
3. Reinardt Jv Rensburg (RSA)
Women’s Road Race:
1. Ashleigh Moolman (RSA)
2. Cherise Taylor (RSA)
3. Aurelie Halbwachs (Mauritius)
Men’s Road Race:
1. Natnael Berhane (Eritrea)
2. Tesfay Habtemariam (Eritrea)
3. Reinardt jv Rensburg (RSA)
Final Medal Table:
1. South Africa – 11 (3x Gold; 5x Silver; 3x Bronze)
2. Eritrea – 6 (4x Gold; 2x Silver)
3. Morocco tied with Mauritius – 2 (2x Bronze each)