Smit takes early lead at USSA champs

Team Bonitas professional Willie Smit put in a dominating performance to claim the first two stages and the yellow jersey on day one of the Bestmed USSA student road cycling championships in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday.

Smit, from the University of Pretoria, opened his account with a split-second victory in the 83km road stage (2:07:25) in the morning and went on to notch up another credit in the 15km individual time-trial (21:49.46) later in the day.

“My main goal was the time-trial,” said the 20-year-old.

“Winning the road race was just a bonus. The team did a great job and it wouldn’t have been possible without them.”

The first stage culminated in a dramatic bunch sprint to the finish at Altona Primary in the Greenbushes area, with Smit just nosing ahead of runner-up Waldo Gronum (Shukuma-NMMU) and third-placed Martin Scheppel (University of Johannesburg).

In the afternoon, Smit judged the windy conditions along Marine Drive well to put almost a minute into team-mate Kevin Patten, who took second in 22:55.28. Local rider Gronum rounded out the day’s podium in 23:18.54.

“There was a headwind going out, so I was planning to ride out as hard as possible to make up more time,” said Smit, who logged the fastest-ever time-trial at the Tour of Mauritius last year.

“I think a lot of people thought they should save their energy on the way out and then go back faster but the pace on the return leg was just too high.”

The second-year law student, who finished third overall last year, said he was feeling confident that Tuks could take the team competition for a second year in a row.

“It’s up to the other guys to race us. We’ll just control the race and see what happens.”

In the women’s tour, the University of Cape Town’s Kelley Hess soloed to victory on stage one and finished second on stage two to take a convincing overall lead.

The American post-doctoral fellow in astronomy put in an attack on the first lap of the 62km road race for an unchallenged win in 1:56:23.

“That wasn’t the plan,” said a surprised Hess. “I broke with 50km to go and expected to get chased down but the gap just kept getting bigger.”

She was followed home by Stellenbosch University’s Ashleigh Blackwell in 1:59:47, with UCT’s Sarah Chemaly third in 2:03:09.

Blackwell, who rides professionally in the colours of ASG Bestmed, won the 10km time-trial in 17:22.25 – 36 seconds clear of Hess – to move into second overall.

Former pro rider Chemaly finished third in 18:03.96 to claim the same spot in the general classification.

On Thursday, the 120km queen stage rolls out from the NMMU South Campus at 9am.

Visit www.nmmu.ac.za