Britain’s Catherine Williamson will replace the injured Ischen Stopforth for the Contego Wine2Whales mountain bike race that starts in Somerset West in the Western Cape on November 11, according to a statement released by Team bizhub today.
Williamson (28), set to take part in her first mountain bike stage race, will now partner the experienced Yolandi du Toit (25) in the second edition of the three- day event.
In September, Du Toit (Heidelberg) and Stopforth (George) formed a new combination for the four-day Marrick Mountain Bike Challenge in Kimberley and won all four stages en route to the overall title.
With Du Toit triumphing in the final leg of the MTN Series last month and Stopforth showing glimpses of her best before aggravating an old injury in the recent DCM Cape Pioneer Trek, the pair was widely regarded as one of the front- runners for Wine2Whales honours.
However, team owner John Robertson said after consultation with Stopforth it was decided to withdraw the former MTN Series champion from the race – effectively ending her injury-plagued season. “Losing a rider like Ischen this close to a major race is a blow for any team, but it also gives us an opportunity to assess and develop other riders on our squad.”
He said Williamson – who represented Great Britain at the recent world championships – was an experienced international campaigner and he was confident that she would be up for the challenge.
“We’ve been discussing her participation in mountain bike races for a while now and the Wine2Whales is the perfect opportunity to expose her to it.” Robertson said the fact that the course was not particularly technical played a role in their decision.
Williamson, who is currently based in Gauteng, made a name for herself when she finished third in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in the early part of the season and has recently returned to the country to bolster Team bizhub for the end-of-year classics.
She entered her first mountain bike races – the Midrand Meander (60km) and the second leg of the Biogen Super Series (70km) – over the weekend, winning both. “I’ve only been on the mountain bike for a week, so I wanted to do some races to get used to the feel.”
As an experienced tour rider on the road, Williamson said she saw an opportunity in the multi-stage mountain bike events in South Africa.
“On the road I’m not really winning any sprints and most races finish in sprints. I’m much more of an endurance athlete anyway.”
Williamson said the British national team would be focusing on the track in the lead-up to the London Olympic Games, which would curtail her European commitments next year and therefore free her to participate in mountain bike races.