Eritrean cycling star Metkel Eyob Teweldeberhan (MTN-Qhubeka Feeder Team) and South Africa’s Cherise Stander (CSA Women’s Development team) claimed top honours in the Hibiscus Coast Cycle Challenge, the third and final round of the KZN Autumn Series, in glorious weather in Margate, KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday. Sixty-seven Elite men and 19 Elite women cyclists took to the start line of the UCI Category 1.2 point-scoring race, with the men tackling 10 laps of the 15.5km circuit (155km) and the women, seven laps (108.5km). The men’s group remained together for the majority of the race, interspersed with several small breakaways that were soon reeled in.
The first move of the day was at the end of lap one when Morne Van Niekerk (Team Abantu), Meron Teshome Hagos (MTN-Qhubeka Feeder Team), JC Nel (Bonitas Pro Cycling), Ryan Gibbons (Team EuropcarSA), Reynard Butler (Team Abantu), and Rohan Du Plooy (Lights By Linea) attacked, but the race was back together by the fourth lap. After 100km of racing, Nicholas Dlamini (MTN-Qhubeka Feeder Team) attacked and managed to gain a 32-second gap on the group, but soon fell back and it was up to his teammate Teweldeberhan to take over and hold the lead position from 125km all the way to the end. Teweldeberhan, who had claimed third place in Friday’s Maritzburg Margate Mayday Classic, was overwhelmed with his win: ‘The race was very, very hard. All of my team worked for me, so I needed to win. On the second-to-last lap I broke out. I’m so happy.’
The Eritrean star fought hard to maintain over a minute in front of the rest of the chase group. He says: ‘It’s so far and I’m so tired now.’ World Cycling Centre Africa Director and MTN-Qhubeka Feeder Team manager, JP Van Zyl, is thrilled at Tewelderberhan’s win and is happy for the team: ‘Finally we got the victory I think we deserved. We raced the whole week. We were the aggressors and we took the racing to the other teams and sometimes we didn’t have all the luck that we should’ve but the guys stuck together and they raced as a team.’
Van Zyl said that he could see that the commitment and training over the past four weeks had been amazing and that it finally had paid off: ‘And it showed today when Nic (Dlamini) set it up for Metkel – we played our cards right and it worked out well.’ The women’s race saw a brave and gutsy move from CSA Women’s Development team’s Zanele Tshoko 18km into the race. The Rand Water Velokhaya rider held her position in front with a gap of up to 1 minute 20 seconds at one point, but the chasing group closed it down at the 57km mark.
Tshoko says: ‘At the time I felt good and made the move. The girls seemed be taking it easy and I ended up being alone in the front. Then I paced myself until the fourth lap. I was thinking that this could be a mistake but I convinced myself to continue until they caught me again.’ Tshoko was unfortunate to crash in the feed zone when she tried to grab her bottle. The crash meant that her handlebars were skew and she was unable to rejoin the race.
Lise Olivier (Time Freight eTeam), An-Li Kachelhoffer (Active) and Cherise Stander (CSA Women’s Development Team) attacked at 65km. Kachelhoffer’s teammates Heidi Dalton and Lynette Burger desperately tried to bridge the gap and join the lead trio, but they gave up the chase with under 10km to go in the race. Kachelhoffer says: ‘We knew from the last race that Cherise and Lise were the ones to watch. Candice (Neethling) tried to attack on a climb to test us, but on the next lap Cherise launched an attack and managed to get a gap. I had two riders just off the bunch and tried to slow for them to bridge the gap, but the pace was very high in the front and I had to keep going.’
Olivier, Stander and Kachelhoffer stayed close together until the very end, when Cherise timed her move in the last 200m to take the victory on the technical corners. She says: ‘I was a bit scared going into the finish, but I’m very happy with the win.’
Speaking about her teammate’s earlier performance, Stander said: ‘I’m so proud of Zanele, hats off to her, she really was the star of the day and she made my job easier today – I could sit in the bunch and follow the moves. It was a privilege to have development riders racing here and to be able to help them. I started to cramp towards the end of the race but I’m very glad to have held on for the victory.’ Speaking about the importance of the UCI race in South Africa, Stander said: ‘This is a pre-Olympic year and anything is possible. We really want to qualify as many girls as we can for Rio as it is important for Ashleigh (Moolman-Pasio) that there are more of our girls there as a team to help her to achieve a medal.’ Cycling SA Road Commission Director, Bosseau Boshoff, said: ‘The racing was awesome. You can see in the guys racing in today and Friday’s race that they lack this type of race distance in their legs. The race just got bigger than what they are used to. Without these types of races I don’t think that we’ll ever get to the level of the European riders without going to race in Europe. This course was amazing and the whole route planning was really great – it had everything in it; technical corners, technical descending, climbs. It was great.’
Cycling South Africa President, William Newman, was happy with the success of the entire KZN Autumn Series: ‘We at Cycling South Africa are very proud of the fact that we could host this series of events for our riders. It’s been a great Autumn Series for us; it’s great for our riders to have been given the opportunity to score important UCI points for Olympic qualification next year.’ Newman also extended his gratitude to KwaZulu-Natal Sports and Recreation, the Hibiscus Coast Municipality and KZN Cycling.
Photo: Metkel Eyob Teweldeberhan (MTN-Qhubeka Feeder Team) crosses the finish line to take first place at the Hibiscus Coast Cycle Challenge in Margate on Sunday 3 May 2015