The first evening of action at the Confederation of African Cycling (CAC) Continental Track Championships in Pietermaritzburg saw the expectant victors coming out on top with Nolan Hoffman and Maroesjka Matthee winning their respective scratch events but Thursday morning’s action proved to be hotly contested as riders weighed each other up in some tight heats. Halfway through her scratch event Matthee thought the race would come down to a bunch sprint which it did but not before she had broken away from the bunch with Western Province’s Elfriede Wolfaardt and fellow South African national Ilze Bole.
“In the sprint, I was confident that I was faster than Elfriede and Ilze, so I took the sprint from quite far out to use the wind to my advantage. I was pretty happy with how the race panned out,” Matthee said. A regular competitor overseas, she welcomed the introduction of the Continental Championships. “As a continent, there are not a lot of track riders because there are not many tracks. It is cool that the African Champs have happened. It’s putting us on the map and giving us valuable UCI points. I think we can only become stronger from here and get more riders on the track,” Matthee said. Men’s scratch champion Nolan Hoffman said his victory was far from a solo effort, “I think it was a really good team effort,” he explained. “We started with three guys in the national team and we did a really good job to secure the win. I am very happy with that. The guys committed themselves to riding for me and I’m super-stoked to pull off a victory. I am really glad that we rode so well as a team.”
Hoffman also said he enjoys the outdoors track in Pietermaritzburg’s Alexandra Park. “This is the second time that I have taken part in a Championship on this track. It is surprisingly fast for an outdoor track. We’re not going at the same sort of speeds that one goes on a velodrome, but for an outdoor venue it is fast and I enjoy racing on it.” William Newman, the President of the African Confederation Track Commission said Hoffman has set an example young cyclists should follow, “Nolan is smart because he has come through a development programme where he was brought up on the track, so that is why he beats these guys on the road because he is faster. Hopefully youngsters will see that track is a very important part of road development, so they need to twin the two disciplines. You look at the Tour de France, an outstanding sprinter like Mark Cavendish grew up on the track, Bradley Wiggins too. He is now converting back to the track for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.” Para-cycling star Roxy Burns declared herself satisfied and a little relieved after a strong ride in the time trial. “It was very good. I got my qualifying time for Worlds, so it all depends on selection. I thought it went well,” she said.
Thursday morning saw a continued dominance from the South African riders with Western Province’s Eugene Soule edging out Jean Smith of the South African national team to win the one kilometre time trial in the elite men’s category. On the large Sax Young outdoor track, with weather conditions also featuring as a factor, Soule won his heat against Steven Van Heerden of the VWE-Europcar Cycling Academy in 1:08.58. Smith, competing in the very next heat against Tunisia’s Ali Nousri, came within a whisker of Soule’s time but had to be content with stopping the clocks at 1:08.97. Matthew De Freitas picked up the final spot on the podium, finishing only 14-hundredths-of-a-second behind his national teammate.
In other medal events, Juan Odendaal, who played second fiddle to Craig Ridgard in the 3 000 metres individual pursuit, turned the tables on his team mate to capture gold in men’s C1-C3 1km time trial in 1:24.36, crossing the line over two-and-a-half seconds ahead of Ridgard. Dane John Wilson claimed the men’s C4-C5 1km time trial title with a time of 1:13.99. Maroesjka Matthee, after winning gold in the 10km scratch on Wednesday, looks a good bet to add gold in the elite women’s 3 000 metres individual pursuit after finishing almost seven seconds faster than Ilze Bole, the next fastest rider on the track, during the heats.
The men’s 4 000 metres individual pursuit heats, however, were tightly contested, with Team South Africa’s Morne Van Niekerk recording a time of 4:49.65, which was just over a second faster than Team Abantu’s HB Kruger and about two-and-a-half seconds up on his national team mate Stefan De Bod. The African Continental Track Champs will be streamed live on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 January from 09:00 to 18:00 on www.streamit360.tv. Uploads of the edited highlights packages from Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 January will be available to view on Wednesday and Thursday evening from 20:00. Entrance for spectators is free of charge.
Photo: South African track cycling hero Nolan Hoffman powered his way to victory in the men’s the African Track Cycling Championships at the Sax Young Cycling Track in Pietermaritzburg
Photo credit: Craig Dutton/Gameplan Media