Sizzling Action At Freedom Day Classic

The freedom to cycle was celebrated during the inaugural Freedom Day Classic, which is part of the KZN Autumn Series.  Team Abantu’s Reynard Butler claimed the men’s victory in a time of 4:02:56.381 and CSA Women’s Development team rider Cherise Stander secured the women’s title in a time of 3:23:19.131 in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, today.  The recently launched KZN Autumn Series provided top cyclists the chance to battle it out for UCI points in three road race events, the first being the Freedom Day Classic.

This will be followed Mayday Classic (1 May) and Hibiscus Coast Challenge (3 May).  Both riders overcame crashes early in the race due to the wet surface to claim their respective titles – Butler crashed when he joined the break and Stander slid out on the wet road shortly after the start, quickly regaining lost ground and momentum.  The 157km men’s race covered 7 laps of the 22.2km circuit through the streets in the city and along the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.

Only 8.6km in, Team EuropcarSA’s Kent Main made a break and leapt 10-seconds ahead of the peloton.  Main was soon joined by teammate James Fourie, JC Nel (Bonitas Pro Cycling), Tesfom Okubamariam and Metkel Teweldeberhan (both MTN-Qhubeka Feeder team), creating a 45-second time gap at the end of the first lap.  The time gap to the chasing peloton increased to over a minute, and then reduced again until the peloton joined the front riders again at the 80km mark.

Butler made a break at 94km and pushed hard, extending his lead to 55-seconds ahead of the peloton 115km into the race.  At the 141km mark, Butler had a 2:11 lead on his chasers, and he rode aggressively to hold the lead until the end.  Teammate Kruger claimed second place with Nicholas Dlamini (MTN-Qhubeka Feeder team) finishing third.

Butler said:  ‘It was a bit negative in the beginning and I was struggling to get into a rhythm, so I just decided to go in the break.  That’s when I had the crash.  I went back to the bunch, and told Nolan I wasn’t feeling so good.  He said that I should just look after myself, and the plan today was actually to ride for HB.  What I did was I decided to go in solo, and by God’s grace I managed to take the victory.  The emotions are high and I don’t know what to think, to win is incredible.  Yesterday we did Tour Durban.  The plan was to race for me in the sprint and I didn’t deliver so, this was more of a hunger for me today to prove to the guys that, you know, they didn’t make a mistake.’  Butler’s teammate, HB Kruger, said:  ‘It was quite a wet start to the day, and with racing Tour Durban yesterday it was a bit of a struggle to get the legs going.  But we took control of the race.  We had a plan and it worked out perfectly for us, getting first and second place.  We couldn’t have asked for a better result.  Reynard just rode amazingly today.  He crashed and he punctured, it was just amazing.  We knew we had our men for the race and I got goose bumps going over the finish today.  It was quite an emotional result not just for myself but for the team as well, especially after yesterday’s disappointment.  We are very happy.’  The women tackled five laps of the 22.2km route, totaling 113km through the wet streets of Pietermaritzburg.

A group of 18 riders containing all of the race favourites kept the tempo high in the early part of the race.  But it was at 44km that the first major attack set the riders apart, with Cherise Stander (CSA Womens Development), An-Li Kachelhoffer (Active), Lise Olivier (Time Freight eTeam), Lynette Burger (Active) and Zanele Tshoko (CSA Womens Development) creating a gap of 20 seconds over the chasing group.  At the 56km mark, Tshoko dropped off the back leaving the four riders (Stander, Kachelhoffer, Olivier and Burger) to open up a 1:30 gap, which continued growing.

Burger lost contact with the top three riders 80km into the race.  Between Stander, Olivier and Kachelhoffer, it was anyone’s race until well into the final lap, where Stander put the hammer down, opening a sizeable gap over her two rivals and holding the lead until the end of the race.  Stander claimed the title almost three minutes ahead of second placed Kachelhoffer, with Olivier third a further 1.3 seconds back.

CSA Womens Development team captain, Stander, said:  ‘Every lap I just tried to go a little harder.  I saw Lynette suffering on the third last lap and she is always a danger in the sprint, so I went really hard up the climb on the second last lap.  Bringing it down to a sprint finish is really a gamble, so in the last lap I really gave it everything I had.  It was incredibly hard and it felt twice as long as all the other laps.  I’m extremely happy to win the first UCI one-day event in South Africa.  I felt very proud to be the Captain of the CSA Women’s Commission team today.  Women’s cycling is at an all time high at the moment.  I am so proud of what Lise is doing for Women’s cycling.  The vibe in the race was great.  We even had Zanele coming with us when we launched the first attack.’  Second-placed Kachelhoffer said:  ‘I think it was a very good race.  It was hard but good.  Thank you to KwaZulu-Natal for bringing such world-class racing to Pietermaritzburg.’  Cycling SA Women’s Commission Director, Olivier, said:  ‘This was the hardest race that I have done for a long time, but there was such a good vibe out there today.  We knew Cherise was in a league of her own.  For me, the race was quite special.  Being a UCI race really lifts the level and the people got excited, which is something we really need in women’s cycling.  It gave about 17 girls the opportunity to race when they otherwise might not have been able to because they are not part of teams.  We are building a foundation, to get 32 girls on the start line for such an Elite level race is actually quite incredible.’

Photo: Reynard Butler (Team Abantu) rode aggressively in front and held his lead for the last 16km to claim the victory in the inaugural Freedom Day Classic, part of the KZN Autumn Series which took place in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, on Monday 27 April.
Photo credit: Andrew McFadden