South African Riders Continue Domination At African Track Champs

Maroesjka Matthee and HB Kruger claimed the women’s and men’s individual pursuit titles at the Confederation of African Cycling (CAC) Continental Track Championships in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday afternoon while Annerine Wenhold claimed gold in the elite and junior women’s Keirin final in Friday morning’s action as the schedule turns towards the qualifying for the sprint events over the weekend.  Matthee caught fellow South African Ilze Bol in the final of the 3 000 metres event to secure the title, but then continued on to see what time she could set.  “I started off just wanting to coast and take her on,” Matthee said.  “Her qualifying time was 4:23, so a bit slower than mine.  Initially I started off thinking of taking her on, but within the first lap-and-a-half I caught up to her a lot, so I decided to push it and try to catch her and also go for a good time.  “The time wasn’t exceptional. I can go faster.”

Matthee said being able to compete in the Continental Championships and earn UCI points so early in the season was a big bonus.  “You have a block of points now, so you have the whole year in which to approach certain races, international grand prix, and you are able to see and assess how many points you need to qualify for the World Cup events.  This is a good chunk of points, which allows one to assess what needs to be done during the rest of the year,” she explained.  In the men’s final, contested over 4 000 metres, Team Abantu’s HB Kruger turned the tables on the South African national team’s Morne Van Niekerk, who had been the fastest qualifier, to capture the gold.

Kruger was over three seconds faster than in his qualifier, clocking a time of 4:47.85, to defeat Van Niekerk in the title decider by almost four seconds.  “I was very happy with the win. It was probably my fifth or sixth pursuit ever. I was quite surprised by my form, especially with the pursuit being such a hard event,” Kruger revealed.  “I went into the final not really knowing my form and coming out of base training.  My goal was to qualify for a podium spot and when I finished second in the qualifying I was actually quite happy with that.  I just gave it my all in the final.”  Kyle de Wet flew to victory in the Junior Men’s Time Trial, crossing the line in 1:13.40 to win by close to a second over his South African team-mate Waylin Young.

Shannique Van Loggenberg, meanwhile, was an impressive winner of the Junior Women’s Individual Pursuit over 2 000 metres ahead of Kayla Edwards.  Wenhold’s win on Friday morning was the latest of many for the South African national team.  She finished ahead of Western Province’s Myrtle Hagedorn, who had edged her earlier in the day in the heats, with Ebtissam Zayed Ahmed Mohamed picking up the final podium place.  For competitors like Mohamed, the Egyptian champion, and Tunisian champion Nour Dissem, who come from small cycling communities, the Continental Championships have been an opportunity to test themselves against South Africa’s talent and depth.

Mohamed showed she was up to the challenge by picking up a second bronze medal when she followed South African star Maroesjka Matthee and Western Province’s Elfriede Wolfaardt across the finishing line in the elite women’s Omnium scratch race over 10 kilometres.  “I am happy to represent my country and happy to have won two bronze medals,” Mohamed said.  “This is my first experience here and to have a chance to ride with the South African girls and to learn the level of the South Africans.  I hope to be stronger next year.  I will work for it,” said Tunisia’s Dissem.  Compared to South Africa, the North African country lacked facilities, Dissem said, but it had been an enjoyable experience at the Continental Championships and she had learnt a lot, she concluded.

The Championships have also presented South Africa’s juniors with an excellent opportunity to learn and to gain experience said Keirin champion Annerine Wenhold, who apart from racing for  the national team also heads up the junior track programme for Cycling South Africa.  Wenhold led the national junior team to two overseas competitions in 2014 and said the Continental Championships served as a continuation of the work done.  We’ve got the talent, which is amazing.  If we can give those guys and girls more exposure and quality coaching, they will excel.”  Detailing the value of the Continental Championships, she continued, “The youngsters are like sponges, absorbing knowledge and applying it in their next races.  That makes it exciting for me.”

Wenhold said getting children to take up track cycling is challenging because of the limited number of facilities in the country, but, she said, track has long been recognised as being hugely beneficial for road cyclists, with Nolan Hoffman being a leading South African example.  “It’s our first time representing our country,” Team South African junior Kayla Edwards said, “and it is cool to have it here, locally.  It promotes the sport and brings people interested in track together.”  “The most exciting thing about the Champs is pulling on the national jersey,” her team-mate Jessica Gerber reckoned.  “I was hoping there would be more countries represented, but next time there will be a lot more.”  “It is what we need in the girls’ ranks,” Edwards weighed in, “because we’re used to racing each other.”

Edwards, Gerber and their fellow member of the South African junior pursuit team, Shannique Loggenberg and Jennifer Abbot, agreed that the track discipline needs to be presented as an option to young cyclists because of the opportunities it offers, but said that equipment and facilities can be difficult to come by.  Nonetheless, echoing a generally-held optimism about the Continental Championships, they unanimously agreed that it was an important step in enhancing the sport in South Africa and on the continent.  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.

Entrance for spectators is free of charge.

South African Oupa Maluleke rode his way to second in his Elite Men’s Omnium heat on day three of the African Continental Track Championships at the Sax Young Cycling Track in Pietermaritzburg
Photo credit: Craig Dutton/Gameplan Media