There were broad smiles and some tears at the Riversands Commercial Park on Sunday when Carla Oberholzer and Brandon Downes claimed emotional wins at the first running of the “reverse route” Telkom947 Cycle Challenge.
For Oberholzer the win was the perfect way to honour her team manager and teammate, Lynette Burger, who has begun the long recovery from the injuries she incurred in a horror accident when she was hit by a minibus taxi while training in September. For Downes, the win was his first major victory as a professional and the last for his team, BCX, who will be without a sponsor next season.
“Lynette’s the one who keeps me calm on the road. I get agitated when she doesn’t race. Having her in the car wasphenomenal,” said Oberholzer, the South African champion. Burger suffered two punctured lungs, a broken collarbone, several broken ribs and had some slight bleeding on the brain in her accident.
Oberholzer (Team Demacon) held off the ever-green Anriette Schoeman (Africa Silks), who took second, with Jo van der Winkle (Cycle Nation) and Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk) in third and fourth respectively after a sprint to the line.
Watch Carla's reaction after her big win below
“It was pretty hard,” said Oberholzer. “I think the wind was a little bit more hectic than we thought, especially on thehighway and then the crosswind on these last couple of climbs. There were three of us in the break and we heard there was another lady (Ralph) about a minute up the road from us.”
Ralph had managed to sneak past Oberholzer and Van der Winkel on a climb up Jan Smuts as they rode past one of the amateur racing bunches.
“We caught Theresa on the Blue Hills climb. Jo and I got away, and then Theresa and Anriette caught us with a fewkilometres to go. A four-up sprint was my worst nightmare. We came and walked the finish yesterday and planned for today. We measured every bit of it. I knew exactly how to approach it and I’m so happy to take the win for the team.”
Brandon Downes was the breakaway king at the Cycle Challenge today, but was pushed hard at the end and just managed to hold off his Team BCX teammate, Steven van Heerden, who was second, and Dylan Girdlestone (Office Guru), who took third.
Watch Brandon's reaction video below
“We wanted to get a few guys into the move early on to make it easier for our sprinters at the end,” said Downes. “David (Maree) and I were fortunate to get into the move. Things started to break up as we went into town and the break got reduced to six guys.
“On the highway with the headwind, the guys didn’t want to work too much. I got away with Josh (Van Wyk) and with a few of the climbs left I put in a bit of a move and managed to go solo. There was a headwind from Kyalami and then a crosswind on the last stretch on Summit. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stay away. I knew that if I had about 30 seconds coming into the last five or six kilometres I could probably stay away, By then there was so much adrenalin I was not going to be caught.
“Steven and Dylan were coming fast. I think there was about three or four seconds at the end. Luckily, I managed to hold on here at the end. It was a tough race and I’m ecstatic to get the win. It’s by far my biggest win, my first major win as a pro.”
Both winners had praise for the reverse route, which was a flip of the 2017 route. Oberholzer liked it because “it wasa blank canvas for all of us. There were short, punchy climbs, interesting corners and turns, and something for everyone.”
Schoeman, who won the Cycle Challenge 10 years ago, said the route was hard, but interesting.
“It was very tough. Second place was very unexpected,” said Schoeman. “The last race I raced with all the ladies was the Cape Town Cycle Tour. I just tried to prepare as best as I could. I did the Telkom 947 Mountain Bike Challenge last week and didn’t have a good race. I thought that there was only room for improvement. I gambled a bit and it paid off.”
Check out photos from the event in the gallery below