The Bestmed-ASG girls kick European butt

 

Team Bestmed-ASG riders Lynette Benson and Nicolene Marais were chosen as members of the South African junior team that recently toured Europe on their Pinarellos to gain experience. They talk training, touring, and the competitiveness of the European women with us…

 

 

BENSON ENJOYS EURO CHALLENGE

The races in Europe are held much more frequently than in South Africa and are a lot more competitive. Juniors are allowed to race up to three times a week and there is a race almost every day of the week within reasonable traveling distance.

The 12 SA riders (four girls and eight boys) were picked by a panel of selectors based on their performances at the SA Road championships and a selection weekend held in Pietermaritzburg, which consisted of a criterium, a time-trial and a road race, as well as their overall performances during the year.

FB_IMG_1468657524773After earning selection, I put in some serious training in preparation, although I had no idea what lay ahead of me. I tried to include some aspects of what I had heard about European racing in my training.

We departed on July 5 to Dusseldorf in Germany, via Dubai. From there we had Europcar rentals to transport us to Geleen in Netherlands, where we settled into a hostel, our base for the next two weeks.

My European campaign did not start well. After a long trip to our first race (Ronde van Kloosterburen), it started pouring as soon as we arrived.

I started strongly and managed to sit in the front split until I crashed on a sharp corner early in the race. One moment I was riding, the next I was sliding on the tar.

Thankfully the roads were wet so I was left only with a few “roasties” and some bruises. The jury did award me a lap of grace, but half a lap after falling back in with the group I was with before my crash, I had a flat rear tyre and had to withdraw.

Our second race (Kermisronde Bergeijk) included some of the top elite and junior females in Europe. It was a 2.3km circuit with 16 corners of 90 degrees. That made it extremely technical and tiring as the girls sprinted flat-out from every corner. I managed to finish as the eighth junior woman.

An-li Kachelhoffer organised us to race the Marc Demeyer Vrasene with her in Vrasene, Belgium. There were riders from pro teams such as Lotto Bellisol and RaboBank, as well as international riders from Scotland and New Zealand.

The tough roads and wind made for hard racing. I managed to finish in the main bunch and was the fifth junior women in a race won by a breakaway of five riders.12814183_766303343504797_2600163787988323020_n

At our last junior race (Hoohvliet Wielersspektakel Van Monster), we raced against national junior champions from all over Europe. I managed to finish as the 10th junior and as it was a big junior race, I was stoked!

It was good to have the opportunity to race in both Holland and Belgium as the racing is very different.

The races we did in Holland were full gas from the gun and they sprinted out of every corner.

In Belgium the pace was high and the roads were very rough, but the bunch settled down after a certain period.

If you were able to hang on to the bunch for a few extra 100 metres, you had a chance of coming back when they went slightly easier in sections where the roads were bad or had sharp corners.

The last race we did was a local training race in Landgraaf. About 150 riders from all categories compete on a one-mile track for 90 minutes every week.

European racing is different to racing in SA, both in the types of races and the amount of riders. The girls race hard and fast, and are very positive. Racing in SA is negative in comparison to racing in Europe.

Hopefully we impressed the CSA selectors enough to gain selection for the World Championships in Doha in October.

I would like to thank Cycling SA for the opportunity, our team managers Barry Austin and Marilyn Rossouw, as well as mechanic Andrew Arendse, for all their support in Europe.

Thanks to my dad, who is also my coach, for all the hours spent in my preparations.


GOOD EXPOSURE FOR NICOLENE

Nicolene Marais had her eyes opened at the competitiveness of the Europeans on a trip to the continent. She talks about how she adapted to the challenges:Snapchat-2356243472781081646I was excited to hear that I was chosen for the junior national squad to tour Europe and I trained hard, not knowing what to expect.

Racing in Europe was a real eye-opener for me. The races are hard from the gun until the finish and there is no time for any chit-chat. Against the European girls you have to be prepared for anything because they are aggressive and are in it to win it.

My first race was the Ronde van Kloosterburen, where it started pouring as soon as we arrived.

I started strongly and managed to sit in the back of the bunch before my team-mate  Lynette Benson went down in a crash and I was trapped behind.

When the bunch came past for the next lap, I climb back into the bunch and finished with the leaders.

In our second race (Kermisronde Bergeijk) we competed with some of the top elite and junior females in Europe. It was a 2.3km circuit with many 90 degree corners, making it extremely technical and tiring as the girls sprinted out of every bend.

This race definitely helped my cornering skills and gave me a lot more confidence to take on the European riders.

We then participated in a local track race in Geleen where we learned a lot of bunch skills and did some high intense racing with all age-groups. It was a privilege to share the road with my South African team-mates.

The next morning I realised something was wrong. I fell ill and was not able to compete in the remaining races. As I had just recovered from being ill, my body was still not strong and I was vulnerable to any viruses.

I want to thank everybody who made this possible for, although my experience was cut short, I still learnt a lot about cycling in Europe.

 

Find out more about Team Bestmed-ASG on their blog www.teambestmedasg.co.za