British champion Laws makes perfect new-team debut

    Sharon Laws savours her victory at the 2012 94.7 Cycle Challenge in Johannesburg, South Africa on Sunday. Photo: Zoon Cronje

    After her controversial omission from the Great Britain London Olympic Games team, British road race champion, Sharon Laws, had good reason to smile broadly on Sunday, when she concluded 2012 with a dominant victory at the 94.7 Cycle Challenge in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    With more than 25 000 entrants, the annual event is the second largest cycle race in the world and sees the streets of Johannesburg, Africa’s busiest city, closed for the day. The 95km race, with 1200 metres of vertical ascent, saw Laws compete for the first time in her new team strip after recently signing with Toyota, South Africa’s leading women’s professional road race team.

    Laws broke away on her own with 50km to go and managed to extend her lead to over five minutes by the finish, clocking a winning time of 02 hours 39 minutes 34 seconds. Another British rider, Catherine Williamson (bizhub FCF) finished second with South African time trial champion, Cherise Stander (Toyota), claiming third place.

    “It was great to win today for my new team. We went into the race with no chosen leader, but decided to make the pace as hard as possible. I was just fortunate that my move stuck and I was the one that could win today,” smiled Laws.

    “I’m not a great sprinter and breakaways suit me better. It wasn’t planned that I’d go so far out though, but when I realised I was making good progress over the hills and into a rather disconcerting headwind, I just kept at it. Although I had a long solo ride, I must thank my teammates for their role in my win. It was most certainly very much a team success today.”

    Laws dedicated her victory to Toyota South Africa sponsorship manager, Mary Willemse, whose three-year-old son died in an accident on Saturday night.

    “I was very sad to hear of this awful news. I wish Mary and her family all the strength at this tough time,” said Laws.

    In 2013, Laws will race on the Toyota team in South Africa and for Lotto Belisol, the Belgian based women’s professional team, in Europe. The two teams have had a strong reciprocal relationship for the past three years, which has helped give South African racers an important springboard into the international road-racing arena.

    Sunday’s win marked the end of a successful year for Laws, the Olympic selection snub the only real blemish.

    “I would say that on paper, this has been my best year yet as a professional road racer. I had a few podium finishes in big races and won the British title against some high quality opposition. Missing out on the Olympics was a big disappointment for me though,” remarked the 38-year-old, who was part of Great Britain’s gold-medal winning road race team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

    South Africa is a second home for Laws, who worked in Pretoria for two-and-a-half years in the early 2000s. She returned to the country for an extended visit every year until she turned professional in 2008. Among her South African racing successes are two general classification wins in the women’s category at the ABSA Cape Epic mountain bike stage race (2004 and 2009). She will be contesting the event again in 2013.

    “I have become good friends with South African champion, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, who is also on the Toyota team. I will spend the South African summer living and training in Stellenbosch, near Ashleigh’s home and look forward to fresh challenges on a new team when the South African race season starts in January,” added Laws.

    All results for the 2012 94.7 Cycle Challenge can be found here.