There’s just no stopping the resurgent Yolande de Villiers! The 35-year-old mountain bike racing specialist took her good form to the tar on Sunday and gave her Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota team their first big-race victory of the year at the Emperor’s Palace Classic in Boksburg.
With six of the country’s leading riders doing national team duty at the Tour of Qatar, the three big teams, Nashua Telecoms, MTN and Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota were without their usual leaders, making the race somewhat unpredictable, which played right into the hands of De Villiers, fresh from two major mountain bike race wins in the past two weeks.
She put in a solo attack with 45 of the 99km remaining and forced Nashua Telecoms and MTN to chase. With the numerical advantage, Nashua Telecoms did most of the work and actually brought the gap down to 10 seconds in the final stages, but then the impetus left the pursuers and De Villiers’s lead opened up again. She crossed the line in 2hr 31min 31sec to secure her first ever big road race victory.
“It feels great to win a big road race!” said an excited De Villiers, a former South African mountain bike marathon champion and winner of the Absa Cape Epic. “I have to thank my team though. It was a very tactical race and truly a team effort and of course without David Pieterse, our manager, who knows the race route so well and who kept encouraging me, it might have been a different result.”
“Yolande was unbelievably strong today,” said Pieterse. “She held a half-minute gap for much of her breakaway and even when it began to get closed down, she just kept at it and it paid off. It’s the first time we’ve had her fresh at a road race. Usually she’s done a hard mountain bike race the day before.”
The decisive split in the race came at 45km up the climb towards Nigel. Eleven riders moved clear on the ascent including all five Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota riders, four from Nashua Telecoms and two from MTN.
“With the biggest numbers advantage in the break, I told my girls to just put in some attacks and see if they could trim that group down,” explained Pieterse. “After a few attacks were reeled in Yolande made her big move and it stuck. She went from far out and had a block headwind to deal with on her own for the final 40km. Really a fantastic ride by her and a great result for the team.”
Chrissie Viljoen (MTN) led the lead pack home 40 seconds after De Villiers to claim second position with Lizanne Naude (Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota) completing the podium places.
2009 Emperor’s Palace Classic – 99km
1 Yolande de Villiers – Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota 02hr31min31sec
2 Chrissie Viljoen – MTN 02:32:11
3 Lizanne Naude – Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota
4 Elzette Visagie – Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota
5 Arien Torsius
6 Justine Beirowski all same time
7 Kobie-Marie Hamman 2:32:13
8 Lylanie Lauwrens same time
9 Jean-Marie Breytenbach – Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota 2:32:18
10 Sarah Wielopolska 2:32:24