TEAM USN RIDERS CLAIM 1-2 FINISH AT SEASON OPENER

    Beijing Olympians Marissa van der Merwe and Cherise Taylor, racing for the newly established Team USN, finished first and second respectively at the Pick n Pay Fast One 106km road cycling race south of Johannesburg on Sunday.  Anriette Schoeman (Nashua Toyota) was third.

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    The much-anticipated first major race of the year saw the Elite women racing in Category 3 with the 40-49-year Veteran men. This is in line with Cycling South Africa’s new rules aimed at raising the standard of women’s racing and grouping racing cyclists based more on ability than age or gender.

    With significant depth in the Veteran men’s category, which includes many former professionals, the racing was fast from the start on a relatively flat-to-undulating route. The women assumed a reactionary role as the Veteran men’s racing teams played out their tactics.

    Shortly before halfway, where the route turned and took the riders into a headwind, the bunch began to splinter. A six-rider strong break comprising only veteran men went off the front while all the women staying close to the front of the chasing pack.

    With just over 5km to go, the main Category 3 pack caught the main Category 2 bunch, which resulted in a noticeable slowing of the pace and all the women’s teams bizhub, MTN, Nashua Toyota and USN began to prepare for the final charge to the finish. A crash with 3km remaining saw Jo van de Winkel (Nashua Toyota) and Danni Dalton (USN) hit the tar as the jostling for position in the final stretch became more intense. Both got up to finish.

    Van der Merwe and Taylor were well placed in the technical finale to secure the top two places in the sprint, both clocking a time of two hours, 26 minutes and 32 seconds. Schoeman was next home with Catherine Williamnson (Bizhub) and Isabel Moolman (Cycle Lab) rounding out the top five.

    “It was a bit of a surprise to win today, but I’m very happy to start the year off on a positive note,” said Van der Merwe. “Racing with the men virtually cancelled out any team tactics among the women and it mostly became a test of strength. It’s certainly going to make our women faster in the long run.

    “I’m not the most confident in big bunches and with around 200 in our finishing bunch, I just wanted to stay out of trouble and near the front. My positioning was perfect and I was able to get to the line first. I was relieved to be finished and happy to see Cherise right next to me.”

    Pick n Pay Fast One 2011 – Meyerton, Gauteng, 106km

    Leading results, Elite women:

    1 Marissa van der Merwe (USN) 02hrs32min26sec
    2 Cherise Taylor (USN)
    3 Anriette Schoeman (Nashua Toyota)
    4 Catherine Williamson (Bizhub)
    5 Isabel Moolman (Cycle Lab) all same time