Joanna van de Winkel led her Biogen Toyota team to podium dominance when she won the inaugural Clover Lowveld Cycle Tour in Graskop, Mpumalanga on Sunday. The four-day, five-stage tour took in some of the country’s most demanding road cycling terrain and attracted all the major men and women’s professional teams, hungry for a more testing event on a local calendar glaringly short of stage races.
Van de Winkel, winner of last year’s Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge, is a climbing specialist and wasted little time in asserting her slim-framed presence on the race, which was centred around the renowned ascents of Kowyn’s Pass and God’s Window outside Graskop.
The 28-year-old second-year professional rode clear of her rivals on the ascent of Kowyn’s Pass in the finale of the 108km first stage, where she claimed the race lead ahead of Team Bizhub’s Lise Oliver and Team MTN’s Lylanie Lawrens. And it was between these three riders, and their respective teams, around which the remainder of the demanding event was shaped.
Interestingly, it was on the descent of Kowyn’s Pass at the start of the 103km Stage 2 where Biogen Toyota team captain, Lynette Burger, virtually eliminated the MTN team from overall tour contention. She plummeted rapidly down the steep, twisty road and by the base, none of the MTN team were in the lead group. This surprise move left only Oliver as a serious challenger to Van de Winkel’s lead, which the latter increased on the uphill finish of the stage on her way to another victory.
“After Stage 2, I had a two-and-a-half minute lead over Lise (Oliver) and I was leading the Points and Queen of the Mountains competitions, which was something I’m not used to. I’m not used to winning because most races in this country suit the sprinters. I felt quite a bit of pressure, but my team was very supportive, which helped,” said the soft-spoken Van de Winkel, a qualified electrical engineer.
On Stage 3A, MTN’s An-Li Pretorius gave her team a welcome boost when she outsprinted a small breakaway group to win the 86km stage. And then on Stage 3B, a muscle-testing, lung-busting 7.5km individual time trial up Kowyn’s Pass, Oliver fought back bravely to win the stage and peg back 41 seconds of Van de Winkel’s lead in the process.
But it was not enough as Van de Winkel’s two teammates, Burger and Lizanne Naude, were able to help her defend the lead on Sunday’s final stage, a blustery 96km haul, which was won by MTN’s Cashandra Slingerland.
“It feels good to have won such a tough event. It’s the closest we’ve got to the harder racing in Europe and thanks to the organisers for putting on such a well-run event. It really was a proper test for the professionals and I’m sure it has a bright future,” said Van de Winkel.
Clover Lowveld Tour 2010, Graskop
Final General Classification: 1 Joanna van de Winkel (Biogen Toyota) 13hrs14min52sec, 2 Lise Oliver (Bizhub) @ 1:35, 3 Lylani Lawrens (MTN) @ 13:17.
Queen of the Mountains: 1 Joanna van de Winkel (Biogen Toyota), 2 Lise Oliver (Bizhub), 3 An-Li Pretorius (MTN).
Points: 1 Joanna van de Winkel (Biogen Toyota), 2 Lynette Burger (Biogen Toyota), 3 Lise Oliver (Bizhub).