In the absence of defending champion Marianne Vos, local star Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and her European outfit will line up as favourites for the women’s title at the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge in Joburg on Sunday.
While Olympic champion Vos was in the country this week, and introduced teams at the pre-race media conference on Friday, she confirmed she would not be racing after a lengthy injury layoff.
Moolman-Pasio, who won the race in 2011 and 2013, will be joined by Bigla Pro Cycling teammates Sharon Laws of Great Britain, the 2012 winner, as well as Swiss national time trial champion Doris Schweizer and 20-year-old German rider Clara Koppenburg.
“It’s a great privilege to have the whole team here. We spend a lot of time abroad, so it’s always special to race on SA soil,” said Moolman-Pasio, who took second place last year.
Laws was pleased to be back, attempting to reclaim the title she won three years ago.
“I really enjoy being here. South Africa is close to my heart,” Laws said.
“I’m really looking forward to the race. I’ve been travelling since Wednesday, so it’s been a long journey, but I’m sure by Sunday I’ll be ready.”
Much of the pre-race focus centred around the women’s race, after it received UCI 1.1 status, giving riders the opportunity to earn global ranking points.
Three pro international women’s teams – Bigla Pro Cycling, Team Liv Plantur and Team Tibco SVB – have entered the event, along with eight national invitation teams representing South Africa, Botswana, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Israel, Namibia, Rwanda and Mauritius. A number of local outfits will also be eager to cause an upset in what is expected to be a hard-fought battle.
“The game has been stepped up, and this race has helped put SA on the map, so it’s a real privilege to be here,” said 2008 winner Anriette Schoeman, who leads the BestMed ASG team.
In the men’s race, Nolan Hoffman will again target a rare treble after defending his Cape Town Cycle Tour and Amashova Durban Classic titles this year.
Last season, aiming to repeat the unprecedented 2009 feat of Arran Brown, the Team Abantu rider was unable to add the Cycle Challenge crown, with Namibian Trill Drobisch winning a sprint finish ahead of Reynard Butler. Over 33 000 riders have entered the 19th edition of the race.