In a major coup for professional women’s cycling, Konica Minolta has announced that it will back an all-female team for the 2010 season.
The team – which will ride on Specialized equipment and be known as Team Bizhub – has contracted a squad of nine top national and international riders, says owner John Robertson, who was also instrumental in establishing Team Barloworld in 2003.
“We will be focusing on both the road and mountain biking disciplines and the squad has been put together with these goals in mind,” he said at the recent launch in Johannesburg.
Among the internationals are current Swiss and Norwegian national champions, Jennifer Hohl and Linn Torp. They are joined by Brit Catherine Williamson, who was fourth at her national championships last year.
The local contingent includes former Pick ’n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge champion Yolandi du Toit, junior national champion Michelle Corbett, MTN Series overall winner Ischen Stopforth, Arien Tortius, Jade Roberts and Lise Olivier.
Robertson, the mentor of former national champions Ronelle van Wyk and Cherise Taylor, says he believes that 2010 will be the most competitive season in the history of women’s cycling. “The most exciting aspect is the number of international riders that have been signed by the various teams.”
Du Toit – who will be racing on and off-road this year – says the influx of overseas riders has done a lot to increase the standard of local racing, which in turn is attracting the attention of major sponsors.
“With tactics playing such a big role in modern racing, it is important to have a strong and balanced unit to be able to contend for wins. I believe we have a group of riders that complement each other.”
Robertson says the printing giant, which is the longest running sponsor of pro cycling in the country, has been considering the change of focus for the last “year or two” after “a very successful relationship” with men’s cycling.
“After 11 years we were looking for a change and that has led to investing in women’s cycling, where many believe our next world champion will come from. In many ways it is a fresh start for an established setup.”
The team’s biggest goals for the first part of the season are the National Championships in Klerksdorp in February and the Pick ’n Pay Cape Argus in Cape Town in March, where Robertson feels they have three or four riders capable of winning.
“We have a lot of depth and experience in the squad and on any given day anyone of a number of riders could win, which is the reason why we don’t have a designated leader.
“We prefer not to focus on one leader as everyone works together for a common cause and, given the variables in cycling, every rider will have an opportunity to excel.”
Team Bizhub will get their campaign off to a rocky start at the Attakwas Extreme Challenge in Oudtshoorn on Saturday, where Stopforth will be defending her title. It is also the first selection event for the mountain bike world championships.
The team’s first road race will be the Pick ’n Pay Fast One National Classic in Johannesburg on January 24.
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