With an unprecedented number of cyclists in the national Olympic squad, Team South Africa will be pinning its medal hopes in the women’s road event on lead rider Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.

Moolman-Pasio will be supported in the 140km London race on Sunday, July 29, by Momentum-Toyota team-mates Joanna van de Winkel and Robyn de Groot.

“This is the first time we actually have a rider with an impressive array of UCI points where we didn’t have to rely on the ‘easy’ points scored at the national and African champs,” says national team manager Barry Austin.

“So the intention has been to build a team capable of supporting her.”

Although Cycling South Africa started the process three years ago with the 2016 Games in Rio in mind, the five-year European feeder programme with the Belgian Lotto Belisol team has already paid dividends.

“The top five ranked nations will take four riders, while nations six to thirteen take three and the rest one each. We made 13th position by seven points after a tremendous team effort and sacrifice.”

Only the Netherlands, United States of America, Germany, Italy and Great Britain will have more riders than South Africa in the 67-strong field.

Placing in the top 10 in two World Cup races and taking third overall in the recent Tour de Free State has certainly put Moolman-Pasio firmly on the international radar, says Austin.

“She’s the only South African woman to have scored UCI points in a bunch sprint in the last year, so, apart from being a good climber, she is also our fastest sprinter.”

He says De Groot, who was the second South African overall in the Free State tour, has proved herself an extremely unselfish rider and a solid domestique.

“She gave up individual success for the greater good of the country and assisted Ashleigh.”

The stage race heralded De Groot’s return to top form after breaking four ribs in a crash at the finish of this year’s Pick n Pay Cape Argus Cycle Tour.

Austin also has praise for Van de Winkel as a support rider.

“Joanna made the hardest break in the Luxembourg UCI tour and is excellent at managing bunch riding. She can easily place Ashleigh where she needs to be.”

The Olympic course, which includes two laps of the three-kilometre Box Hill ascent at a five-percent gradient, features three significant climbs.

“The pace will surely be forced on these to create a selection group and drop the sprinters who can’t climb. We will push for this too.”

Although the omission of fellow Momentum-Toyota rider Cherise Stander has caused some controversy, he says he is happy with Sascoc and CSA’s choices.

“We don’t have the luxury of, for instance, the Brits whose whole team have scored UCI points in numerous races and World Cup events.”

During the Olympic qualification period, he says, Moolman-Pasio scored UCI points on 14 different occasions, followed by Van de Winkel (twice), Stander (twice) and De Groot (once).

“The rest in combination scored just over a third of Ashleigh’s points, showing a clear difference. We only have one consistent points scorer at this stage and we are aiming for a medal, not just a finish near the front.”

By comparison, he points out, their British opponents have Emma Pooley who scored in 27 events, Lizzie Armistead in 21, Nicole Cooke in seven and Lucy Martin in five.

“For now we only have one rider who plays on this same field. Let’s hope in the future we can have a points table like Great Britain and then choose which winners make up the best combinations.”

The South African trio warm up against the world’s best in the nine-day Giro D’Italia Femminile, also known as the Giro Donne, which ends on July 7.

Team SA

Road – Women: Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Joanna van de Winkel, Robyn de Groot; Men: Daryl Impey
Track – Men: Bernard Esterhuizen
Mountain biking – Women: Candice Neethling; Men: Burry Stander, Philip Buys
BMX – Men: Sifiso Nhlapo

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