He’s been on the podium but not on the top step for a while. But that changed on Tuesday when Jamie Ball charged to victory where it counts most: the South African Road Cycling Championships.
The House of Paint sprinter, not punted among the favourites in the build-up to the race, pulled on the coveted white, green and gold jersey after a brutally hot day of racing around the 195-kilometre Voelmoed circuit in Oudtshoorn.
His teammate Jeremy Maartens led a small breakaway in the first lap, but they never got too far ahead of the chasing bunch, and were pulled back in the second. A large number of riders withdrew at the feed zone due to a combination of the fast pace and the furnace-like conditions, which pushed temperatures on the tar to well over 40 degrees Celsius.┬á
It was this lap that saw Ball join the escape of the day that comprised 13 riders, including the Barloworld duo of John Lee Augustyn and Daryl Impey, Neotel’s Tiaan Kannemeyer, Medscheme’s Nic White, Konica-Minolta’s Kosie Laubser and MTN Energade’s David George and Jay Thompson.
With 30km remaining 2002 national champion, Kannemeyer, was dropped, leaving the much-fancied Neotel outfit without a rider in the break and forced to take up the chase in the main following pack. But with the wind picking up on the final lap and only three small bunches left on the course, Neotel’s medal hopes were dashed as Impey began attacking, trimming the lead group down until it was only Impey, George, Thomson, Laubser, Ball and White remaining as the race reached the final 5km.
With Ball, Impey and Thomson regarded as sprinters, the scene was set for a thrilling finale. But a dramatic crash in the final right-hander corner, just 350 metres from the finish in Voortrekker Street, saw George and Thomson tumble out of contention, leaving Ball and Impey to duel it out after passing a tiring Laubser, who was later blamed as having caused the crash.
After his team’s less-than-impressive Giro del Capo results last week, Ball struggled to contain his excitement.
‘After the sort of luck myself and the team had during the Giro del Capo, we felt we were due a big win soon and for it to be in a race this big is simply outstanding,’ said Ball.
‘We had punctures at the worst times which affected our results at the Giro, so we weren’t going to leave anything to chance today. We had a plan and it worked. The team were great today, just brilliant. Jeremy (Maartens) rode like a champion and made sure I was in contention the whole way.’
Maartens, one of the more seasoned professionals in the country, was full of praise for his teammate.
‘The final sprint between him and Daryl was close, but Jamie is in such good form that I told earlier in the race that if he went into the corner second then he would win,’ said a beaming Maartens.
Maartens took a swipe at the pundits who had failed to recognise House of Paint as being a team with a shot at the title on Tuesday.
‘We were quite surprised that in the build-up to the race no one even gave us the slightest of mentions; not even as an underdog. I think they all underestimated us and they paid for that.’
Clinton Barrow of Team Garmin rode superbly to finish seventh overall and upstage his more fancied rivals to claim the Under-23 gold medal. He outsprinted another rising star, Henning Jooste (Queen’s Wheelers) to secure the title with Neotel’s Johann Rabie claiming the bronze.
The 40km individual time trial takes place on Thursday.
2009 South African Road Race Championships
10 March, Oudtshoorn┬á
Elite Men and Under-23 Men ÔÇô 195km (Leading results)
1 James Ball ÔÇô House of Paint 04hr53min33sec
2 Daryl Impey ÔÇô Barloworld┬á
3 Kosie Laubser ÔÇô Konica Minolta all same time
4 Nicholas White ÔÇô Medscheme @ 14sec
5 Jay Thomson ÔÇô MTN Energade @ 51┬á
6 David George ÔÇô MTN Energade @ 58
7 Clinton Barrow ÔÇô Garmin @ 1:18
8 Henning Jooste ÔÇô Queens Wheelers same time
9 Pieter Seyffert ÔÇô Konica-Minolta @ 1:26
10 John-Lee Augustyn ÔÇô Barloworld same time
1 Clinton Barrow ÔÇô Garmin @ 04hr54min51sec
2 Henning Jooste ÔÇô Queens Wheelers same time
3 Johann Rabie ÔÇô Neotel @ 15sec