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Crackerjack Carla heads for Commonwealth

By Mark Etheridge

Our cycling team heads for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi on Wednesday buoyed by Carla Swart’s 10th place finish at the UCI Road World Championships in Melbourne at the weekend.

Swart placed 10th in the women’s race over 127.2 kilometres in Australia,┬á the first time a South African rider has managed a top 10 finish at Worlds.

The race was won by Italy’s Georgia Bronzini in 3hr 32min 01sec with United States-based Swart just three seconds back. She’s had a number of top 10 finishes on the international scene and the South African team did well to ensure Swart’s good showing, especially after she experienced mechanical problems early in the race.

Other South Africans┬á in the women’s race were Robyn De Groot who placed 41st, Marissa van der Merwe (42nd) and Anriette Schoeman (56th). Cherise Taylor failed to finish the race after a mechanical problem early on. Seventy-six cyclists finished the race with a large drop-out ratio — 46 cyclists were non-finishers.

“I wouldn’t consider Worlds to be easier or harder,” 22-year-old Swart told Road to London, 2012 on Monday. “Flatter doesn’t mean easier, in fact, it usually means harder for us, as we are mostly good climbers. The route in India is much more technical, with a lot of turns everywhere. I like technical routes as well, but it doesn’t really suit everyone. It might be harder to get a select group away in India, or possibly easier, depending on technicality.

“Many of the girls at Worlds will be there, though some of the favourites, like Chloe [Hosking] from Australia, will focus only on the Games. I’m excited about the race, and even if I’m confident, I have to stay grounded and always aware, because in cycling anything can happen. It is a very unpredictable sport. We have a lot of cards to play. It’s not just about me. We have a good team, and we are going there with one common goal. Any one of us can win or podium. We just have to be smart and hope for no mechanicals!”

Said team manager Barry Austin: “Carla went very well and even put in a good attack around the 40km mark as she pulled clear of the field on a very hard climb. She was in the very select front group on the finale and just made a small mistake in positioning for the sprint but it was still one of our best performances at worlds in a very long time.”

Elaborating more on her race, Swart, who is a member of the MTN-Energade team, said: “I was involved in a crash on the first climb of the first lap, although I didn’t go down. Someone simply crashed into my back wheel which caused some shifting issues and I ended up climbing the hill in a very hard gear on that lap. I had to focus on conserving as much energy for the second half of the race. The last lap (after the first climb) I found myself in a small group just behind a group of less than 10 riders.

“Myself and two Americans chased back to the front group just in time for the finishing sprint. Those two Americans will be my teammates next year at HTC/Highroad. Our legs were all tired by that time, which made it hard to recover for the sprint.

“Even though I managed a 10th place, I’d have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the result. I’m a decent sprinter, so I knew I had to be in better position, but I hesitated. It was only my second Worlds and I have a lot to learn, so I hope to get on the track a bit and learn as much as possible. It was a race of survival and attrition. The climbs were tough, though it was still fun. I can truly say that I really enjoyed the race, even though 10th place stings a bit when you are so close.”

In the men’s race none of South Africa’s three representatives finished the punishing 262.7km course where almost 80 riders failed to finish. Winner was Norway’s Thor Hushovd in 6hr 21min 49sec. All of Daryl Impey, Jay Robert Thompson and Darren Lill will be in action for Team SA at the Commonwealth Games

“The men were positioned well and rode perfectly in the group,” said Austin. “It was just the sheer distance of 258km that got to them. Most of our riders race between 120 and 180km. The Commonwealth Games distance should suit the men perfectly though.”