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Cyclists gear up Down Under

By Mark Etheridge

As members of Team South Africa continue to move into New Delhi, India ahead of the 19th Commonwealth Games our cyclists are gearing up for the UCI Road World Championships Down Under in Australia.

The squad are currently racing in Geelong, Melbourne and on Thursday Jay Robert Thompson placed 37th in the 45.8-kilometre elite men’s time trial, ending 6min 59sec down on winner Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss rider clocked 58min 09sec and made history by becoming the first man to win four elite men’s world time trial titles.

The women’s and men’s elite races will be contested on Saturday and Sunday.

Team SA’s cycling manager Barry Austin is in Geelong with the squad and explains what they’ve been getting up to. “We arrived in Australia on 24 September and then took part in the Pre-Worlds race, the Herald Sun World Classic at the weekend where Carla Swart finished third and showed just why we are so excited about taking our women’s team to India. Our in-form man for Worlds is Daryl Impey and he finished just a few seconds off the eventual winner Philippo Pozzato from Italy.

“The two-week session in Australia is all about preparing for India. We’re well on track and the valuable experience Robert (Hunter) is giving the young guys is rubbing off on the rest of the team and we are really in high spirits for the Games. We’re just shrugging off those complaints that we’ve heard about the athletes’ village and counting the negativity from the other nations as 1-0 to us so far.”

Hunter won’t be riding the men’s road race this Sunday, saying on his Twitter feed that his main focus is the Commonwealth Games and that there are other guys better equipped for success. “Robbie’s main message to the young guys was to make the best from what we’ve been given and then just get on with the job of giving our best,” said Austin.

Of the Commonwealth team only replacement rider Johann Rabie [he replaced the injured Jaco Venter] has raced in India but that doesn’t unduly concern Austin. “We’ve raced extensively in Malaysia before so we know what to expect in the way of humidity and temperatures.”

The men’s course for the World Championships and Games differs quite markedly. “The Indian route is flat with plenty of corners and around 170km long but the world’s route is hard with short, steep climbs, plenty of wind and just over 260km long,” says Austin. “For the women the two courses are of similar length, around 127km but the Games route is flat.”

Austin is upbeat about our cyclists’ hopes in Delhi after they head over to India on October 7. “I think we really stand a chance with both men and women. All the men are suited for this course and I’m sure we can really grind something out of this. Team captain Robbie [Hunter] is full of plans for the race. On the women’s side we are all backing Carla and prepared to take responsibility if needed. We lost a real stalwart in Ashleigh Moolman due to a crash but I’m sure it will serve to pull us together even more.”

Commonwealth medals go to the individual cyclist but as Austin explains, it’s the team effort that secures the victory. “It’s quite odd, but similar to life. The whole company works towards the goal, but the leadership normally gets the rewards moreso than the rest. We as a team know this in cycling and have no problem doing so, as long as we achieve our common goal.”