By Mark Etheridge
South Africa’s UCI Road World Championships campaign came to an end in Doha on Sunday with Nick Dougall riding to a fine 18th spot in the elite men’s road race.
Dougall was one of a small group of riders that got away from the main field just three kilometres into the 257-kilometre race through the desert in Qatar.
It was another great day for Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka as the African outfit provided four of the top 20 finishers.
Britain’s Mark Cavendish was second, behind Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, and the Manxman’s Dimension Data teammates Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway was sixth and Eritrea’s Natnael Berhane 13th.
This after Cavendish had experienced a nasty crash during a training ride on Wednesday.
The race was characterised by a surprising lack of attacks. Apart from the early attack there were only two other moves of note, both from Dutchmen, first Niki Terpstra and then Tom Leezer.
The last-mentioned attack was one that nearly got away as Leezer was only caught within a kilometre of the finish and the big guns duked it out on the uphill finish.
Berhane’s 13th and Dougall’s 18th place meant that it’s the first time that Africa have had two men in the top 20 of a World Championships elite road race.
Said Dougall after his epic race: ‘It was going to be windy today so I thought I should go up the road. Luckily I had Natnael with me and we worked well together.
‘We were a group of seven and then obviously it split behind us and the favourites came across to us with 29 guys and then it was just a matter of survival until the circuits.
‘I was just trying to get around, eat, drink and not cramp. It was a hectic race but awesome to be a part of and be in the front group. I gave everything, so it was a good day.’
Dougall ended just nine seconds off the pace after five hours and 40 min of red-hot racing. Just 53 riders got to the finish line with a staggering 145 riders dropping out. Among them were Dougall’s teammates, Clinton Hendricks, this year’s Cape Town Cycle Tour champion and Ryan Gibbons (whose girlfriend, Heidi Dalton, had ridden the women’s race the previous day).
Picture of Dougall (second from right) in the early breakaway group, courtesy of Getty Images