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Injury means a tough choice for Ashleigh

In an ironic twist of fate, a recurring injury may actually keep African junior triathlon champion Ashleigh Blackwell on her bike.

The 18-year-old from Tokai in Cape Town said on Tuesday that she may consider switching disciplines after winning two stages and placing second overall in the Mr Price National Junior & Under-16 Tour that finished on Sunday.

Blackwell was invited by the professional women’s outfit, Team bizhub, to ride alongside South African time-trial champion Lilandi Swanepoel in the four-day event that started in Bethlehem in the Eastern Free State.

ÔÇ£I haven’t been able to do much running recently and therefore competing in triathlons has been out of the question,ÔÇØ said Blackwell, referring to a stress fracture of the femur that was diagnosed late last year. She suffered another setback at the beginning of February when a stress fracture of the tibia prolonged her comeback. ÔÇ£That was when I decided to focus on road racing ÔÇô for the time being.ÔÇØ

Two weeks later, and without the blessing of her doctor, Blackwell surprised herself by taking silver in the junior time-trial and placing fourth in the road race at the SA championships in Klerksdorp. ÔÇ£I was hoping to do well,ÔÇØ she admitted, ÔÇ£but I didn’t have any expectations.ÔÇØ

She received a call from Team bizhub owner John Robertson shortly after the Pick n Pay Cape Argus, offering her a guest position on the team for the junior tour. ÔÇ£My job was to ride in support of Lilandi. Not knowing how hard it was going to be, I immediately accepted.ÔÇØ

Robertson said he had monitored Blackwell’s performances over the past two years and felt she was a talent for the future. ÔÇ£Giving youngsters like Ashleigh an opportunity forms part of Team bizhub’s ongoing programme of exposing girls to the highest level of the sport.ÔÇØ

Blackwell made an immediate impact by finishing fourth in the 91km first stage. ÔÇ£In the sprint I was actually in a good position on Lilandi’s wheel, but I lost ground when she hit a pothole.ÔÇØ

The Capetonian made amends the following day when she won the 74km second stage in a two-woman sprint against eventual winner Sarah Chemley (Nashua), in the process securing the pink jersey of overall leader. ÔÇ£That stage was so fast and hot. We just tried to keep up with the (Under/16) boys.ÔÇØ Blackwell learnt about tour riding the hard way when she relinquished the pink jersey to Chemley the next morning in the 16km time-trial even though she recorded the third fastest time. ÔÇ£My legs were so sore. That’s where the tour really started to hurt.ÔÇØ

The youngster however showed her mental stamina when she fought back and managed to steal some time back in the afternoon criterium, which she won. ÔÇ£It’s the fastest race I’ve ever done. We averaged well into the forties.ÔÇØ

The fourth day, a hilly 55km stretch in the shadows of Golden Gate, finally ended her aspirations of overall victory. ÔÇ£I got dropped on the first and second climbs and was able to get back, but I completely popped on the third. It was horrible.ÔÇØ

Even though misfortune ended her team leader’s chances early on, Blackwell said representing Team bizhub was an ÔÇ£extremely proudÔÇØ moment and a huge step towards her goal of becoming a professional athlete. ÔÇ£At this point I’m hoping that it will be as a triathlete, but if my body continues to break down I might have to make a tough decision in the very near future.ÔÇØ

Robertson, who has been on races like the Tour de France, complimented the organisers. ÔÇ£I thought the road safety and traffic control measures were superb.ÔÇØ His comments come in the wake of the death of Adam Reyneke, a silver medallist at the recent national championships, who was tragically killed after being struck by a car two days prior to the event.