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Andruk wins first stage

Ukraine cyclist Alona Andruk made up for lost time with victory in the first stage of the Tour de Free State on Wednesday.

International airflight delays meant that Andruk and her national squad only arrived in South Africa on Wednesday morning, causing the tour to be delayed for a few hours and the team only arrived at the start 30 minutes before the off.

This event is a crucial event in the Olympic scheme of things as this is the final opportunity for countries to bag a final slot for the road race at the London Games later this year.

South Africa are currently trying to nail down a third spot in the women’s race.

Andruk covered the 73-kilometre stage between the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve and Brandfort in 2hr 02min 15sec for an average speed of just under 36km/h.

The field had to contend with mostly flat terrain along with a stiff wind blowing from the west.

World No3 Emma Johansson of Sweden ended second on the stage, just a second down on Andruk while the first South African was Lotto-Belisol’s Ashleigh Moolman Pasio in ninth spot, 25sec off the pace.

Next best was MTN-Qhubeka’s Charlotte van der Merwe in 13th (+27sec) and Anriette Schoeman (17th, +41sec)

Robyn de Groot, who along with Moolman Pasio, Jo van de Winkel, Lise Olivier and An-Li Pretorius, has been riding in Europe for the last few months, made the first break just outside Virginia but the squad caught her within two minutes. The strong wind soon saw the cyclists keep to the gutter on the left forming a long line. This resulted in several falls as the cyclists at the back put a lot of pressure on the cyclists up at the front and as leaders fell back, they started to crash into each other.

The┬á sprinters’ only had the opportunity to break away as they took a turn to the finishing line about five minutes before the end of the race.

Thursday’s second stage will have a neutral start in Jagersfontein at noon and riders face a 98km ride to Bloemfontein.

The South Africans in the Lotto-Belisol team will not be panicking just yet but will need to make sure they don’t lose too much time before the race heads into the Drakensberg region of the Eastern Free State.

Currently ranked 17th on the UCI cycling rankings, South Africa are chasing 13th spot which will see them allocated a further spot at the London Games.