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Super seven on track as they make their mark in Malaysia

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By Mark Etheridge

While many South African sports codes wound down over the festive season a group of South African track cyclists were hellbent on gearing up their pursuit for places in Team South Africa at this year’s Commonwealth Games.

An all-woman squad of riders took it upon themselves to travel to Malaysia in a bid to post times that would boost their selection chances for the Gold Coast Games in early April.

Five of them (Adelia Neethling, Charlene du Preez, Elfriede Wolfaardt, Ilze Bole and Danielle van Niekerk) made up a team pursuit outfit and they were supplemented by two team sprinters in the shape of Gigi van der Poll and Maggie Nicholson.

The speedy seven came from far and wide. Du Preez is based in London in order to get regular access to quality competition as she chases her 2020 Tokyo Olympics dream, Van der Poll and Neethling are in Australia, Wolfaardt and Nicholson hail from the Western Cape (Malmesbury and Paarl) and Bole and Van Niekerk are both from Gauteng.

Financing was all self-funded with Van der Poll and Neethling digging particularly deep to cover the cost of booking the brand-new Nilai Velodrome track in Kuala Lumpur for a period of eight days in late November, early December. In Du Preez’s case she was able to rely on her trusty sponsor, Clover.

Du Preez tells Team SA: ‘We all want this (we want to ride the times) so we were willing to make sacrifices to try our utmost best, even if we had to beg and borrow (but not steal!), we had to make this trip happen…’

 

Neethling (right) was even able to arrange for the services of a coach, Malaysia-based Graham Seers and Du Preez says he formed a vital cog in the squad’s plans.

‘He worked with all of us and although we got to Malaysia over the course of a week, he’d give us certain training sessions to do for preparation.

‘He knew our goal and was positive it would be a successful trip. It was amazing to work with a coach who truly believed in us. He’s so passionate about what he does and his positivity really rubbed off on all of us.

‘All the small things meant something to him, he’s straightforward but in a constructive way and he really managed to bring out the best in all of us.’

Track times targeted by the group were 4min 55sec for the team pursuit and 36.7 for the team sprint.

All the action was set aside for a Thursday and Friday, the first day being a rehearsal and and the next the real deal.

The first day’s morning session saw the team pursuit target being achieved with a 4:55.1 but the team sprint was slightly off-pace at 37.01.

But the second session in the afternoon saw it all coming together as the pursuit squad went even quicker at 4:54.23 as did the sprinters with a 36.31 time.

The spin-off of meeting their target was a Friday allocated to fun.

‘So, the numbers say it all… the trip was successful. Now we wait,’ says Du Preez. ‘The aim is to use these times as proof that we deserve funding. I’m unlikely to get more sponsor funding for another training camp but we’re hoping that by going the extra mile (or miles) to Malaysia people will realise we’re serious about getting to Australia.

‘Anything is possible if you put your mind to it… if you really want it then go and get it. Malaysia was an unforgettable experience, a true test to show that anything is possible,.

‘The exciting part is that there’s still so much room for improvement, if we can have more training time together, that will already make a huge difference.

‘What we’ve accomplished together in only a few days, with the correct guidance and time together, there is absolutely no doubt that South Africa could have a competitive woman’s track team at the Commonwealth Games.’

 

Other members of the squad also took time to share their thoughts with Team SA.

Neethling: ‘The obstacles were clear – athletes on different continents, most full-time employed with little or no annual leave, lack of funding and external supporting, as well as very tight timeframe opportunities. How did it become reality? With the amazing help of the “worldwide cycling family”. Hope, prayer and belief coupled with relentless perseverance and hard work. As a team we were blessed to overcome all the obstacles. It was an amazing feeling to be part of the team and watch both teams exceed the goal.’

Bole (whose husband Sheldon was part of the coaching set-up at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow): ‘I love the places I get to see riding my bike and Malaysia did not disappoint, from the friendly population to the local food, every experience was simply amazing. Being given the opportunity to ride on the brand-new velodrome is a privilege I will never forget. The wood is so smooth you simply glide along. The G-forces slinging you through the bends give an exhilaration that’s hard to beat. Riding a fast time was simply the cherry on top.’

Wolfaardt: ‘It’s been an emotional build-up towards possible selection and last year I was seriously considering retiring from competitive cycling. When I was told there was a chance of a team going to Gold Coast I was quite dismissive as I thought it was just too big a dream. Now if I look back I can say to myself that this “Doubting Thomas’ has come a long way and family, friends, acquaintances, and fellow riders have helped me so much. I trained very hard and took the big step of going to Malaysia with my bike. I got so much experience in Malaysia. The wooden track was a first for me and an absolute high point. What was also great was that seven women with different personalities and a fantastic coach worked together with just one goal in mind.’

Nicholson: ‘The Malaysia trip was a redefining moment in my life where I realised I can achieve anything I put my mind to. The support from Graham and his ability to tap into my mental capacity was the moment which lit the fire within me and having such great camaraderie from my teammates sealed the success achieved. I have learnt a lot from every person I came in contact with and looking forward to applying all the knowledge which I gained.’

Van Niekerk: ‘Malaysia was an experience I’ll never forget… this was only my second time on a wooden track, my first being at Junior Worlds 2016 in Aigle, Switzerland but this one is by far my favourite of the two – it was super smooth and unbelievably fast. Being a brand new velodrome there was a lingering wood smell, it even smelt fast! Being the youngest rider on the team I knew I was going to have to work hard to prove myself amongst the other girls but nevertheless I overcame the hurdles and made the most of every session.’

Van der Poll (through her eyes): ‘Words are so hard to experience that whirlwind of emotions but this is how I remember it:
“Rehearsal No1: Five, four, three, two, one, go. Gate start tick. Nice. I got on Maggie’s wheel. Back straight. Have to work hard. Am starting to get on top of the gear. I come home nicely. Our Bellville time 38.7. First attempt here 37.0. Yes. Yes. Yes. Improvement 1.7 seconds. Happy, but hungry. I want this but we are still short 0.2 seconds. The lion within me is awake. Maggie is hungry… we want this… we can do this…we start to hunt …
Rehearsal 2: ‘My start is a mess-up. I see my teamie go. I’m thinking of pulling the pin. Looking at Graham. He shouts … go. How much time have we lost? All of this in less than a split second… oh man, what a job at hand. I start fighting. Going faster and faster. By the start i just caught the wheel. Solo now. I’m hunting, no more stalking, I’m on a full blown chase. Chasing down the time, chasing, chasing, chasing. Surely with such a bad start it must be 38 seconds again. I hear Maggie say 36 but couldn’t hear the rest. Nah I thought. Impossible. So maybe she is talking about what we wanted to go for. That start… I roll around with my heart pumping in my ears. Geez, we will probably have to come back tomorrow to try again. To hunt. l hunt that time down. I’m stopping. Expecting the worst. Then I hear. 36.3. What??? Repeat???? What did you say???
I hear screaming. Oh yes, it’s me screaming. I can’t see anymore. Oh yes it is me crying. Crying like a baby in my helmet.
Six months of prepping, six months of working through a bad back, six months of almost losing my mother, six months of busy losing my brother.
It’s over, the end, we have done it.’

In the main picture the team pursuit is led by Bole followed by Van Niekerk, Wolfaardt, Neethling and Du Preez. In the team picture are (left to right): Du Preez, Wolvaardt, Van Niekerk, Nicholson, Van de Poll, Neethling and Bole. The third picture is of Neethling presenting an SA jersey to track manager Yuszairie Zainal Alam.


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