By Mark Etheridge
Already a significant fixture on the SA cycling calendar after just one year in existence, next month’s Tour de Free State takes on added significance.
This year is Olympic year and falling in the time slot of 23-27 May it means its the last chance for our women to gobble up valuable UCI ranking points ahead of the London Games.
South Africa have already secured two slots for the road race at the Games and should they do well in the Free State, our women could grab another vital spot in this ever so tactical sporting code.
Cut-off date for the Olympics is May 31 so this race is a crucial last-chance opportunity.
The race, hosted by the Free State Tourism Authority, takes on a truly international flavour with women’s riders from at least 13 countries being represented in the province’s showpice. Those countries are Belgium, Eritrea, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Luzembourg, Ukraine, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Holland, USA and of course South Africa.
The race carriers UCI 2.1 WE status, meaning it’s just one tier below the European Tour women’sclassics. As such, should a South African woman win the overall race and snatch a few stages it would mean be of huge significance to our slots at the Games.
Last year’s Tour de Free State only catered for men, this is the first time the fairer sex have saddled up.
Said Cycling South Africa’s secretary-general Ciska Austin at Friday’s launch: “CSA has prioritised women’s cycling for three years now and hopefully this will help us qualify three women for London.
“Ashleigh Moolman Pasio’s great fifth spot in the World Cup event in Belgium this week has boosted her to 12th. If she makes the top 10 by the cut-off it will be hugely important.
“I see this Tour as one small step for mankind but one giant leap for the Free State. I really hope that an event like this will one day be a World Cup event for South Africa. That would really place the Free State and South African on the cycling map.”
Last year’s inaugural Tour featured six Free State towns, next month’s will take in 12 and organisers are already envisaging a possible 24 towns being visited next year.
Moolman Pasio will be joined in her bid for teams by her Lotto-Belisol SA team-mates Cherise Taylor, Lise Olivier, Jo van de Winkel, Robyn de Groot and An-Li Pretorius.