The 2020 Cape Town Cycle Tour is just days away and tens of thousands of riders, with a more social disposition, nervously await the “Hoopla” which will signal the start of their ride.
A select group of elite riders are nervous for another reason. The CTCT marks their biggest race of the year. An opportunity for coverage for their sponsors and to elevate themselves to household names in South African sport.
One rider who has made a name for herself in South African cycling is Cherise Willeit. The defending women’s champion starts the 2020 race as the favourite and could well add to her four Cape Town Cycle Tour titles on Sunday, 8 March. “My build-up to this year’s Cape Town Cycle Tour has not gone as well as I had hoped it would” Willeit said, downplaying her chances. “I moved to Germany in May last year and that has taken it’s toll on me mentally. The European winter is not my favourite thing! I struggled to find the motivation to train when it was minus five, snowing and raining. I ride because I enjoy it and riding in that weather simply wasn’t fun for me.”
Now back in sunny South Africa, Cherise has notched up her first podium place of the season, in the Dischem Ride for Sight. “Being back in South Africa, for the last few weeks, has been absolutely amazing. I’ve rediscovered the passion for riding my bike and I’ve loved the racing I’ve done so far too. The Customized Cycling Bioplus Team has certainly helped me reignite my passion for cycling in general and women’s cycling in particular. And with that I must say hats off to the Cape Town Cycle Tour and the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust for giving us our own race. A lot of people think that because it’s a shorter race it’s easier. But it’s the complete opposite. Starting in Fish Hoek we have 78 kilometers to race and the women make sure every kilometre counts. It is super-fast. Super aggressive. And very tactical from the gun. The mountain bikers, including Candice Lill, Barbra Benko, and Ariane Lüthi and the climbers, like Catherine Colyn and Vera Adrian, want to have a small group towards the finish. So, they are going to make sure that it’s very hard and as few sprinters get to the finish line as possible.”
“While a victory would be great” Willeit admitted, “I really want to see women’s cycling win. I want to get to the finish line knowing I’ve given my all no matter what the outcome may be. I’m really excited to see so many youngsters coming up. Riders like Frances Janse van Rensburg, Tiffany Keep and Hayley Preen, the 2020 Herald Cycle Tour winner, are just so strong. There are so many youngsters who could win the Cape Town Cycle Tour this year. But there are also experienced riders like Kim Le Court De Billot [the 2018 champion] who is really focused on the CTCT. I’m really expecting big things from her.”
The elite women’s race starts at 06h00, in Fish Hoek. Their route follows the same final 78 kilometres as the rest of the field. It features ascents of Smitswinkel, Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie. In 2019 a select group of six riders escaped off the front on Suikerbossie, with 15.4 kilometres left to race, but could not stay away as they started to jockeyed for position in the run-in to Green Point. That set-up a reduced bunch sprint which Willeit won with ease. For the women looking to upset the queen of South African sprinting the key will be to ensure the pace is relentless throughout the final kilometres in 2020.
When the morning’s first “Hoopla” rings out, at 06h15, Nolan Hoffman will be the rider most eyes will be fixed upon. The three-time champion was outsprinted by New Zealand’s Sam Gaze in 2019 and is focused on regaining the title he last won in 2018 this year. He will start the 2020 Cape Town Cycle Tour with the confidence of a victory fresh in his mind, having sprinted to stage honours on Stage 3 of the Tour of Good Hope; just days before his biggest goal of the season.
The current weather prediction, of moderate temperatures and a gentle south-easterly breeze should suit the Enza rider. Hoffman has consistently proven himself to be among South Africa’s fastest finishers, but in years when the wind has helped shred the elite men’s field the big man has struggled. To be in contention for victory Hoffman will have to rely on his Enza team to keep the peloton together to the foot of Suikerbossie. If he can summit the finial climb in the lead group Hoffman will be the favourite to out-sprint his rivals on Helen Suzman Boulevard, in the shadow of the Cape Town Stadium.
If the Cape Town Cycle Tour does come down to a sprint finish Jayde Julius could be Hoffman’s greatest threat. The ProTouch rider placed third, in the road race, at the 2020 South African Championships, behind WorldTour stars Ryan Gibbons and Daryl Impey. The Enza team have another card they could play however, in the form of Commonwealth Games bronze medallist; Clint Hendricks. The 2016 winner is nominally a support rider for Hoffman, but the roads of the Mother City will determine who will earn the right to sprint for victory; if it comes down to a sprint.
It is in the interest of the Office Guru and Alfabody Works Giant teams to ensure it does not. Dylan Girdlestone and the powerful U23 rider, Jean-Pierre Lloyd, will look to break the race up and exploit their skills as a climber and puncheur, respectively. They could be aided in this by the former WorldTour racers Jaco Venter and Jacques Janse van Rensberg. The pair who have formed their own team for 2020 will be representing the Alfabody Works Giant squad at the Cape Town Cycle Tour. At the time of writing, Venter was leading the Tour of Good Hope’s general classification, after victory in the individual time trial, on Tuesday. He is thus in the form which could see him launch a long-range attack.
Other riders to look out for are Specialized’s Craig Boyes, who is no stranger to a long-range breakaway at the Cape Town Cycle Tour, and Namibian road champion, Dan Craven. Christoph Sauser and Karl Platt will once again be using the race to warm-up for the Cape Epic, which starts the following weekend. The veteran pair may no longer be threats to the overall title, but they will no doubt still look to animate the racing. As will Oliver Munnik. The former elite rider renews his racing licence for the sole purpose of taking part in the Cape Town Cycle Tour annually. Expect to see him make a drive for the front of the peloton as the race passes through Kalk Bay. Years of experience have taught Munnik to time his attack to perfection; ensuring he gets a great photo, along with a mention on the live broadcast.
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