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BICYCLING

Words & Photos: Chris Hitchcock

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I’ve written about criterium cycle racing before, in a story about the Lights By Linea night racing in Stellenbosch late last year, and I openly admit that I’m driven to watch and cover events that are different.

‘Edge events’ is what we call the category they fit into, most likely because they are on the edge of sanity and keep us on the edge of our seats. It’s no surprise then that when I heard of a criterium organised by the same people, but this time at the Stellenbosch Airfield, I was immediately drawn to watch and photograph the third race in the 2014 Hero Challenge.

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The Hero Challenge is a series of criterium races that are followed by a series of long distance one-day races, which form a winter series, and ends the season off with another group of criterium events in the spring of 2014. Races start with the issuing of coloured jerseys, a la the Tour de France, with yellow for the overall series leader. Green is bestowed upon the leader of the sprint classification and white to the fastest overall young rider. Podium poppies in matching dresses do the honours. Besides Lights By Linea, the primary sponsor, KIA Motors Diep River has come on board as the official vehicle supplier, whilst Trek Bicycles and Craft Clothing have signed up to be part of a series of racing that will elevate road racing in the Western Cape. Cycling South Africa fully endorses the series and what it will do for the high-performance side of the sport.

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Held on Saturday, 22 February, the racing included events for the Youth (U12, U14, U16) in Category 3; Vets, Masters and Women in Category 2; and Elite Men in Category 1. Provision was also made for para-cyclists, who raced with the Category 2 riders. This is a first in South Africa, whereby the para-cyclists compete head-to-head with their able-bodied counterparts, and attracted a number of top-calibre para-athletes.

Ernst van Dyk, the road race gold medallist at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games and road race silver medallist at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, lined up with Stuart McCreadie, who represented South Africa at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, and Craig Ridgard, who will represent South Africa at the upcoming 2014 UCI racing season in Italy this May. Roxy Burns, ranked number one for track by the UCI for 2013, was the top Women’s para contender.

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Stellenbosch Airfield is a fully working airfield and home to a lot of the aircraft, both fixed wing and helicopters, which forms the backbone of the Western Cape Government’s Working on Fire (WoF) Programme. This initiative was launched in response to the increasing number of veld fires across South Africa over the past several years, of which the Western Cape Province was identified as the country's most vulnerable region. The programme is designed around the principle of sending the maximum amount of aircraft and ground teams to a fire in its early stages. By gaining control within the first hour of the fire, the possibility of a major incident is minimised. So if a major fire was to break out in the Western Cape while a race was underway, the cycling would have to stop and the aircraft would get right of way. 

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True to form, and Murphy's Law, just 10 minutes after the opening Category 2 race, proceedings had to be stopped to allow space and time for three aircraft to take off and attend to a fire. While that’s not

the kind of curved ball that any race organiser wants to deal with at an event, everything was very well planned and the planes took off with no drama. The race got underway again just 20 minutes later. Kudos to Lights By Linea and ACSA for some proper planning. In Category 1, the race was dominated by the series' leader and yellow-jersey holder Stefan Ihlenfeldt, who held off teammate Hanco Kachelhofer for a photo finish. Young rider Stefan de Bod further enhanced his reputation as an upand-coming rider to take third.


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Multiple SA Champion Maroesjka Matthee did the expected by winning the Women's race, with Carmen Buchacher in second and Bianca Holtzkampf-Mayer third. For the last round of the Criterium Championship, on 2 March, the riders will move to the Century City complex for a street circuit around the residential area. The track promises lots of corners and technical riding with a section of cobblestones thrown in for good measure. It’s super spectator friendly, so rock up from 14h00 to check out the action. •

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Race results

22 FEBRUARY 2014 CATEGORY 1: ELITE

1. Stefan Ihlenfeldt (Lights By Linea) 2. Hanco Kachelhoffer (Lights By Linea) 3. Stefan de Bod 4. Philip Buys (Scott) 5. Ruderick Heuer (Flandria)

CATEGORY 2: VETS 1. Russel Palm 2. Paul Cooper 3. Faizel Thomas

CATEGORY 2: OPEN 1. Ruddock Geddan 2. Ahmed Khatieb 3. Richard Paxton

CATEGORY 2: LADIES 1. Maroesjka Matthee 2. Carmen Buchacher 3. Bianca Holtzkampf-Mayer

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CYCLING: Zero to hero