Tour de Free State makes Olympic dreams come true
Cycling South Africa and their parent body, SASCOC (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) have made an announcement today that the women road cycling team will take three cyclists to the Olympic Games this year. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Jo-anna van de Winkel and Robyn de Groot will represent South Africa in the women’s road cycling event.
Tour de Free State has provided the last opportunity for the South Africans to better their position on the UCI ranking list from number 17 to number 13, which is the last position to allow a third cyclist in a country’s team at the Olympics.
Surprisingly the selectors decided not to select Charise Taylor, the only South African with Olympic experience, but to include van de Winkel and de Groot who have participated in the Tour de Free State.
The launch of the five-year European feeder program in 2009 has seen a greater amount of SA road racing cyclists competing on the world stage. With the sights set on the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, South Africa’s women cyclists have already showed depth in the infancy of the project, earning 3 places in the 2012 London squad.
Racing for the experienced Belgian Lotto Belisol team in Europe for the greater part of the season has seen young women such as Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Joanna van de Winkel and Robyn de Groot become household names in South Africa following their excellent steady progress over the past three years.
An in-form Moolman-Pasio has been increasing her world ranking with each event and her stage win at the final stage of the Tour de Free State last month, and third place overall in the General Classification, is what secured the third woman rider for Olympic team qualification. Moolman-Pasio was always going to be a hot favourite for team inclusion.
Joanna van de Winkel (30) and Robyn de Groot (29) will join the 26-year old as part of the women’s Olympic road cycling squad. With climbing being one of her attributes, Van de Winkel will be well suited to the road race route that reflects a profile with 14 metres of climbing for every kilometre covered. De Groot, who assisted Moolman-Pasio in her Tour de Free State stage victory, has also gained valuable UCI points towards the women’s ranking and her all-round ability and readiness to sacrifice herself for the team will be a great asset to the cycling team in London.
This will be the largest contingent of cyclists from South Africa ever to participate in the Games since South Africa’s readmission to world sports in 1992. The women cyclists have proven with their remarkable progress that women cyclists in South Africa deserves their own races and that women in sport deserves the same amount of exposure and acknowledgement as their male counterparts. Tour de Free State hosting the women cyclists as the main feature of the race deserves a compliment for their contribution to equalizing the playing field in sport.