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South African Road Championships - CN
Pretoria, South Africa, March 3-6, 2005
Stage 2 - March 5: U23 Men's Road Race
Willie's long road ends in triumph
By Bob Aldridge
Pretoria's Willie van Zyl finally produced the kind of faultless ride that both he and his supporters have long believed him capable of, to win the South African 168km U23 road cycling championship in Pretoria today (Saturday).
"I've been waiting for this for a long time, and I'm just delighted the way it's turned out," he gasped happily, surrounded by well-wishers at the finish. It was a gritty exhibition of guts and determination by both the winner and the brave runner-up, defending champion, Garstfontein's Eckhard Bergh.
Bergh, who is widely believed to be physically below-par and was not even expected to defend his title, paid tribute to Van Zyl's aggressive and competitive attitude. "Willie did the bulk of the work, and he was in all the attacks, so it shows that you do get back what you put in," commented the generous Bergh.
He was delighted with his own performance, adding, "If this is what I can do when I'm supposedly off-form, just wait 'till I'm back..."
Bergh wasn't the rider the Konica-Minolta team had selected to go for the title, that was the prodigious John-Lee Augustyn who, unfortunately missed the early break in the race and had to work doubly hard to get back to the leading group.
He rode away from the main bunch and was closing at a rapid rate, but the race was just too short for him, and he finished a strong fourth behind the surprise-packet of the race, Boland's Dan Craven (the great Danie's grandson) , but in front a massive bunch sprint for fifth place, which was claimed by another rising young star, Juan van Heerden.
SA national team manager, Tony Harding, was at the champs keeping an eye on future prospects, and he confirmed that, "The course was very hard, but the pace wasn't that fast in the beginning and some of the teams may have been caught out by the 'negative' racing pattern which developed, but all credit to Willie - it was a great ride!"
Another feature event in a superb day of racing was the women's 40-44 category which was won by former world master's champion, Pretoria's Elsa Karsten, from five time "Argus" winner, Cape Town's Cathy Carstens.
Looking to cycling's future, many are looking no further than Bloemfontein's prodigious teenager, Airene Torsius, who clinched her fifth consecutive SA age group title, having been an U14 champ, twice the U16 winner, and now the junior champion for the past two years.
Many are already tipping Airene as the "new Anriette Schoeman" and that is huge praise, indeed , for the "Free State Ferrari"!
U23 Men 1 Willie van Zyl (Pretoria) 2 Eckhard Bergh (Konica-Minolta) 3 Dan Craven (Boland) 4 John-Lee Augustyn (Konica-Minolta) 5 Juan van Heerden Women 40-44 1 Elsa Karsten (Pretoria) 2 Cathy Carstens Junior Women 1 Airene Torsius (Bloemfontein)