Women’s cycling is preparing for an extreme makeover following the announcement that MTN is sponsoring a professional women’s road team, which will be led by two of the sport’s brightest stars.
Cherise Taylor and Marissa van der Merwe will head up the country’s first truly professional women’s team. and will be joined by Chrissie Viljoen, Altie Clark and Cashandra Slingerland.
Until now, most members of women’s road cycling teams have had to hold down a regular job and fit their training and racing in when possible, but the MTN team will change that, becoming the first-ever fully-professional South African women’s team, a move that’s widely expected to revolutionise top-flight women’s cycling.
"Only a handful of female cyclists in South Africa currently earn their living from cycling and no single team has ever had the budget to ensure all its members can focus on cycling," said MTN Cycling team boss, Douglas Ryder. "The MTN women’s team will set a new standard, not only for sponsorship in cycling, but for other sports too."
Taylor is the current silver medallist from the 2007 junior world championships and, at 18, is a huge talent. She’s able to – and often does – beat the Elite women in domestic racing and is a classy all-rounder, able to climb, time trial and sprint – fast!
Van der Merwe, who only started cycling three years ago, was named South Africa’s Most Promising Women’s road cyclist of the year in 2005. At the same awards function she was also named Women’s Road Cyclist of the Year, a rare double award which she has justified by being in podium contention in virtually every race she enters, by virtue of her high work ethic, strong climbing ability and rapid sprint.
Viljoen, Clark and Slingerland will play a strong support role in most events for Taylor and Van der Merwe, however all three have shown they too can win. Viljoen has won a string of big races over the past few years, including 10 National Classics in 2006, but had a frustrating 2007 with few podium visits.
After taking a break, she’s returning to good form and will offer the team a high quality trump card since she’s an accomplished climber that can pack a mean sprint.
Slingerland is a former national time trial champion, while Clark has proved to be a strong stage racer. Both are at their best looking for breakaway moves – or creating them – or working for their more illustrious teammates.
"It’s a very well balanced team," said Clark. "The variety and depth of talent is amazing and sure to be a good recipe for success. We also all get along really well which is essential for harmony both on and off the bike."
The MTN-sponsored men’s road and mountain bike teams dominated the local race scene in 2007. The MTN women’s team will be integrated into the existing, established infrastructure. This will be MTN’s first foray into women’s sport sponsorship.
The primary goal of the MTN women’s team will be to win the Cycling South Africa Pro Series that will be implemented next year. This will incorporate 10-12 existing hardcore races with a points ranking system to determine the country’s best rider on aggregate.
The team will also set out to win the Cycle Tour Super Seeding Series, which, in 2008 will bring together into a series the existing 13 mass participation races used for seeding purposes by the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour.