Cherise Stander became the first South African women to win a 2.1-graded UCI tour stage on Sunday. Photo credit: Dominic Barndardt

After being controversially overlooked for selection for the London Olympic Games, Cherise Stander created her own piece of history on Sunday when she became the first South African female road cyclist to win a stage of an international 2.1 graded event in Europe.

The 22-year-old Stander, who races for the Momentum Toyota professional team in South Africa, claimed Stage 1 honours at the women’s Tour de France (Route de France) on Sunday.

Racing for the Belgian-based Lotto professional team via a rider trade arrangement with the Momentum Toyota squad, Stander outsprinted a large bunch to claim the 102.4km stage victory in a time of 02 hours 48 minutes 32 seconds.

Australian Chloe Hosking (Specialized Lululemon) finished second with Kazakhstan’s Olena Andruk (Diadora Pasta Zara) rounding out the podium places. Belarussian racer Alena Amialyusik (Be Pink), who won the opening prologue time trial stage on Saturday, retained the overall race lead after finishing in the front pack.

“I’m very happy with that win!” beamed Stander. “The last few weeks have been so up and down emotionally. Very low lows and now this amazing high. It’s definitely the biggest win of my career so far.”

Stander’s team approached the relatively flat stage with aggression, sending Ann Sophie Duyck up the road in the first kilometre on her own. The Belgian managed to stay clear until 68km when she was finally reeled in. With no pressure to chase, the other Lotto Belisol team members, which included Stander and fellow South Africans Lise Oliver, Robyn de Groot and Joanna van de Winkel, were able to ‘sit on’ and save energy.

“I know that the Australian, Hoskins, is a quick sprinter so I tried to stay with her through what was a chaotic finale,” explained Stander.

“As it usually is with the European bunch sprints, the pace was super fast and it became very hectic in the sprint. I think my guardian angel helped get me through that safely. It was pretty scary!

“We don’t really have a General Classification rider in our team for this race, so stage wins has been our aim. It’s good to have achieved one. It’s a nice statement to make and I really have to thank everyone that’s been so supportive to me personally, and to South African women’s cycling in general,” added Stander.

Route de France is a nine-stage tour that ends on Sunday. Monday’s Stage 2 is an undulating 130.7km haul from Noeux le Mines to Tergnier.