With more than 500 entries in the female category, the Dischem Ride for Sight is one the biggest women’s road cycling races in the country. But despite the large field, Team MTN is confident that one of it’s riders will win the 2008 edition in Boksburg on Sunday.
Despite a couple of injuries and the fact that the brand-new outfit is still settling in, the MTN women’s team have won four out of their first five races entered in 2008, and have achieved eight podium positions, an early sign that the country’s first-ever fully-professional women’s team is already having a positive effect on the much-criticised ‘mediocre’ standard of women’s cycling.
Tackling each race with a strategy and an aggression seldom seen before in local women’s cycling, Team MTN is sticking firmly to its commitment to race proactively; which is already paying dividends.
Cherise Taylor claimed victory the Kormorant Classic last Saturday, while Marissa van der Merwe was unstoppable in claiming two victories, first at the Intaka Tech World’s View Challenge earlier this month, before capturing the win at the Emperors Palace Classic last Sunday.
There were no bunch sprints in all four of the team’s victories, a sure sign that the traditional complacency in the women’s peloton, where bunch sprints commonly decide the outcome of most races, is becoming a rarity rather than a certainty.
"I think Team MTN has made the racing more tactical and less predictable," said Van der Merwe. "We attack a lot more than any other team and it does appear to be making an impact.
"Other teams seem to combine to work against us, but that doesn’t bother us. The important thing is that the overall standard of women’s racing is improving so that we can all become more competitive on an international level."
The MTN team has been racing without all-rounder Altie Clark, who broke her shoulder and collarbone in crash during a pre-season training camp. Then a crash five kilometres from the finish at the Kormorant Classic last Saturday saw Chrissie Viljoen and Cashandra Slingerland sliding across the tar.
Fortunately Slingerland emerged uninjured, while Viljoen only sustained a minor knee injury, and should be on the start line in Boksburg on Sunday.
Team MTN’s in-form Taylor and Van der Merwe are likely to be the most-marked riders in the 116km race, while Viljoen (the 2006 Ride for Sight champion) and Slingerland will provide the necessary back-up in their effort, to ensure the race doesn’t end in a group dash.
"The Ride for Sight usually ends in a bunch sprint, but we are going to do our best to split it up on Sunday," said Van der Merwe. "Our chances of a win are far greater if we can get rid of the quick sprinters like Lynette Burger (Cycle Lab Toyota) and Anriette Schoeman (Proline). But whether we win or not, we’ll make sure the racing is positive and fast."