Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

There were broad smiles and some tears at the Riversands Commercial Park on Sunday when Carla Oberholzer and Brandon Downes claimed emotional wins at the first running of the "reverse route" Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge.

For Oberholzer the win was the perfect way to honour her team manager and teammate, Lynette Burger, who is recovering from injuries after being hit by a minibus taxi while training in September. For Downes, the win was his first major victory as a professional and the last for his team, BCX, who will be without a sponsor next season.

"Lynette’s the one who keeps me calm on the road. I get
agitated when she doesn’t race. Having her in the car was phenomenal," said Oberholzer, the SA champion.

Burger suffered two punctured lungs, a broken collarbone, several broken ribs and had some slight bleeding on the brain in her accident.

Oberholzer (Team Demacon) held off Anriette Schoeman (Africa Silks), who took second, with Jo van der Winkel (Cycle Nation) and Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk) in third and fourth after a sprint to the line.

"It was pretty hard," said Oberholzer. "I think the wind was a little bit more hectic than we thought, especially on the highway and then the crosswind on these last couple of climbs. There were three of us in the break and we heard there was another lady [Ralph] about a minute up the road from us."

Ralph had managed to sneak past Oberholzer and Van der Winkel on a climb up Jan Smuts as they rode past one of the amateur racing bunches.

"We caught Theresa on the Blue Hills climb. Jo and I got away, and then Theresa and Anriette caught us with a few kilometres to go.

A four-up sprint was my worst nightmare.

"We came and walked the finish yesterday and planned for today. I knew exactly how to approach it and I’m so happy to take the win for the team."

Downes was the breakaway king, but was pushed hard at the end and just managed to hold off his Team BCX teammate, Steven van Heerden, who was second, and third-placed Dylan Girdlestone (Office Guru).

"We wanted to get a few guys into the move early on to make it easier for our sprinters at the end," said Downes. "David [Maree] and I were fortunate to get into the move. Things started to break up as we went into town and the break got reduced to six guys. On the highway with the headwind, the guys didn’t want to work too much. I got away with Josh [van Wyk] and with a few of the climbs left I managed to go solo. There was a headwind from Kyalami and then a crosswind on the last stretch on Summit.

"I knew that if I had about 30 seconds coming into the last 5km or 6km I could probably stay away. By then there was so much adrenalin I was not going to be caught. Luckily, I managed to hold on at the end.

"It’s by far my biggest win, my first major win as a pro."

Both winners had praise for the reverse route, which was a flip of the 2017 route.