Team Bonitas riders Darren Lill and Johann Rabie conquered a strong field and a challenging course to craft a 1-2 finish at the Rand Water Race for Victory 150km road cycling race in the south of Johannesburg on Sunday.
Lill won the race in a time of 03 hours 45 minutes 16 seconds, with Rabie claiming second place 22 seconds later when he outsprinted South African Under-23 champion, Calvin Beneke (MTN Qhubeka).
With an extended 150km distance and 1800 metres of vertical ascent for the Elite and Under-23 men, the race promised to favour the strong teams. Added to that was a relentless crosswind that was most telling during the first 50km and the last 50km.
A number of riders succumbed to the crosswind during the fast opening 50km and a 15-rider break away group was first to enter the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, a 50km section of the race, which contained the majority of the day’s climbing.
On the first steep ascent Lill attacked and only Beneke and his MTN Qhubeka teammate, Songezo Jim, were able to latch onto the diminutive Capetonian. The trio worked together to increase their lead through the nature reserve and by the time they headed out of the gate, Rabie was in pursuit of the break on his own, 40 seconds back.
“With two MTN guys with me in the lead, we knew we needed to even the odds up, which is why Rabie bridged across. While he was bridging I sat on the back and let Beneke and Jim do the work,” explained Lill.
Rabie joined the leaders with 40km to go and with 15km remaining, Rabie and Lill used their experience to get rid of Jim in the crosswind, leaving only Beneke to contend with for the finale.
“We wanted a 1-2 for the team and since Rabie is a better sprinter than me, we decided I’d go up the road and force Beneke to chase. It worked out just as we’d planned.”
Lill’s attack with 8km remaining was decisive. And despite Beneke’s best efforts, it was going to be a big ask to reel in one of the country’s best time trialists, especially in a crosswind after three-and-a-half hours of racing.
“It feels good to win a long race in South Africa. There aren’t many of them yet,” said Lill. “One-hundred-and-fifty kilometres is about 50% more than most South African race distances. And that 50% makes a difference. Nice to get that option from the organisers and I hope other established races take their cue and add a longer race for the pro’s.”
Despite the increased distance, Lill felt the 2012 Race for Victory still fell short of what is required to help bring South African races to an international level in terms of the challenge.
“The crosswind made it a bit tougher, but 1800 metres of climbing over 150km is still not quite hard enough, which is one of the reasons I do the mountain bike marathon races when my schedule allows. My winning time today was 3:45, whereas the winning time at the mountain bike marathons is between 4:30 and five hours.
“But having said that, the Race for Victory wasn’t just another predictable bunch sprint as so often happens in South African races. The course made for a positive race that favoured strong riders. And even then, it forced good tactical racing too, which is important because that’s key in European racing,” added the 30-year-old Lill, who spent more than five years racing on overseas based teams before joining Team Bonitas last year.
“It was a great race to watch,” said Malcolm Lange of Lange Sports, the company that owns Team Bonitas. “Not just because our rider won, but because it was a very positive race that rewarded the strong, smart riders. That’s the kind of racing we need more of this country. Well done to the organisers.”
In the 110km women’s race, Lise Olivier (MTN Qhubeka) claimed the honours ahead of Lynette Burger (Toyota CSA) and Charlotte van der Merwe (MTN Qhubeka) respectively.
Rand Water Race for Victory 2012
Elite & Under-23 men:
1 Darren Lill Team Bonitas 03hrs45min16sec
2 Johann Rabie Team Bonitas 3:45.28
3 Calvin Beneke MTN Qhubeka same time
4 Songezo Jim MTN Qhubeka 3:48:40
5 Herman Fouche Team Bonitas 3:49.20
For full results, visit www.racetec.co.za