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Momentum Toyota Riders to fulfil SA's Olympic ambitions


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All three cyclists selected on Wednesday to represent South Africa in women’s road cycling at the London Olympic Games are from the Momentum Toyota team, an appropriate reward for three years of commitment and hard work by riders and team management towards an Olympic goal.


Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Robyn de Groot and Joanna van de Winkel were announced by SASCOC on Wednesday as the three riders that will tackle the women’s road race in South African colours on Sunday 29 July. And for the first time in South African Olympic history, they will carry realistic hopes of medal contention in a cycling category that’s historically been one of the country’s weakest.


Only five other countries will be able to field more riders than South Africa. The top five ranked nations in the world, The Netherlands, Germany, USA, Italy and Great Britain will have four riders each on the start line of the 140km race, which starts and finishes in London and heads into the Surrey countryside. At the qualification cut-off date, 29 May 2012, South Africa was ranked 13th. Nations ranked 6–13 get to send three riders each, while the remaining places in the 67-rider field will be filled by lower ranked nations, mostly represented by one rider each.


“In road cycling, which is a team event, the more riders you have the better your chances of success. Up until the Beijing Games, we only managed to send just one rider, usually under-prepared and who just tried to survive to finish,” said Andrew McLean, a former professional racer and co-founder of the Momentum Toyota women’s racing team.


“However the European feeder programme that Roy Gershow, our team’s patron helped establish three years ago, in conjunction with the Lotto Belisol team in Belgium, has allowed us to send our team members, as well as other top South African women riders, to Europe to race in high profile events in a professional, established set-up.”


This feeder programme, which has involved a significant investment in logistics and funding from the Momentum Toyota team structure, with support from Cycling South Africa and other sponsors linked to the South African national squad, has led to a significant improvement in the standard of South African women’s road cycling over the past three years and has ensured an accumulation of International Cycling Union rankings points on which Olympic berths are allocated.


Moolman Pasio and Van de Winkel are currently in Europe after having contested the Tour de Free State international stage race in late May. De Groot, who also competed in the Tour de Free State, is currently in Johannesburg and was understandably thrilled at her selection.


“I am super chuffed! It’s a dream come true for me to represent my country at the Olympic Games and it’s actually quite a surprise,” said De Groot. “After my crash at ‘The Argus’ and having struggled somewhat to recover from four broken ribs, I had pretty much put my Olympic dream on hold. But today that dream became a reality!”


De Groot was one of many riders involved in a mass crash during the final sprint at the 2012 Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in March, but her recovery was slow. Her first race back at full strength was the Tour de Free State in late May, where she showed good form on the final stage, helping set up the stage victory for teammate, Moolman Pasio.


“I’m known to be a reliable support rider, or domestique as they’re called in cycling and I guess my willingness to assist others played a role in my selection. The fact that I’ve been racing with Ashleigh and Jo on the same team, both in South Africa and Europe, means we know each other well, which is also important when you’re racing as a team. And that’s exactly how we’ll race this Olympic race, as a team with South African success as our common goal and national pride as our motivation.”


De Groot will depart for Europe on 25 June to join Van de Winkel and Moolman Pasio for the Giro d’Italia Femminile (women’s Giro d’Italia), the world’s most prestigious women’s road cycling stage race.



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