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Cycling | Ladies

Marissa van der Merwe

Marissa boosts Olympic hopes



Team MTN’s Marissa van der Merwe gave her Olympic Games selection hopes another boost when she rode to a dominant win at the Chemspec Tour Durban road cycling race on Sunday.

Van der Merwe clocked an impressive two hours, 32 minutes for the 103km race, which gave her more than a five-minute lead over the second placed woman, her own MTN teammate, Cherise Taylor, who won the bunch sprint for the runner-up place.

The race doubled as the fifth leg of the 2008 Cycling South Africa Veteran and Women’s Super Series, which sees women race with the veteran men in an effort to improve the standard of the country’s Elite women.

For Van der Merwe, a strong climber, Sunday’s race strategy was to use the only major climb in the race to her advantage. And it worked.

The five-kilometre climb from Umbilo to Pinetown begins after just 16 km and it was on this winding ascent that Van der Merwe and her MTN teammate, Chrissie Viljoen, broke clear of the other women. Viljoen was unable to stay with the quick pace and dropped off near the summit, leaving Van der Merwe as the only woman in the 40-49 years veteran men’s lead pack, which she stayed with until the finish.

“It was a matter of just trying to hang in with that men’s bunch as long as possible,” explained a weary Van der Merwe afterwards. “They were attacking each other quite a lot so the pace was really quick. It was a very hard race for me. But it feels great to have won my third Tour Durban in a row.”

In the chasing pack with other veteran men were Taylor, Viljoen and Cashandra Slingerland (all MTN), Lynette Burger, Isabel Moolman, Yolandi du Toit and Elzette Visagie (all Cycle Lab Toyota) and Robyn de Groot and Arien Torsius (both Proline).

The Cycle Lab Toyota women tried to close the gap to Van der Merwe, but were unable to make an impression, while the MTN riders weren’t obligated to chase so saved themselves for the sprint, getting Taylor into the perfect position for the final dash. Third place went to Visagie with De Groot and Moolman rounding out the top five respectively.

Two women are expected to be selected to represent South Africa in the road race in Beijing and Van der Merwe’s form this year will surely make her one of the leading contenders for Games selection.

Sunday’s win was her sixth of the season, helping her extend her lead in the Super Series and giving her a superb confidence boost ahead of the 2008 national championships, which take place in East London this week.



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