Byron Munton (Giant Alfa Bodyworks) and Cherise Willeit raced to victory in the 2019 Medihelp Stellenbosch Cycle Tour, at Val de Vie Estate, in the Cape Winelands on Sunday, 20 January.
The elite men’s and women’s races unfolded in dramatically different fashion with Munton going on an 80 kilometre break to earn a hard fought win, while Willeit showed all her experience sprinting from a fiercely competitive group.
Held in near perfect conditions, the Stellenbosch Cycle Tour started and finished at Val de Vie Estate for the first time this year. Following the same route, which looped through Paarl, Stellenbosch and the villages of Kylemore and Pniël, the change of start/finish location meant that Helshoogte Pass came 65 kilometres into the race.
In the elite men’s race the pace was set in the opening kilometres by the Specialized team working for Craig Boyes. Simon Andreassen, the two time junior cross country world champion, was the foremost of Boyes’ super-domestiques as he switched his mountain bike for a road bike. Their bid to aid Boyes’ attempt to go one better than his second place in 2018 was derailed by a breakaway led by Munton.
On one of the many rolling hills of Sonstraal Road, 20 kilometres into the race, Munton upped the pace with his Giant Alfa Bodyworks teammate, Chris Cronje. Bronwin Adams and Charl van Wyk joined the move, as did Specialized’s Jacques Lloyd. The quintet worked together well gradually extending their lead over the next 40 kilometres.
By the time the five leaders reached the base of Helshoogte Pass their advantage over the chasing peloton was 2 minutes and 52 seconds. On the pass Munton and Cronje kept increasing the tempo until Adams, Van Wyk and eventually Lloyd could not hold their wheels. By the top of the climb their lead had been reduced by 30 seconds, but the race was theirs to lose.
Andreassen led the chase group over the summit of the climb, but Boyes was flagging slightly off the back of the pack which had been reduced to just seven riders. With Boyes looking in trouble the impetus to chase down Munton and Cronje would need to be taken up by Gregory de Vink and his Mad Macs team.
Despite the efforts behind them, Munton and Cronje’s lead remained unchallenged. Over the next 30 kilometres they held their pursuers at 2:20. In the final 10 km Cronje was beginning to fatigue, but Munton remained strong, taking increasingly long turns on the front. Coming into the finish Cronje acknowledged his teammate’s support of not forging on alone when he began to slow by sitting up and cheering Munton over the line – the worthy champion of the 2019 Stellenbosch Cycle Tour in a time of 2:21:45.
The pair was followed across the line just under 2 minutes later by a group fiercely contesting third. De Vink held off Lloyd and HB Kruger in the sprint for the minor podium places. Kruger’s fifth meant that Giant Alfa Bodyworks dominated the dais, claiming three of the five podium positions.
In the elite women’s race the favourites shadowed each other throughout. Showing no ring-rust, returning to racing for the first time since 2017 and just six months after the birth of her second child, Willeit remained composed.
With so many riders to do turns on the front the group rounded the course in good time, coming up to the finish in a time of 2:35:55. Sprinting from within the group Willeit reigned supreme. She was followed across the line by Linda Hitchings, junior Kelsey van Schoor, Lucy James and Maroesjka Matthee.
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