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SA riders in Belgium
- Updated: April 10, 2012
South African cycling outfit MTN-Qhubeka eased their way into the European racing scene when they competed at the BP Pino Cerami event at the weekend, writes Mark Etheridge.
Raced over 200-kilometres in Belgium, the event was contested by 25 teams (191 riders) and conditions were a chilly eight degrees Centigrade. Being a 1.1 UCI ranked event meant some of the top teams turned out.
The team had arrived in Europe after a highly successful tour in Morocco where they dominated all categories. For the Pino Cerami race they only had one days preparation and team manager Jens Zemke told the team to just go out and do the best.
The race was won by Belgium’s Gaetan Bille of the Lotto Belisol Team in 4hr 52min 11sec just a day before his 24th birthday.
Thirty kilometres into the race a break of four riders went clear. Astana took up the responsibility to chase when the break away had a gap of seven min, lots of crashes and punctures in the bunch caused this to be quite a difficult task.
Thankfully the MTN-Qhubeka riders stayed out of trouble and did not get caught up in any crashes. Songezo Jim nearly lost contact with the bunch when he went back to fetch bottles for the team and when he was riding back to the peloton and only 20 metres behind the bunch a train crossing came down. However after a remarkable effort and with some help he made it back to the bunch safely.
At 150km a break of 21 riders including the in-form Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, winner of the Tour du Maroc. After a hard fight the peloton caught the break with 15km to go. Unfortunately for Team MTN-Qhubeka Janse van Rensburg was unable to sprint due to the effort put into this break.
The top MTN-Qhubeka finishers were Eritrea’s Meron Russom in 75th spot, 31sec down while Janse Van Rensburg was 35sec back in 95th spot.
“With a lap and a half to go fewer riders were prepared to contribute to the pace. This ultimately lead to the break’s demise as we were caught with little more than a lap to go,” said Janse van Rensburg.
“From there on I was pretty much finished and just hung on the back to finish in the second split. Our Eritrean rider Meron did a real good job in his first race in Europe ever, being our only other rider to finish.
“Although not a result I am pretty happy with my performance, especially after 10 days in Morocco and a lot of travelling.”