Teams win championships and individuals achieve personal bests! If South African Cycling dreams of ever bringing the rainbow stripes home or winning an Olympic medal, we have to encourage national unity.
The World Championship Road Race in the Netherlands last Saturday, 22 September, brought a close to my 2012 European cycling season. The tough circuit included the legendary Cauberg climb which suited me but the race didn’t go according to plan.
It was my second World Championship road race and even after two and a half seasons racing in Europe, it was my first experience racing in Holland. Racing in Holland has the reputation of being dangerous because of it’s technical narrow roads. The narrow roads make movement in the peloton rather tricky and all it takes is a little touch of wheels to take riders down. This year’s Worlds lived up to this exact reputation. On the second lap of 16km, a small touch of wheels took over half the peloton down.
Suddenly, I was underneath a mass pile of riders. I was stuck right in the middle of the crash and so was my bike. It took me a while to get my bike detangled but finally I escaped. Immediately, I set about chasing back to the front peloton. I was about a minute and a half behind so I was thankful to see my teammates, Robyn de Groot and An‐Li Pretorius, who helped pace me back. I am very grateful of their efforts!
After the crash my bike was not 100% and I had many problems with my gears – my gears were slipping and I really struggled to get onto my big blade at the top of every Cauberg climb. Not being able to drive over the top of the Cauberg really cost me, especailly on the final lap. I finished 12th on the day. Not exactly the result I was aiming for, but definitely an improvement on my 22nd place last year in Copenhagen.
2012 has been a big year with the London Olympic Games and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt this year, is that teams win championships and individuals achieve personal bests!
Marianne Vos, the winner of the Olympic and World Championship gold medals is incredibly talented and strong. She absolutely deserved the win on home ground, but although it sometimes appears that she does it all on her own, that is definitely not the case. She had superb team support on the day. Her team positioned her perfectly to be able to attack when she did and her teammate Anna van der Breggen was nothing short of amazing, strategically positioning herself in the early breakaway to assit her later on.
The thing about the Cauberg climb is that it came directly after a very fast descent on a wide, straight road. The fast descent into Valkenburg before the Cauberg naturally positioned the bigger girls at the front but, on hitting the climb, they often couldn’t hold their postion. Vos’s team had positioned her perfectly for the attack and when she went, I found myself blocked in and too far back at the time to even attempt to follow.
South Africa is still very much a developing cycling nation and I think we could learn from the Dutch team. Although we have made progress in leaps and bounds in the past few years, the Dutch represent how successful a cohesive and united team can be. Traditionally, a team goes through five stages of development:
- Forming: a group of people come together to accomplish a shared purpose.
- Storming: Disagreement about mission, vision, and approaches combined with the fact that team members are getting to know each other can cause strained relationships and conflict.
- Norming: The team has consciously or unconsciously formed working relationships that are enabling progress on the team’s objectives.
- Performing: Relationships, team processes, and the team’s effectiveness in working on its objectives are synching to bring about a successfully functioning team.
- Transforming: The team is performing so well that members believe it is the most successful team they have experienced.
I believe that South African women’s cycling is at present in the second stage of development. We are storming! We are at the point where we are testing our personal boundaries and trying to learn our own strengths and weaknesses as we race more extensively in Europe. It seems logical that the length of time necessary for progressing through these stages depends on the experience of the members, the support and leadership the team receives, the attitude of the members (their willingness to learn) and the knowledge and skill of the team members.
The above mentioned stages of team development form part of a natural progression and I’m confident that in the very near future South Africa will be in a position to start performing as a united front. In the meantime it is important that Cycling South Africa and sponsors continue to support and encourage individual riders to race in Europe to gain experience.
We have four years to the next Olympic Games, let’s make every second count!