Some of the world’s best cyclists flew to South Africa last week for the last women’s UCI road race of the year at the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge in Johannesburg on Sunday. Upgraded in status, the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge was the first-ever UCI sanctioned 1.1 race for women in South Africa.
For British rider Sharon Laws (Bigla), it was a bit of a homecoming.
Laws was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and has also lived in Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Back in 2003, the Momentum 94.7 was her first-ever road race. Twelve years later, the now 41-year-old Laws lined up again as a previous winner and a major asset to her Bigla team.
As the race played out, Laws was instrumental in getting her teammate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio the win. Racing at home, the South African national champion encountered a mechanical problem at the start of the race and then crashed on a fast descent while part of a four-rider breakaway. When Moolman-Pasio rejoined the peloton after crashing out of the breakaway, Laws and the rest of the Bigla team got to work, chasing down the break.
Laws attacked leading into the final climb with two other riders. Moolman-Pasio was able to bridge over and attack over the top of the climb to solo to the finish.
Helping her team get the win in South Africa’s first UCI 1.1 women’s race, and returning to the race that started her career must have been pretty special. So we asked Laws to share her experience with us:
Excited to take part again in what was my first road race ever! https://t.co/xZEqJxpQvO
— Sharon Laws (@SharonNLaws) November 5, 2015
I was excited to get the opportunity to race the Momentum 94.7 this year as it holds fond memories. It was my first-ever road race in 2003 when I lined up completely clueless about road cycling. I’d worn a sleeveless jersey with no idea what the UCI was let alone the rules that stipulated you had to have sleeves.
Fast forward nine years, I won the event in 2012 and the publicity and media attention in South Africa made me feel like I had won the World Championships. I was on breakfast TV, Super Sport evening TV show and national radio.
The 2015 event held a UCI 1.1 status — huge opportunity for South Africa to host international teams and it was amazing to line up with nationalities like Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Mauritius, Botswana, Swaziland, in addition to the more usual suspects; the Dutch, Germans, Swiss and Americans. The participation of South African teams enabled local riders to race in the same group as the international pros and they were clearly honoured.
From the team presentation, to the hotel, to the after-race hospitality tent, we were treated amazingly well and far better than in most European races. The warmth of our welcome was huge. So many people spoke to me after the race and thanked me for coming.
Races are different in South Africa and, for the Europeans, the prospect of a 3.30 a.m. breakfast and 6.03 a.m. start was met with wide eyes. In addition, the event itself had the participation of a mind boggling 33,000 riders.
With South African favourite, Ashleigh Moolman, on our team, there was a lot of pressure for a good team performance and win.
Unfortunately, things didn’t start well. A mechanical left Ashleigh with only the big ring and her crash from an early break left us chasing to bring it back. We changed our tactic to one of serious aggression with the aim of reducing the peloton and setting up Ashleigh for a solo attack. It worked with Doris, Clara and myself taking it in turns to attack. I was up the road before the Cedar climb with two other local riders. Ashleigh attacked at the base of the climb and went clear. I sat up as she passed with my job done – confident this was the winning move.
The last 10 kilometres were leg-sapping with short, steep climbs but the finish line was electric with music and cheering crowds. Although a short race by European standards with only 2 hours 35 minutes of saddle time, it was still a hard day at the office.
It was great to finish the season positively with a race in which we had all contributed our part. For Ashleigh it was an important win and, despite the road rash, she was full of smiles.
I am now thrilled to stay in South Africa until the end of March. A chance to train in the sunshine, spend time with old friends and embrace the South African hospitality.