A self-funded Team South Africa beat all the odds to deliver a top result for Willie Smit at the Tour of Ethiopia two weeks ago.
After finishing third on the opening day, Smit jumped into the lead when he placed third on stage two of the five-day tour, which is also known as the Tour Meles Zenawi for Green Development.
Third and fifth place finishes on the third and fourth stages were enough to keep the RoadCover all-rounder in yellow before sealing overall victory with a fine victory on the final day.
Ethiopia’s Kbrom Haylay and Fiseha Gebremariam finished second and third respectively.
He said the first challenge that came with racing a UCI Africa Tour event was the risk of illness.
“We were all trying to stay healthy, because, whenever you go to the African tours, it’s a mission trying not to pick up a bug,” he said.
“We were quite fortunate to get the whole team through to the last stage, especially as we were in the lead and all in relatively good health.”
The second challenge, he said, was a lack of funding. He explained while the Ethiopian federation had covered their flights, the remainder of the costs had been covered by the riders themselves.
Despite the financial burden, he said Cycling South Africa’s self-funding policy had one distinct positive.
“Most riders say they won’t go because they have to pay for themselves, but for these guys it was more about personal ambition and success and it always will be.
“No matter what the situation, they always go out of their way to do well and achieve something, even if they aren’t fully supported.
“They knew most of the costs would come out of their own pockets, but they did it all for their country. So hats off to them for making that sacrifice.”
In addition to a lack of funds, Smit said the team lacked in numbers, which made the task of presenting a strong front even more challenging.
The African continental champion explained the national contingent had to contend with multiple teams from the competing countries and were heavily outnumbered.
“In professional cycling, if it’s two against one then you always lose. So that made the victory much more special because we were outnumbered so badly and we still managed to pull it off.”
Smit’s win boosted him into first overall on the UCI Africa Tour rankings, ahead of Eritrea’s Meron Abraham. However, he was less than positive about what it meant in the grand scheme of things.
“For the African Tour rankings it’s good and it’s great to say you’ve won it. But it’s not going to get you a professional contract, which is what all amateur cyclists dream of.”