It was Willeit’s fourth Cycle Tour title after triumphs in the popular classic in 2008, 2011 and 2014.
Yesterday’s victory was particularly special for the Investec-Songo rider as she had taken a break from the bike for the past few years.
“I definitely didn’t go into the race expecting a win. This was definitely the most surprising and special win for me,” Willeit told In the Bunch today.
“The night before I even told my husband that I did what I could in the time that I had.
“But it is very difficult for me to compete against riders who train every day, do this sport full-time and get eight hours sleep every night,” the 2010 national road champ added.
A committed stay-at-home mother of two young boys – aged eight months and two years – Willeit said she only decided late last year that she would take part in the Cycle Tour again.
“I said at the Origin of Trails [in late November] that I’d really like to do the Cycle Tour again,” the 29-year-old said.
“I was then sponsored a bike. So in the three months leading up to the race I just decided to focus on my kids and training. I’m so fortunate to have been able to do that and that it paid off.
“I thought when I had kids that my racing career would be over. To do that, while having to travel so much, is really difficult.
“I’ve been doing a lot of training on the Zwift [indoor cycling], usually while my kids were asleep.”
The Somerset-West local said what might have helped on race day was the fact that she was not a marked rider.
“I went into the race very much relaxed and I think that counted in my favour. I just wanted to take in the atmosphere and be present in the moment.
“I had absolutely no pressure on me, which was great compared to some of the other girls. It [her victory] was definitely unexpected and going over the line I was so emotional. I’m still on such a high from it.”
She added that she never thought beforehand that she would claim a fourth title.
“I didn’t once believe I could do it again,” she said. “In the previous years I was a full-time cyclist and the Cycle Tour was always among the top three races for me, which I always prepared fully for.
“I would get proper sleeping and eating in and I took part in all the races leading up to it to test where I was at.
“But I wasn’t too sure what would happened if it came down to a bunch sprint and what my form was going to be like yesterday.”
Tactically, her experience came through as she capitalised on the bunch rides and used those groups to stay well positioned in the wind.
“I think one of my strongest talents is being able to read a race,” Willeit said. “I feel very comfortable riding within a bunch and yesterday being so windy you really had to time where you wanted to use your energy.”
She said Tiffany Keep launched a strong attack at the base of Chapman’s Peak, which split the bunch.
Candice Lill then drove the breakaway heading over the climb, Willeit recalled, as she tried to use as little energy as possible in a contest beset by extremely windy sections.
“I tried to put in a few moves on Suikerbossie, but I could see very quickly that it wasn’t going anywhere in that wind.”
Willeit was among a group of six escapees who played a game of cat and mouse over the last few kilometres.
A chasing bunch was in hot pursuit of the breakaway and they were caught with just two kilometres left till the finish at the Green Point Stadium, Willeit said.
The favourites then started readying for a sprint finish, where Willeit said her timing was simply spot-on.
“We were up against a solid headwind and when I went a bit early, I discovered it was way too early so I sat back down.
“Then I left the sprint very late and I just managed to hold on, because Kim [le Court] was gunning properly for me.”
Demacon MaxWax’s Le Court subsequently finished milliseconds behind Willeit, with Keep third.
Willeit will set off to Germany next month to accompany her husband who has work commitments. She hopes to return to racing in South Africa again in November.