Teenager Tiffany Keep is rapidly closing the gap on the very best South African cyclists, as she demonstrated at the Cape Town Cycle Tour last weekend where she finished third.
The 18-year-old started punching above her weight last year – in both mountain-biking and road-racing – and continues to do so.
She defended her South African national under-23 road title in Pretoria this year and last season was also crowned the junior cross-country champion. Last month she won the Herald Cycle Tour in Port Elizabeth.
“I was really stoked to have finished on the podium this year, especially alongside world-class riders like Cherise and Kim,” Keep told In the Bunch today.
“I didn’t expect to be up in the mix with them in the sprint because I know how good they are. It meant a lot to me to finish with them on the podium.”
The event was proof not only of how much she, as a young aspiring cyclist, has closed the gap on the top women riders in terms of ability. There were also indications of her savvy as a rider in how the race unfolded.
Keep was part of the written-off chasing bunch which had lost touch with the breakaway group on Suikerbossie with approximately 14km left.
It seemed almost certain at the time that the winner would come from within the leading favourites. However, the playing field was suddenly levelled as the chasing group caught up to the leaders with just 2km to go.
“It was quite interesting on Suikerbossie where there were several attacks on the climb,” Keep said.
“There was another decisive attack as we were nearing the top and I just couldn’t hang on.
“I then waited for the chasing group. I honestly didn’t think we were going to catch the front group again.”
She said the chasing group of several riders worked well together, taking turns to share the load.
“I said to the other girls that we still had a chance of catching the breakaway group.
“Catherine Colyn [eventually] put in a pretty big effort to bridge across. It just shows that the race isn’t over until you cross the line.”
She added that Colyn, Amy McDougall, Lucy James and Michelle Vorster were among the main workhorses in the chase.
With the two groups having amalgamated they readied for the sprint. Keep managed to surge through for a top result, despite having been boxed in initially.
“The sprint was quite interesting. I had to squeeze through a gap and the only way I could have gone was forward,” she recalled.
“I probably started my sprint a little earlier than I would have liked but I had to, otherwise I would’ve been swamped by the bunch.
“I ended up sprinting for quite a while and surprisingly I was able to hold it for that long and manage a third place. I had to change my tactics slightly, but I think it paid off pretty well.”
A versatile cyclist, both on the tarmac and in the dirt, the Valley Electrical-Titan Racing rider will now focus on cross-country racing, having been selected to represent SA at the African Continental XCO Champs in Windhoek, Namibia, next month.
She has still not decided what she intends to specialise in, but said over the past year she had grown tremendously as a road-racer.
“I’m really enjoying the road so far this year. I think I’ve progressed a lot since last year in terms of my tactics and how to race within a bunch.
“I’ve applied what I learnt last year (as experience) to this season’s racing so far, which has really benefitted me.
“I’m really excited to see where it all takes me.”