South African Joanna van de Winkel believes the African Games, which started in Rabat, Morocco, on Monday and run till August 31, are of considerable importance to her and the rest of the national cycling team.
The team also includes Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Maroesjka Matthee, Zanri Rossouw, Carla Oberholzer, Tiffany Keep, Ryan Gibbons, Stefan de Bod, Jayde Julius, Clint Hendricks, Kent Main and Jason Oosthuizen.
Van de Winkel, 37, says members of the team will aim to collect as many UCI points as possible.
“For us it’s an important event to get points with the aim of gaining a higher nation-ranking for the Olympics next year,” said Van de Winkel, who competed in the road race at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“We’ll also need to use this event as a test run for Worlds and Olympics in terms of working together as a national team.”
She added that this would be the first race they would do with Moolman Pasio so they might learn some vital things working together with her in a race situation. These lessons they could apply in the more important events where even small mistakes matter a lot more.
“We don’t expect it to be a walk in the park because the African teams have got stronger. We don’t know all the riders and who to look out for and often the racing can be negative or dangerous, with crashes.
“Ash’s husband Carl will be in our backup car, which is going to be a huge bonus for us as he understands women’s racing very well and is a good judge of riders.”
Van de Winkel, who will take part in her first African Games, said her vision of women’s cycling was not limited to only her career.
“I hope this is the start of some of our younger riders developing and gaining experience to get more results internationally.
“It’s not just a support team we can send for Ash in the future, but a team where we have multiple players to deal cards with in a UCI race.
“Even though the team consists of mainly older riders I believe it still gives the younger riders something to aspire to and work towards in the following years.”
Van de Winkel will compete in the road race together with Moolman Pasio, Rossouw and Matthee on August 28.
There is also a team time-trial on Saturday the 24th, in which Keep, Oberholzer, Matthee and Rossouw are racing, but it does not count for UCI points.
“For me specifically, I’m lucky to have taken two weeks during winter to train in the EU – one week in Belgium and one week at Ash’s place in Spain. This gave me a good base and some good hill-climbing in the country.
“The last few weeks I’ve just been sharpening up with some intensity and leg speed with some motor pacing. So I’m as prepared as I can be for going straight from our off-season and winter – especially when you work a full-time job and have kids – to peak season in the international calendar.”
Van de Winkel said it was always special to be selected to represent her country.
“Any Olympic event, even at an Africa level, is something special to be a part of.
“A few things that stand out for me is the fact that SASCOC fund the event, we get to meet and learn from other top athletes and there are always quite a few festivities put on by the hosting country. I’m looking forward to experiencing Morocco and Casablanca city.”
The national women’s team will go straight from Morocco to Italy where they will take part in the Premondiale Giro Toscana (September 6 to 8), Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche (September 13 to 19) and the Grand Prix International d’Isbergues (September 22).
The team will consist of Keep, Oberholzer, Matthee, Rossouw, Van de Winkel and Elne Owen.
“Following this we will travel to the UK for the World Championships in Yorkshire. The ITT is on September 24 and the road race on the 28th.
“The team will consist of Moolman Pasio, Rossouw, Matthee, Keep, Oberholzer and me.”