She says Sunday’s sprint victory over Frances Janse van Rensburg is taking time to sink in because it was so close.
“It’s an event that you look forward to for such a long time, and coming to South Africa all my focus has been 100 per cent on the Cycle Tour.
“So it’s weeks of leading up to this event and then it goes by so quickly. And now it’s over you’re left wondering, ‘okay, now what?’.
“My son desperately asked me the night before the event to bring him a trophy back. So I’m very happy to get the trophy and that I can take it back and show him.”
Willeit, who moved to Germany in May last year, said the thought that went through her mind as she crossed the line was “what just happened?”.
“It was such a close sprint and probably up until 10m before the line I still did not think I was going to take this. I was just completely blown away and ecstatic that I could pull it off because it really came down to the last 5m to the line.
“I definitely did not expect to win. Obviously for the Cycle Tour I always know that I can get a little bit extra out of my body and that’s what I was hoping for. But I never am quite sure what I’m going to get out of it, especially racing with the mountain bike women.
“You never know where their form is, what you can expect of them and how tough they’re going to make the racing. Coming to SA I did really focus on the Cycle Tour, so I was hoping to be in as good form as I could be. But you’re still a little bit left wondering what is my body actually going to be able to do today and where am I going to go.”
The 30-year-old said a fifth title was a dream come true.
“I always knew it was the biggest dream of mine to win the Cycle Tour. Then I won my first one and didn’t think that I would ever get to five, so it’s amazing.
“I would love to one day maybe try and go for Anriette Schoeman‘s seven. I know it’s easier said than done, but that would definitely be a huge dream come true.”
Willeit added that career-wise, she definitely wanted to achieve more.
“I don’t think I’m finished with cycling quite yet. Having said that, international racing is a whole different ball game, especially with two kids.
“I would like to push a few more years and maybe have a few more professional set-ups in SA when it comes to women’s cycling.
“So I’m hoping to see more sponsors involved and really hoping to get a sponsor that will fully support women to be able to financially focus on riding their bikes here in SA.”
She said that during the race the first time she thought she had a chance of winning was when they climbed Chapman’s Peak and it was only herself and Candice Lill who crested first, with Hayley Preen joining them shortly afterwards.
“I felt really good going over Chapman’s and I wasn’t on the limit quite yet. I knew then that my legs were good and that my body was feeling up to the challenge.
“I was really hoping for a smaller group up Suikerbossie. I tried to attack going up there, but unfortunately we just couldn’t get the combination together.
“Obviously it’s very difficult to know whose wheels to watch and which attacks are going to go. It’s always a little bit of a gamble bike racing, so I felt that it was important to go with all the moves. There were a few moves going into the final 10km – a big one especially from Ariane Luthi that made the pace very hard with about 2 to 3km to go.
“Coming into the line it’s always unsure. You know you have so many sprinters there and you know everyone there wants to win and could win. I was a bit too far back, so I had to go around a few times, which left the sprint extremely long. Frances was just absolutely not giving up, so it was a super close one.”
Willeit felt very surprised by how well the youngsters rode, in particular runner-up Janse van Rensburg and Preen, who came third.
“That is just so exciting for the future. Also seeing Kelsey [van Schoor] in the mix, it’s very exciting for the future of women’s racing.”
For Willeit it was a bit of a difficult start to the season with her move, so most of her training has had to take place on the indoor trainer.
“It’s okay for a short distance. I was doing quite high-intensity work, but never more than an hour and a half. So you never quite know how your legs are going to feel by the end of an 80km race. Luckily it was a little bit shorter, so that counted in my favour.
“But you’re looking at girls who train 20-25 hour weeks, and I just unfortunately did not have that build-up leading up to it. It’s also the first year I’ve just been able to train for 10 hours with high intensity and I had to make that work.
“Mentally, also, being in Germany was quite tough for me. It’s a complete different mindset and culture from what I’m used to.
“That all just played a little bit of a factor, but I came over to SA about a month ago so that really helped me to refresh and it was nice being with family and people who can help out with the kids.
“Being able to train with my dad and fellow groups in Pretoria, that all just lifts your motivation and helps you get in the right mindset come race day.”
Willeit dedicated this fifth victory to someone very close to her heart.
“There’s a very special person in my life, Jill Bezuidenhout, who is very sick with cancer at the moment. She’s just such a positive person and she’s had a positive impact on my career and my life in general since I started cycling. She’s like a second mom to me. She’s been there all throughout everything that I’ve gone through in my life.
“She’s an absolutely amazing person. She’s someone most of the cycling world have encountered. She’s going through a very rough time at the moment and it’s just a special win for her. I promised her that I would try extra hard on Sunday and she was definitely on my mind the whole last kilometre and pushing me all along the way.”
She also had specific advice for those looking up to her and whose goal it is to win the Cycle Tour one day.
“My biggest advice would be to never give up. Life hands you tough situations sometimes, but just keep taking it day by day. Sometimes it’s better to focus on what you can do today than focus on a big goal at the end of the year.
“So break it down into steps and be happy with the small goals that you achieve in the interim.
“For some people the Cycle Tour is the biggest race to win one day and nothing is impossible. I really believe that anyone can do this.
“After seeing 65 women on the start line I hope that next year we can get the numbers close to 100 and that there are just more women wanting to participate in this,” said Willeit, who is doing the Cape Epic next weekend before flying back to Germany.