By Bardy the Action Scribe

Eighteen-year-old Cherise Taylor achieved one of her lifetime goals on Sunday when she edged out the country’s top women in a frantic bunch sprint to capture the coveted Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour title.

It was a dream victory for Taylor, who has ridden South Africa’s most popular race every year since the age of nine.

“It’s amazing! It feels so good to win this race!” said an elated Taylor afterwards. “My whole family cycles and for them, this is the biggest race of the year. It was great to win it for them. I spoke to my grandparents on the phone afterwards and they were crying they were so happy. Winning this race really is a dream come true.”

Taylor’s win on Sunday was by no means a surprise. She finished second in the Cycle Tour last year before going on to become the South African junior champion in both the road race and time trial. She then capped off her final year as a junior by collecting the silver medal at the 2007 Junior World Road Race Championships in Mexico.

Now racing as a senior, Taylor, one of the leaders of the new MTN professional women’s team, has already won two other major races in South Africa this year. The Pretoria-based cyclist also competed for the national team at the recent Tour of New Zealand where she battled illness, riding the entire five-day stage race on antibiotics.

“I was quite ill in New Zealand where I was hoping to do really well,” explained Taylor. “But I just managed to hang on and finish and have to put the race down to experience. I’m still not back to full health, but obviously not far from it judging by today’s result.”

The professional women’s race on Sunday had a separate start, but with only a two-minute lead on the Racing Veterans (40-49 years), it was just a matter of time before they were caught. Over the years, the Cycle Tour organisers have tried numerous ways to separate the women’s race completely, but with over 35000 participants in the world’s biggest race, it’s been accepted as an impossible task.

“We knew they’d catch us so the pace was just steady from the start” explained Taylor. “They caught us at Edinburgh Drive (about 10km into the race) and there wasn’t much activity until we hit the climb up Chapman’s Peak.”

Taylor’s MTN teammates Marissa van der Merwe and Chrissie Viljoen both put in a series attacks on the ascents of Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie in the final 25km of the 108km race.

“With the veteran men in our pack no breakaways were going to last, but I do believe that the fast pace set on the climbs near the end by Chrissie and Marissa helped tire out the other sprinters which worked in my favour,” smiled Taylor.

Taylor positioned herself perfectly near the front of the pack in the final kilometre, but feared she may have blown the finish by going too hard too soon.

“With 400 metres to go I was already the leading woman in the sprint and I was going flat out! I really thought I had mistimed the sprint but was relieved when no other women came around me. When I realised that I had crossed the line first, I shouted ‘Yes! Yes!’ and was filled with amazement.”

Taylor clocked a quick 2hrs50min52sec, one of the fastest women’s winning times in the 31-year history of the race. Cycle Lab Toyota’s Lynette Burger claimed second place with five-time winner Anriette Schoeman (Proline) in third. Viljoen grabbed fourth place while Van der Merwe, one of the pre-race favourites, was held up by a dramatic crash with 500 metres remaining.

2008 Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour, 108km
Leading results
Elite women:
1 Cherise Taylor (MTN) 2hr50min52sec
2 Lynette Burger (Cycle Lab Toyota)
3 Anriette Schoeman (Proline)
4 Chrissie Viljoen (MTN)
5 Jennie Stenerhag (Therme Skincare)
6 Yolandi du Toit (Cycle Lab Toyota)
7 Robyn de Groot (Proline)
8 Ashleigh Moolman
9 Joanna Hotchkiss
10 Fienie Barnard – all same time