Since the move to a separate elite women’s race, in 2018, only two women have won the Cape Town Cycle Tour. Both will be lining up once more in 2023. They are five-time champion, Cherise Willeit, and the three-time victor Kimberley Le Court De Billot. Both the South African and the Mauritian are likely to face renewed challenges to their dominance over the 79 kilometre course this year, on Sunday 12 March.
The emergence of Lize-Ann Louw, from a crop of talented Under 23s, is the primary threat to the established favourites hegemony. Though Louw is perhaps not yet on the level of double South African champion and fellow age-category standout, Frances Janse van Rensburg, she is a threat for the Cape Town Cycle Tour title. This is primarily due to her outsprinting a stellar field at the Ride for Sight, on the 19th of February.
“Lize-Ann [Louw] is such a talent and is a lovely person too” Willeit, who finished fourth in Boksburg, praised. “She’s very young still and has had some amazing results already. The determination she showed at SA Champs, where she went in the first move of the day and being in the break for the entire race but still being able to stick with us to the line was phenomenal. It shows her class. At Ride for Sight, despite not being someone I was looking out for as a sprinter, she came past S’annara and I like we were standing still. She’s developing into a strong all-rounder. I think the Cycle Tour will suit her, as the pace will be high all race and then she’s shown that she can sprint too!”
“For me the Cycle Tour is always such a great event, I love the hype and the excitement building up to it” The five-time winner reflected. “Having thousands people coming together to do the sport we love is incredible. Also having all the fans on the roadside is very special. From my perspective balancing work, kids and cycling has been a challenge. But the nice thing is I don’t have any expectations or pressure. If the results don’t go my way life goes on. I think this year’s women’s race is going to be even more competitive than ever. I believe the favourites are Kim [le Court De Billot], Vera [Looser] who has a fantastic kick on the sprints, Hayley Preen and Candice Lill. Most importantly though, all the top South African women will be there and it’ll be a great showcase for women’s cycling.”
“I see a small bunch going to the line,” Willeit predicted. “I think it’ll be too fast for a big group to make it to the line. If I can be with that group going over Suikerbossie I’ll be ecstatic because anything can happen from there. But doing so will be tough as there will be lots of attacks and as I said, the pace will be high from the gun.”
Willeit is second on the all-time honours roll for the Cape Town Cycle Tour, level with Cathy Carstens and behind seven-time champion Anriette Schoeman. Mauritian, Le Court De Billot is already the most decorated international rider in the race’s history, across both the elite men’s and women’s fields. Another victory will draw her level with Anke Erlank and into joint fourth on the list of women’s winners.
“Obviously defending my title is important to me” Le Court de Billot said. “But most importantly I want to stay safe, finish in one piece and have loads of fun! The rest will then automatically follow. You can never plan a race in advance, but yes the win wouldn’t be too bad would it?”
“I’m feeling good for it and am excited as always,” the former Mauritian champion added. “The Cycle Tour is an excellent event. It’s always so special to see so many riders challenge themselves. Especially as every single one of them who stands on the start line has absolutely different goals. Some just want to finish, some are ridding for charities, some want a sub 3 mission, some are riding for memories with family members or friends! I must say at the finish line last year, I was there for quite a while, watching riders coming in and finishing their race. The smiles and excited on their faces are priceless to see.”
S’annara Grove, who finished eighth in 2022 after having being brought down in a crash on Chapman’s Peak Drive, is another rider to watch for the 2023 race. Grove was second to Louw at the Ride for Sight. She did however best fellow Cape Town Cycle Tour starters Willeit and Ricci-Lee Brookstone. The event, which came hot on the heels of the sweltering South African National Championships – in Oudtshoorn on Saturday 11 February – could help provide an insight into the form of a number or riders going into the Cycle Tour.
Preen, Zandri Rossouw and Tiffany Keep also proved that they will be forces to be reckoned with, after strong showings in the battle for the national road race title. Preen, now in her third year in the elite ranks, has twice finished as runner-up to Le Court de Billot and has notched up a third-place finish in 2020. Rossouw placed fifth in the road race after winning the South Africa Time Trial title and Keep appears to be back to her best, both on the road and mountain bike.
All three and the Cape Town Cycle Tour’s most aggressive riding in the past four editions, Candice Lill, will need to ensure that the race does not come down to a sprint finish however. For if it does Le Court de Billot, Willeit, Louw and Grove hold the advantage. This may well suit Lill though. The South African cross country champion and newly crowned mountain bike marathon queen unofficially played a pivotal role in Le Court de Billot back-to-back victories in 2021 and 2022.
Though the Noordhoek resident smilingly denied cooperating with her long-time friend, it looked as if she was doing the lion’s share of the work on the front of group when she and Le Court de Billot were in a breakaway in 2022. If Lill or Preen, the more likely of the four rouleurs, are to force a position from which they can win, they may well have to rely on each-other to help hold off the sprinters.
Namibian champion and 2022 Ride Joburg winner, Looser, is another rider to watch as she gears up for the Cape Epic alongside Le Court De Billot. She, like Willeit and her mountain biking partner will prefer a small group sprint finish.
The road, form, skill and the weather conditions on race day will determine how the race plays out. Fortunately for fans of cycling in general and women’s cycling in particular they will have an unprecedented view of the action in 2023. “The separate start allows the women to race competitively and safely, with the benefit of unparalleled media coverage thanks to the live video-stream and social media updates,” elite category racer and Bike Hub content lead, Kylie Hanekom stated. “For those of us who race for fun rather than to be genuinely competitive against the likes of Willeit, Janse van Rensburg, Lill, Le Court de Billot and Preen, it’s a unique opportunity. It’s not every day that you see so much firepower in one place and to see the women’s race play out entirely without the interference of age category men’s groups is very special. It brings the best of South Africa’s women’s cyclists to Cape Town and even lures the mountain bikers onto the road for the day.”
For those who share Hanekom’s enthusiasm live coverage of the 45th Cape Town Cycle Tour will be broadcast on the race’s website, www.capetowncycletour.com, from 06:00 to 11:00 on Sunday, 12 March. Regular updates, from the elite races, can also be found on Twitter, @CTCycleTour. Fans can join the conversation by using the hashtag: #CTCycleTour on Twitter and #ctcycletour on Instagram.