Joanne van der Westhuizen took a huge step toward the 2008 Beijing Olympics at the Bellville Velodrome last night, winning gold in the 500m time trial at the UCI B Worlds track championships.
The achievement was no mean feat considering this is only the 30-year-old South African's third year in track cycling, Van der Westhuizen was the final rider in the event and had the 42.595sec of Guatemala's Paola Salazar Rabbe to beat.
Looking tense with her bike clamped in the start gate, Van der Westhuizen almost launched too early, on the one-second beep, but recovered to get away smartly, pushing a big gear.
At the first split it was already clear the SA champion, and current record holder, was on a hot run. Settling into her tuck position and turning on the power Van der Westhuizen got stronger and stronger, stopping the clock at 39.850secs with an average speed of 45.16km/h.
"Yes, this is my best achievement yet but there's more to come," said the super-positive Van der Westhuizen after receiving her medal. "For me there is only one goal and that's the Olympics.
"You always feel nervous before the race, no matter where it is or how it is, you need to to be good. The conditions are not the best. It was a bit cold, so the track is cold, which it makes it heavier (to ride) and slower. That doesn't favour a sprinter. We prefer it warm. The times are then quicker."
The SA team looked a lot more competitive last night. After beating team-mate Carla Rabie in the semi-final, Tracey van Niekerk put up a spirited fight against Japan's powerhouse sprinter Sakie Tsukuda in the final, but had to be satisfied with silver, with Rabie outclassing Nessrine Touabti (Algeria) for bronze.
Ronel van Wyk, after winning the first two sprints of the 15km points race, emerged with her pride restored after missing the vital break of star riders Evelyn Garcia (El Salvador) and Satomi Wadami (Japan), who lapped the field.
In a highly entertaining event, Wadami came from behind to pip Garcia in the points - but both were wrong-footed by a resolute Van Wyk. Launching early on the final lap, Van Wyk was only caught by the pair on the line, with Wadami taking first.
Chris Willemse looked polished in taking bronze in the 4km pursuit, but never had the legs to trouble the time of a fired-up Alexandr Pliuschin of Moldova, whose dynamic speed totally demoralised Radoslov Konstantinov (Bulgaria) in the final.