MULTIPLE junior road and track champion Monique Gerber demonstrated a blistering return to form ahead of the South African road cycling championships in Durban this week.
Port Elizabeth-based Gerber, who won the African junior road title in December, finished just a split second behind cycling legend Anriette Schoeman in The Herald VW Cycle Tour on Sunday.
The Bestmed-ASG pro said her hometown podium result in the 106km national classic had given her renewed confidence going into the national competition.
“I’m still a junior so, according to (world governing body for sports cycling) UCI rules, I have to use junior gears when participating in these events against the elite ladies. This makes it extremely difficult to match the top-end sprint speed of the best elite women in the country, so I’m very happy with my performance.”
She said the fact that she had felt comfortable on the climbs had bolstered her mental readiness for the champs.
“I probably have the best form of my life at the moment,” the 17-year-old, who will compete in both the road and time-trial events, said.
Gerber said it would be a battle of the giants when she faced off against continental mountain bike champion Bianca Haw.
“We’ve never raced against each other as Bianca was previously more into mountain biking, finishing 10th at the world junior champs and recently winning the continental title. So yes, it will be the African mountain bike champ versus the African road race champ.”
She said her teammate, Michelle Benson, was also looking very strong.
“There are several other up-and-coming junior ladies who will be very competitive and this is positive for the future of women’s cycling in South Africa.”
Gerber said donning the continental champion’s jersey late last year had capped off a welcome return to form after a difficult 2013 season.
“I went through a terrible slump during the first half of the year as a first-year junior. I basically went from hero to zero within two weeks and did not perform well again for several months.” She was still unsure as to the reasons for her poor performance.
“It was depressing to say the least, so I’m extremely grateful to be healthy and competitive again.”
Gerber won her first SA U16 title as a precocious 12-year-old and effectively became the junior road and time-trial champion two years later when the U16 and junior races were combined.
She last raced on the KwaZulu-Natal nationals course in 2012, when she defended her title by an eight minute margin following a solo breakaway.
She finished third in the national road race last year.
The home-schooled Grade 12 pupil was signed to her first pro team – the now defunct Nashua ladies’ outfit – by Owen Botha in 2010. After a short stint with Team bizhub, which also folded in 2012, Gerber joined the Bestmed-NMMU club. Botha was on hand once again to enlist her for Bestmed-ASG after her continental victory.
GAINING GROUND: Multiple junior road and track champion Monique Gerber, left, chases Anriette Schoeman to the line in last weekend’s The Herald VW Cycle Tour Picture: EUGENE COETZEE