Bernardo Ayuso has retained his Builders World Botswana Classic 3 Day Stage Race championship. After winning the inaugural event last year, the 22-year-old Ayuso, who had flown from his base in Spain, had to battle hard to defend his title. In what was probably the tightest and most fiercely competitive race, the local lad had to win a three way battle with another local, Timothy Hammond as well as South Africa’s Jaco Ferreira.
The battle between the three started as early as the race’s time trial Prologue on Friday when the three went all out to establish an early lead. Ayuso, who was racing under the Bernardo Ayuso Foundation (BAF) team, dominated the stage, taking 5 minutes and 33 seconds to finish the course. He was closely followed by Hammond in 5 minutes and 52 seconds while Ferreira finished the course a mere second after Hammond. Things however changed in the second stage of the race, a 70 kilometres race from Taung to Mmankgodi, which included cycling up the hills as Ayuso went head to head with Ferreira. The two were inseparable in the mountain climbs, resulting with both being tied for the King of the Mountain title and thus forfeiting the Polka Dot Shirt to third placed Hammond, who was then crowned King of the Hill.
Ayuso would however go on to finish the stage two seconds behind Ferreira, who completed the 70km stage in 2 hours 1 minute and 24 seconds while Hammond, who had been chasing the duo in the climbs could only manage a fifth position. Despite the stage two setback, Ayuso made clear his intention to defend his title with a resounding dominance of the third stage of the race, which was the criterium made of an intensive 40 minutes of cycling as well as five laps at the end. Fresh from a disappointing loss to Ferreira on Saturday morning, Ayuso was as dominant as ever in the criterium, winning all sprint stages of the race and coming ahead of the pack. He was closely followed by Hammond and Ferreira in second and third while the pack made of Nkulumo Dube, Victor Makgwelo, Kyle Poppleton, Shawn Bruwer and Boipuso Masepe, among others finished closely behind.
The close finishes would then set up for an interesting fourth and final stage of the race that saw cyclists doing a 100 km ride, starting from The Grand Palm to Rasesa and back to the Grand Palm. As it had been, it was the trio of Ayuso, Hammond and Ferreira who finished the race ahead of others. Ayuso finished the grueling course in 2 hours, 50 minutes and 56 seconds, while Hammond and Ferreira, who finished second and third respectively, finished just 2 seconds behind him. The result saw Ayuso finish as the race’s overall leader while Hammond came second.
Despite the trio finishing ahead of the pack, the race was mostly led by Masepe, who at one point had a four minutes lead over the chasing pack. While winning King of the Hill for his herculean effort, he could however not hold onto his lead and he was eventually caught and passed by the peloton as he eventually finished a few seconds behind the front three. In the teams’ category, Ayuso’s BAF team finished first in the team’s category.
The ladies’ category was dominated by Gaborone Cycling Club’s Anouk Van der Geest. The 28-year-old dominated all the stages of the ladies’ race to claim the title.
Commenting on the race, the Chairperson of Tsela Riders, who is also the organiser of the race, Game Mompe, expressed happiness at the way the race unraveled. She said unlike in its maiden year in 2014, this year’s race was very competitive. “During last year’s race, Ayuso easily dominated the proceedings. This year was however very different as he had to fight hard to retain his title. Our hope is that the next year we will attract more cyclists and the competition will be even more difficult,” Mompe said. The Builders World Botswana Classic 3 Day Stage Race, the first of its kind in Botswana, was sponsored to the tune of P200 000 by the World Group of Companies, in conjunction with Caltex Maruapula and Steel Junction.