Benoni’s Josh van Wyk (ENZA) smashed the 25 Mile record by more than a minute on his way to victory in the 122nd edition of the historic Helivac Paarl Boxing Day Track Challenge in Paarl last night.
Van Wyk won a scintillating five-man sprint with local rising star Graeme Ockhuis coming in second and Belgian Jonas Rickaert rounding off the podium in third.
Seven-time winner Nolan Hoffman narrowly missed out on the podium in fourth while Matthew Fortuin rounded off the top five.
Gary Beneke’s 34-year-old record of 54 minutes and 23 seconds was finally surpassed by Van Wyk and the record now stands at 53 minutes and 7 seconds. A new record was expected in the lead-up with the 25 Mile boasting the strongest field for more than ten years.
Van Wyk rode an aggressive race from the outset. “I spent a lot in the first half of the race and realised half-way through that I have to try and save something,” he said.
He put in a big effort among the chasers to bring back Titus Juries and Byron Munsen who launched an attack halfway through the race. The duo spent more than twenty laps at the head of the race and their attack laid the groundwork which determined the outcome.
“The racing was just so volatile that you couldn’t risk being at the back – it was extremely tough,” said Van Wyk.
While Van Wyk had the honour of lifting the Minnaar Trophy, which dates to 1908, Rickaert received the Awie Malan Trophy which is awarded for the most consistent rider of the day.
Rickaert defended his points race title and got himself onto the podium in the Elimination race (2nd) as well as the 25 Mile (3rd). “I love this event and I will see you all again next year,” he assured the thousands of spectators after receiving the trophy.
“It’s an incredible feeling racing in front of so many people,” he said, referring to the capacity crowd that endured a stop-start affair due to rain which saw the 25 Mile race only start at 19h00 under floodlights.
In the other blue-ribbon elite events of the day Wade Theunissen won the 1 Mile, Rudie Kellerman claimed the Kierin title and Van Wyk claimed the Elimination race.
Hoffman described this year’s 25 Mile as one of the toughest he has ever done. “It was extremely hard, but I had a good ride and kept myself in contention. I was in a good spot on the final lap but made a judgement error and got slightly boxed in during the sprint. I am super happy though for my team-mate Josh.
“This really turned out to be something special. There were so many strong riders that the race couldn’t be controlled. We were all pushed far into the red zone for most of the race. I’m not surprised that we broke the 25 Mile record,” said Hoffman.
The Helivac Paarl Boxing Day Track Challenge, presented by Alfa Bodyworks and the City of Drakenstein, is the oldest event in all forms of cycling in the world in existence. The meeting has not skipped a year since its inception in 1897.
“This year’s edition provided the spectators with so much entertainment and I thank the riders for this. They put on an amazing display,” said event organiser Wynand de Villiers.
“It was insightful to see how patient the spectators were during all the rain breaks. They simply refused to leave. It’s testament to their passion for the sport and the iconic status of Paarl Boxing Day.
“As the curtain draws on a remarkable day’s racing, it remains startling to see the impact this event has on the Boland and what an incredible stadium sporting experience track cycling provides.”
The meeting concluded with a very special moment as the Minnaar Trophy was handed to Van Wyk by Johan Ekermans, who celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his Boxing Day win in 1969.