Impey, Smit withdrawals highlight Team SA confusion

Daryl Impey has worn his South African national champion's jersey with pride, and to race victories, this year but will not do so at the UCI World Championships in Austria PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

In a year when there have been many highlights for South African cyclists, the confusion around which elite men will actually represent the country during the UCI World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria comes as a dampener.

Two high-profile withdrawals, a lack of clarity around Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka's entrants and stone-wall silence from the national federation amounts to a disappointing build-up to the week-long event which starts this Sunday.

When, on 31 August, Cycling South Africa confirmed the make-up of their team for the worlds all looked hunky-dory but evidence of the opposite emerged this past Tuesday when Daryl Impey tweeted a WhatsApp message in which he revealed his withdrawal from Team SA.

Impey, who won the national road race and time trial double in Oudtshoorn back in February, will instead only race for his Australian trade team -- Mitchelton-Scott -- in the team time trial, which they are podium contenders for.

As it happens, Impey had been preceded by Clint Hendricks' withdrawal. Hendricks the 2016 Cape Town Cycle Tour and 2017 aQuellé Tour Durban winner races for a local outfit Team BCX. The 26-year-old from Paarl has already represented South Africa with distinction in 2018 by claiming bronze in the Commonwealth Games road race back in April, but didn't have the means for another overseas trip.

"I just don't have the financial backing and it's a little too expensive to do everything myself," Hendricks told inthebunch.co.za.

"I then decided to withdraw from the world champs two or three weeks ago already."

That left the chosen elite men down to Louis Meintjes, Willie Smit and Nicholas Dlamini (who had quietly been chosen to replace Hendricks seemingly).

However Smit, in his first year as WorldTour rider with Katusha, then confirmed that he was also foregoing his selection -- which would have seen him ride in the road race and time trial. It was only a year ago that Smit (25) went on a lone breakaway during the 2017 worlds road race, which went prompted his Russian-registered team to take a chance on him.

What then of Meintjes and Dlamini? Well, the silence from Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka around their participation perhaps tells a story in itself.

Meintjes was involved in a high-speed crash during the second week of the Vuelta a Espana in early September, which put paid to his hopes of a strong general classification finish and DiData did't provide many further updates on his physical condition despite him soldiering on to complete the tour in 58th overall. Considering the 26-year-old has had an inauspicious return to 'Africa's Team' in 2018, highlighted by him abandoning the Giro d'Italia with illness and his bad fortune at La Vuelta, he more than likely would prefer to skip worlds.

Dlamini, meanwhile, has been in top form in recent weeks, notably claiming the King of the Mountains jersey (his second of his debut pro year) at the Tour of Britain but the only formal evidence of the 23-year-old being Innsbruck-bound is his name (and Meintjes') on the UCI's official entry list for the road race.

While it's unclear whether any of South Africa's elite men will actually be at the start line come Sunday, 30 September the two Under-23 riders Stefan de Bod and Kent Main (both currently of Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka's feeder team, though De Bod's promotion has already been confirmed for 2019) seem well-prepared for their attempts on the iconic rainbow jersey. Juniors Rickardo Broxham (who apart from also being a talented track rider has raced all over Europe this year as part of the World Cycling Centre high-performance squad) and Cian Leveridge will also look to impress.

On the women's side, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio will start among the favourites for the elite road race which will also feature young Elné Owen (19), while Kelsey van Schoor and Azulde Britz will be in action in women's junior road race.