How Mother-Of-Two, Cherise Willeit, Still Competes With The Best

We caught up with the speedy mum in between school drop-off, work and training.

Tim Brink |

When Cherise Willeit burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old, she did so in style – winning the biggest funride in the world, the 2008 Cape Town Cycle Tour

Since then she’s won it another four times; still a few shy of Anriette Schoeman’s record of seven, but with plenty of time, aged just 33, to nick a couple more. Even with her now-hectic life balancing motherhood and a career, with just enough training to sneak a big win every now and then. Which she did at last October’s Amashova.

Classic Finish to 2022 Amashova

We caught up with the speedy mum in between school drop-off, work and training.

Do you still train like a pro? 

Ja… it really can’t be my top priority at the moment, with kids and so many changes. Last September I started my job with Cycling South Africa, and Thomas is in Grade 1 this year… so, not a lot of time; but when I can ride, it’s my escape, my passion, I get my sense of sanity. 

So I love it – it isn’t always training, it’s sometimes just to clear my head. It isn’t so structured at the moment, I just go with whatever’s happening around me. So if it isn’t too hectic, then I can push a bit more… 

“I love how it’s a sport for everyone, how anyone can come and do it.”

I prioritise life. Winning is not my top priority right now, but I really want to help the sport. You know, we’re really struggling to get new and younger women into road cycling specifically, and I want to help with that. Finding and helping talent… 

If it comes down to the line, I’m never going to sit up. But I don’t get angry anymore if I don’t win.

My favourite session

My favourite get-fit-quick session has to be 40 seconds on, 40 seconds off. It literally takes you an hour. 

So you warm up for 10 or 15 minutes, then you sprint as hard as you can for 40 seconds, rest for 40 seconds. You do that ten times, then have ten minutes rest; then you do another ten sprints, and then a cool down. A really amazing workout, and it kinda simulates racing as well. 

And then, running. I think people take running for granted, but I find it helps so much with getting fit quickly for cycling. I try for twice a week. With 200-metre intervals.

Are you a roadie?

Road, definitely – such a thrill going fast on the descents, and sprinting, and attacking… and how pretty the road bike is! 

I do enjoy the mountain bike; but technically I’m not the best, so it’s always a bit more of a struggle for me. So, road all the way.

Cycling with kids?

Cycling has been in my family since I was nine – I did my first Cycle Tour then – and it was always such a family thing; with my gran coming to the races with her picnic basket, and my aunts and uncles would always come too. I love how it’s a sport for everyone, how anyone can come and do it. 

And now with my kids, I love how it gets them outside, seeing different places and doing different things. Seeing their skills improve… it isn’t all about racing, just getting out and riding, and enjoying being on the bike. 

I make it a priority to get them outside and be active, and the bikes are such fun for them. Well; my older one only really if there’s technical stuff – he’s becoming an adrenalin junkie! Benno pulls him up with a rope, and then they come down again! And the little one loves getting out on the road, and riding further and faster.

So it’s very special for me, to share this with them. But we don’t push them with just cycling; I think it’s important they do lots of different sports.

Indoors or outdoors?

Outdoors leaves me refreshed, and I love the freedom; but I do a lot indoors, because I can keep an eye on the kids – especially when Benno’s away. Indoors is also a lot more efficient, you get to focus and do a lot more quality in less time. But outdoors still wins; that’s why we ride.

Do the roads scare you, with the kids?

Oh my word. Yes, yes, yes. I can’t even take them out if there’s no shoulder or pavement. 

When a car comes too close, given my history with Burry (Stander), I have a bit of a meltdown; so I’d rather avoid those situations. Luckily our neighbourhood is quiet, and has lots of pavements, so we can ride a little; but generally I try and avoid the road, with them. 

I often ride with them at the end of one of my rides – we go to the bike park or the G-Spot a lot. And we’ve started getting out after dinner, either walking with them or riding with them. 

That 30 or 40 minutes of decompressing is the best. I find it’s when they want to tell me the most about their day – what they did, what adventures they had, what happened at school – so it’s a really good time for all of us. 

Cherise Willeit with her family

Who’s the next big female cyclist from SA?

We have a lot of youngsters and talent coming up; but if I must pick a name, it’s Frances Janse van Rensburg. I love her never-say-die attitude, and how she races so aggressively. I think, with her nature and talent, she can really go far.

And then, Hayley Preen is so talented, and competitive in so many disciplines. I think women’s cycling in South Africa is about to explode – we’ll have more women racing in Europe this year than I can remember, and it’s really exciting!

Will your kids be cycling champions?

Thomas doesn’t like suffering, so if anything he might enjoy downhill (my nerves!). Alexander just loves riding, so maybe. 

But for now, there’s no push; they both love all sorts of sports. They both play soccer, and Thomas starts with rugby this year, and I think that’s healthy.

The most famous person you’ve met through cycling?

Peter Sagan – it was really such an honour, and he’s such a humble, down-to-earth guy. Which I didn’t expect, because in the media he looks like such a rock star! 

But also, I would have to say, Alan Winde and Victor Matfield. And that’s what’s so special about cycling: it really puts people on one level. On the bike, it doesn’t matter who they are; they just want to be there to ride together. 

Weirdest moment on the bike?

In Italy, with a guy who wanted to take my bike home. I rode with him, and then he asked if we could stop for a picture, so we did. And then he climbed on my bike and tried to ride away! I had to shout for help. Like, the softest bikejacking ever; but I think he just liked the machine. 

And then the foreign riders in the Epic, oh my word. They just burp and fart and whatever, no skaamte.

Four things you can’t ride without

Phone, earphones, Garmin, spares

How many bikes do you have?

Currently, I have nine! And I love all of them. There’s not one of them I could give away.

READ MORE ON: Cherise Willeit interview People

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