In Depth: Hayley Preen, South African multi-athlete

Written by: ProCycling Women
Posted 4 months ago

Today, the South African National Time Trial Championships took place in Midvaal, South Africa, south of Johannesburg, featuring a remarkable winner in the women’s category: Hayley Preen.

Hayley Preen clocked the fastest time over the 33-kilometer course, finishing in 45:45. The cyclist, formerly part of the Irish continental team Torelli, was more than half a minute faster than her competition. Carla Oberholzer, a prolific national medalist, secured the fifth position. South Africa’s most renowned cyclist, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, did not participate for the fourth consecutive year.

Diving into Preen’s background, searching for Hayley Preen on Google would tag her as a ‘Cyclist.’ For the 25-year-old athlete from Cape Town, that’s a rather narrow professional description. No, Hayley is much more than just a speedy cyclist. In fact, Preen only seriously took up cycling in 2018. Prior to that, she cycled for about two months each year to stay fit for the Cape Town Cycle Tour, a local race where she finished fourth last year, trailing Moolman-Pasio.

Hayley Preen caught the cycling bug later in her career. Her sports journey began on both two and four legs. Following her father’s footsteps, Preen took up running. In 2016, she was selected from a global pool of applicants for the Salomon Running Academy. It’s a class of super-talents groomed for the top in trail running. Soon after, she became the country’s youngest trail runner on the international circuit, securing national and international accolades against top runners. Preen excelled not only in regular trails but also in ‘skyrunning,’ trail running over paths with a minimum incline of 6%, placing her (inter)nationally at the forefront.

But Preen’s sports repertoire didn’t stop there. Far from it. While inheriting running from her father, she inherited the noble sport of horse riding from her mother. Her mother represented the national team of South Africa in her younger years. Preen, too, jumps with her horse over the highest hurdles in the national concours hippique. Last year, her horse clinched the title in the Western Cape championship, while Preen herself conquered the mountain bike trails of the Cape Epic.

So, cycling only became more serious for Hayley Preen from 2018 onward. In that year, she finished 22nd in the Cape Town Cycle Tour, won by Kim Le Court (Pienaar) (from 2024 riding for AG Insurance – Soudal Team). After the 109-kilometer race, Hayley decided not to put away her bike, as she had done in previous years, but to keep training. And it paid off. In the same year, she won the USSA championship, the South African sports university championship. A year later, she participated in the world triathlon championships in Spain, finishing fifth in the U23-category. Meanwhile, she was also studying Engineering in Cape Town.

Hayley Preen also made a mark in mountain biking, with victories in the national circuit as early as 2019, participation in the Cape Epic, a sixtieth position in the global ranking in 2023, and second places in the national XCM championship in 2021 and last year.

In 2021, Preen became the national road champion for the first time in Swellendam. Two weeks earlier, she only had to yield to her compatriot Carla Oberholzer at the African continental championship, where they together became African champions in team time trial and mixed relay. At her first world championship held in Flanders in September, the South African finished in a group with Lisa Klein, Noemi Rüegg, Emma Norsgaard, and Amalie Dideriksen.

Her rapid development on the road earned her a contract with the Irish team Torelli – Cayman Islands – Scimitar, where fellow South African Chloe Bateson also got an opportunity. In August, her selection for the Commonwealth Games fulfilled a childhood dream.

Meanwhile, Hayley Preen continued to collect titles in various disciplines. In 2022, she crowned herself the national gravel champion, and at the beginning of 2023, she became the national criterium champion in Oudtshoorn. Three months later, Preen made her debut in Saffron Walden, England, during the RideLondon Classique in the Women’s WorldTour peloton. At the start of the winter, she was also selected as one of the only thirty riders for the Life Time Grand Prix, a prestigious American series of gravel races, including UNBOUND and the Sea Otter Classic.

After a season full of lessons in the European competition circuit, Hayley Preen returned to South Africa last winter. At the beginning of the new season, she immediately secured a title that was still missing from her list: the national time trial title.

The likelihood of seeing Hayley Preen at the Olympic Games is high. The only question remaining is in which sport or discipline…

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