The inaugural Mzansi Tour, Southern Africa’s only UCI-graded road cycling stage race, took place from 17 to 21 April, starting in Nelspruit in the Mpumalanga Province, and ending in Johannesburg, Gauteng.
The UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) team, which is the feeder team for Team MTN-Qhubeka, was represented by six young men: Calvin Beneke, Nicholas Dougall, Estifanos Gebresilassie, Alem Grmay, JC Nel and Getachew Yohans.
JC Nel claimed Best Young Rider for the tour.
Below is the team report on the Tour:
The stage began at the Kruger Park Gate and finished outside the Southern Sun Hotel in Nelspruit. According to WCC Director JP van Zyl, the plan was to survive this stage – the hardest of the tour – with the team intact.
Nel attacked in an attempt to cross to the lead group of five, outwitting all except James Perry (Tasol GT). Nel finished the stage in ninth place, setting up the tour for him in the Best Young Riders jersey and securing ninth place on GC.
“Our goal for the team was to win the best young riders jersey and possibly to contend for the king of the mountains jersey,” says van Zyl.
This stage began (after a transfer through Sabie) in Lydenburg, and finished in Middelburg.
“The plan was to place a rider in the early break, so as not to spend too much of the team’s energy chasing the day’s break,” says van Zyl. “Gebresilassie made it into the break of the day and set up the stage for the team. Willie Smit (Bonitas) was also in the break of the day, and this threatened the team’s position in the White Jersey.
“The team sat on the front of the bunch for the last 20km riding tempo to limit the losses, and their experience from their last two tours came through. They raced as a complete unit and it was satisfying to see how they have matured.”
The stage began outside the Southern Sun in Witbank, and the riders raced through Cullinan to complete the stage in Mamelodi. The team’s aim was to control the day, as they knew that the stage was too flat for any breakaways to succeed.
“We took a chance, knowing that the stage would end in a bunch sprint, and gambled on the National Team controlling the bunch,” explains Van Zyl. “We had Dougall and Getachew leading the chase, with Dougall having responsibility for the first 75km and Getachew the final 75km to rest Dougall. After the finish, in the team meeting, the riders noted that it felt like their legs were ‘coming around’ and that they noticed the other riders were beginning to fatigue. This indicated that we would have a strong two days towards the finish.”
After Tshwane Metro Police failed to arrive for traffic control, the organisers made a change to the stage so that the rider’s safety was not compromised, making the race two loops over Hekpoort. The aim was to get Dougall into a break, having spent energy the day before.
“Dougall executed this perfectly to be in the first break of the day until after the second climb over Hekpoort, and all six riders were together after the second climb over Hekpoort. The team controlled the race to protect Nel,” says Van Zyl.
“Emanuel Buchmann (Rad-Net Rose) was up front, trying to attack Nel’s white jersey, but Nel responded. Coming into the finish, the team set Beneke up for the sprint and he went into the last 500m with the front 10 riders. He showed class to beat most of the sprinters present to finish fourth on the stage. This secured a third place finish in the team classification for the day, and the team went into the final stage in high spirits.”
This stage promised to be up-and-down, with the last 20km into the finish being extremely hard. Nel attacked and made it into the main break and worked hard to secure its success.
“He has matured as a rider within the space of one tour,” says Van Zyl. “It was a proud and fulfilling moment to see how the riders have matured since their arrival at the World Cycling Centre Africa in January.”
After Nel’s hard work to secure the success of the break, most of the break was eventually caught by the bunch with the exception of Hishem Shaban of Algeria and Dylan Girdlestone (Westvaal BMC).
“Nel showed champion character to remain in the chasing bunch after the majority of the breakaway that was caught was unable to survive the pace of the bunch,” notes Van Zyl. “Waylon Woolcock (RE:CM) and Gebresilassie attacked in the last 5km to ride away together to chase down the two remaining breakaway riders. Here Gebresilassie secured another fourth place finish for the team – an excellent result taking into account the severity of the stage.”
“Beneke, after an excellent performance on stage 4, was definitely the man to sprint for the Team,” says Van Zyl. “He is certainly one of the smartest riders in the peloton, and we never doubted that he would make the final. Whilst he may lack the power of some of the older riders in the peloton, he will gain this as he grows, but he certainly has the brains to win.”
Beneke showed class to easily win the first heat by attacking in the last corner. In the second heat, he remained on second wheel for the heat, and outclassed much more experienced riders to finish second. He surpassed the goal of the team by moving into the final, where he faced adversity on the short circuit.
“He is much better suited to a longer sprint,” says Van Zyl. “We couldn’t be happier with the team’s performance though, they were leaders and not followers in the bunch, and we were constantly racing on the front in a quality field. The team without doubt has huge potential and I certainly believe that these riders have a future and are the big names to look out for in the future.”
The World Cycling Centre Africa is the hub for cycling in Africa, based in the city of Potchefstroom, South Africa. It was established in 2005, and has welcomed more than 200 athletes to date, some of whom have won medals at African Continental Championships, taken part in UCI World Cups and participated in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. Many WCC trainees have moved into professional teams, such as Europcar, Orica Green Edge and Africa’s own Pro Continental Team, MTN-Qhubeka.
Follow the WCC team on Twitter @WCCAfrica and connect on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WCCAfrica.
For more information, visit www.wccafrica.com.