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Tour of SA contenders
- Updated: February 17, 2011
Cycle races are never won on paper or in theory. Even so, Team MTN/Qhubeka’s line-up for the Cell C Tour of South Africa, which begins on Saturday in Pretoria, is impressive.
No matter how the tour turns out, be it bunch sprints, breakaways or battles for supremacy on mountain passes, one or more riders from MTN/Qhubeka will be in the final contest for victory.┬á The label ‘Ever Ready Team’ will suit them well.
Dennis van Niekerk, who recently impressed with his climbing abilities, and who also finished fourth overall in the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia, and Daryl Impey, SA time-trial champion, are the two MTN/Qhubeka riders who will pursue an overall victory.
Christoff van Heerden proved during the Tour de Langkawi, as well as the South African Road Championship, that he is the one sprinter who is not afraid of tackling tough climbs head on. It would not be surprising if Van Heerden should get away in a break on one of the climbs and then proceed to win the sprint for a stage victory.
Arran Brown has proven in local races during the past two years that, when it comes to a pure sprint to the line, it takes some real doing to beat him.
In Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Bradley Potgieter MTN/Qhubeka has two super domestiques. Potgieter demonstrated that he was one of the most aggressive riders during the Tour de Langkawi.┬á He not only countered the attacks by rival teams, but in breakaways Potgieter would also be one of the riders in it.
Although Janse van Rensburg made it clear that he will be committed to assist Impey or Van Niekerk to achieve an overall victory, his rivals would make a big mistake if they should underestimate his own resolve. The safe bet would be that Janse van Rensburg would get a podium finish in at least one stage.
Van Niekerk said that for him it is a case of first things first. ÔÇ£It is important for me to have a good ride during stage one. I have lost out on so many tours because I was either caught napping or experienced an unguarded moment during the first stage of a tour. This meant that I had to play catch-up for the rest of the tour. I really don’t want to lose any time during stage one.
ÔÇ£Stages five and six will be, as far as I am concerned, the time when I will have to do something drastic if I want to have a chance of winning the tour.ÔÇØ
Brown admits that Van Heerden is currently a better sprinter than he is. ÔÇ£Christoff is really in awesome form at the moment. One just has to look at his results in Malaysia and at the South African Road Championship. He performed like a true champion. But, having said that, my form is improving. Hopefully I will be in a good position to contest the sprint to the line during the first and second stages. The tour’s last stage, which is basically a criterium, is also important to me.ÔÇØ
Janse van Rensburg warns that Anthony Charteau (Europcar), who won the King of the Mountains competition during last year’s Tour de France, will be the rider to beat.
Van Rensburg certainly knows what he is talking about, because he competed against the Frenchman during the Tour of Gabon that Charteau ended up winning.
ÔÇ£It was not as if Charteau was the strongest rider in the tour, he was just the cleverest. He knew which two stages really mattered and he made sure that he did well in them. We will definitely have to watch the Europcar riders because most of them are from France and it is a well-known fact that French riders love to ride aggressively.
ÔÇ£As far as my tour is concerned, I owe it to myself to deliver the goods. I really had a bad SA championship. Admittedly, I was slightly ill before the races started but I am not going to use that as an excuse.
ÔÇ£Just take note that I have something to prove to my critics. I know there are people who maintain that I do not have what it takes to be successful in important races. I am determined to prove them wrong.ÔÇØ
Van Heerden displayed his good form by winning the Ride for Sight race in Johannesburg over the weekend (12-13 February). It was his second, consecutive, victory in this race.
According to Van Heerden his victory was due to a brilliant team effort. ÔÇ£It was the first time this year that we, as MTN/Qhubeka, really had the opportunity to ride as a team. Daryl and Reinardt did an awesome job, protecting me during most of the race and helping to save my legs for when it really mattered. It was important for us to win the Ride for Sight race because it was the last race before the tour.
ÔÇ£The victory will probably give us a slight psychological advantage. The other local teams know now that we are capable of dominating and winning races.ÔÇØ
Van Heerden made it clear that he plans to go for stage victories whenever the opportunity should arise. “Apart from stages one, two and six, stage five is also very important. I think there might be a small breakaway and I want to be part of it.┬á If I manage to do so, I will have a realistic chance of sprinting for victory.ÔÇØ
According to Van Heerden, the longer and harder a race is, the better he will perform because he really enjoys a tough cycle challenge.
Saturday 19 February: 167km ÔÇô Menlyn to Monte Casino – The first race day will start in Menlyn, passing the Union Buildings before heading north and turning west behind the Magaliesberg ridges west of Pretoria. The race travels west through the tunnel at Hartebeespoort Dam to the Cradle of Humankind passing Maropeng before heading to the Fourways area for the finish.
Sunday 20 February: 156km ÔÇô Monte Casino to Monte Casino ÔÇô a circuit route incorporating Soweto, Soccer City, Sandton and the Johannesburg CBD.
Tuesday 22 February: 173km ÔÇô Port Elizabeth to Port Elizabeth ÔÇô Starting at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, stage three heads towards the Addo Elephant National Park where one is sure to catch a few glimpses of wildlife (it is home to the Big Seven). From there the race returns to Port Elizabeth, where the route takes an interesting turn, with a city circuit, before finishing in Summer Strand on the beach front.
Wednesday 23 February: 153km ÔÇô Bloukrans Bridge to George – The stage starts on the famous Bloukrans Bridge where many bungi jumping enthusiasts are sure to be found. We head from there to Nature’s Valley and out on the climb towards the N2. Then on to Plettenberg Bay where we include a local loop before another climb out and back on the N2 passing through Knysna. At the Wilderness the race leaves the N2 and heads over 3 passes of narrow twisty roads before finishing in George.
Thursday 24 February: 210km ÔÇô Oudtshoorn to Swellendam – The stage starts in Oudtshoorn and heads on to the famous Route 62 passing Calitzdorp, Ladismith, Barrydale and Suurbraak before finishing in Swellendam.
Friday 25 February: 180km ÔÇô Hermanus to Stellenbosch – The penultimate stage starts in Hermanus and winds its way through Gordon’s Bay over Sir Lowry’s Pass into Grabouw, to Theewaterskloof Dam and up Franschhoek pass. A speedy descent follows. After passing through Franschhoek the race will head over Helshoogte Pass onto the finish in Stellenbosch.
Saturday 26 February: 100km ÔÇô Paarl – Cycling through South Africa’s third oldest town, cyclists will enjoy scenic views and historic buildings.┬á A 10km circuit stage will pass through the main streets of Paarl and Klein-Drakenstein and finish in Market Street.